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A big update is rolling out to Nest Hubs and third-party Google Assistant smart displays with lots of cool new features, many of which have been promised or teased/leaked for several months. The changes first started showing up several weeks ago, but are now rolling out to a wider audience. You can now (well, if the features have reached your unit) use your display as a sunrise alarm, put the Google weather frog as a background, leave sticky notes for your family to read, and more.
Sunrise alarm and new alarm UI
A new interface for setting up alarms has made its way onto smart displays. Instead of just asking Google to create an alarm, you can now customize everything about it on the screen, from the time it rings, to the tone it plays, days it repeats, snooze duration, and whether your morning routine should start after it's over.
Additionally, there's a special new sunrise setting that lets your display slowly come alive in the morning to mimic the sun. You can choose how long the effect lasts, the smart lights that should follow suit and slowly brighten up along with the display, and whether or not a small tone should play before it starts.
The video below shows all these new settings when creating alarms.
Google weather frog
Until now, you could choose between three different ambient backgrounds for your display: Google Photos, Google's curated art pieces, and different fullscreen clock designs. There's a fourth option now: the Google weather frog that we've all grown fond of on our phones.
A new card on your homescreen should tell you about it, but you can also say, "Hey Google, set up my photo frame," or swipe up from the bottom of the screen and go to Settings > Photo frame. The weather frog should be the fourth option there.
Instead of random photos or art pics, you'll now see a fullscreen graphic with the weather frog chilling or freezing or having random fun across lush green hills and sandy beaches. It changes with the time of the day, so you'll get a night scene after sunset and a brighter one during the day. The time and weather for the next two days are displayed at the bottom left too. This will be your ambient display, and any notes, reminders, calendar events, or other notifications will pop up on the right.
Family tab and sticky notes
Google has been teasing sticky notes on smart displays for a little over a year. The feature rolled out in limited capacity to some users, but remained unavailable to most. Google reiterated its promise again last November, announcing it as part of a new Family tab. Now both of these have started showing up on some units.
On my Lenovo Smart Display, the new Family tab is live. It includes quick access to the Family Bells, family sticky notes, Life360 tracking, and some fun questions and activities for kids. Household contacts, even though they're a family-oriented feature, remain under the Communicate tab.
To add a new sticky note, you can tap that yellow card, but you can also trigger it by saying, "Hey Google, add a family note," from any screen or even when the display is in ambient mode. Make sure you mention family there, otherwise Google will create a regular note that you'll find in your connected note and list service (like Keep or Any.do).
The sticky notes appear on the ambient display and the main home screen for everyone to see, so no family member should miss them. But you might want to avoid sharing any secret messages there if you have guests over. You can also access all your family notes and delete the ones you're done with.
I first spotted these changes three weeks ago on my Lenovo Smart Display, without running any special preview firmware. My unit was on software version 126.96.36.1996118233 with Cast firmware version 1.52.239754. Other people I checked with didn't see most of the new features (they only had the new alarm interface).
Now, it seems that the changes are rolling out widely to Nest Hub owners — and possibly other smart displays — with Cast firmware 1.52, as 9to5Google reports. No preview participation is necessary, the firmware is rolling out to hubs on the stable release channel.
Keep in mind that smart displays don't install updates until night-time or if they're rebooted, so to check if there's any new version available for your unit and pending installation, you should unplug and re-plug your device. You should get some of these options then, otherwise patience is your friend.
Rolling out widely
This post has been updated to indicate that these features are rolling out to most units with Cast firmware 1.52.