Introducing Google Home Mini
Get hands-free help in any room with Google Home Mini. It’s powered by the Google Assistant. You can ask it questions. Tell it to do things. It’s your own personal Google. Use your voice to quickly find information about the weather, news, sports and more. Get help with things like your schedule, commute, travel information and more. Control your favourite music, movies and shows, using only your voice.
Use your voice to control your compatible lights, thermostats and more. Get personalized responses for everyone at home with voice recognition. Google Home Mini comes in two unique colors, Chalk and Charcoal. Select the right color that matches your room and personal style.
Google Home Mini: Design
It’s immediately obvious that design is a lot more important to Google than it is to Amazon. While the Amazon Echo Dot is entirely utilitarian, with visible grilles, buttons and microphones, the Google Home Mini makes a decent stab at looking nice.
There are no hard edges – what you get is a large Babybel wrapped in various coloured fabrics. The only thing giving it away as a gadget is the microUSB cable it needs for power, and the LEDs that peek through the fabric at the top when the device is active.
Tucked away at the back is a small slider, which mutes the microphone. It’s a bit fiddly, though, and given it’s at the back of the device, I wish it had been just a button instead of a slider.
It may not look like it, but despite the fabric finish, the Google Home Mini has touch-sensitive controls. You tap the left of the device to turn the volume down; the right to turn the volume up.
The top of the device is supposed to be touch-sensitive, too, but that doesn’t work any more. Apparently a fault with the sensor tricked some units into thinking they were being touched when they weren’t, leading to those devices permanently listening for commands. That’s terrible for privacy, and as a result Google has permanently disabled the touch-sensitive top.
That means the only physical controls are volume, and you’ll have to rely on your voice to pause or play or fast forward music. Not ideal.
Google Home Mini – Features
The Google Home Mini can do pretty much everything the big Google Home can do. You can, of course, just treat it as a Bluetooth speaker and use it to play songs from your phone, but that wouldn’t be making the most of its potential.
It runs on Google Assistant, and you can use your voice to command it to do a whole lot of things. The most basic commands include setting alarms, making shopping lists and getting weather reports. It gets more interesting when you factor in smart home components, such as Philips Hue lightbulbs and Hive thermostats. It can also play music from a number of big-name services, such as Google Play Music, Spotify and TuneIn.
There are various advantages and disadvantages to Google Assistant compared to Alexa, but basically it comes down to this: Google is a bit smarter, but Alexa has better hardware support.
For basic searches, Google pulls data from its own search engine, while Alexa uses Bing. Google’s voice input is also more contextual and naturally conversational, while sometimes with Alexa it seems like you need specific commands to get what you want.
However, third-party support is a lot better for Alexa. Take Sonos, for instance – the biggest name in multiroom has chosen to lean heavily on Alexa. You can use Alexa to control old Sonos speakers, while the new Sonos One actually has Alexa built into it. Meanwhile, Google Assistant won’t be appearing on that speaker until sometime next year.
Alexa also has the advantage of letting you choose from four trigger words. You can’t do that with Google Home, which is a shame because I find it very unnatural having to say ‘OK Google’ or ‘Hey Google’.
One unique trait of Google Assistant is that it works with Google’s existing Chromecast ecosystem, so you can cast music to compatible speakers. The Chromecast element also lets you set up a multi-room system – if you buy multiple Home or Home Mini devices, you can use them to play the same music throughout your house
Google Assistant is also compatible with Android TV, which has Chromecast tech built in. That means you can use your voice to start your next Netflix binge.
All this Chromecast potential is almost enough to balance out the lack of a 3.5mm output or Bluetooth output, both of which appear on the Amazon Echo Dot. I get a kick out of voice-commanding a proper big hi-fi system, and the Google Home Mini just doesn’t give you an easy way to do that.
Google Home Mini – Sound quality
Sound quality isn’t great, but that’s to be expected from a device this small. These mini smart speakers aren’t really meant for music, although performance is fine for listening to the weather report.
The Google Home Mini is supposed to be a 360-degree speaker, but the performance is so weak that I can’t really imagine anyone crowding round it to listen. There’s hardly any bass to speak of, and if you turn it up, it won’t be long before you turn it down again out of tiredness.
It’s a marginally larger sound than the Amazon Echo Dot, but at least that has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Without that, or even the the ability to pair with a third-party Bluetooth speaker, you are not able to outsource the musical performance.
Yes, there are workarounds – you can get a Chromecast-compatible speaker, but they are far rarer than Bluetooth ones. You can plug a Chromecast Audio into a Bluetooth speaker and then cast to that, but that’s just unnecessarily complicated. Make no mistake, this is a smart device first and speaker second.
he Home Mini is similar to the Amazon Echo Dot in that it’s Google’s attempt at getting the Assistant into as many homes as possible. At that, the sheer amount of capabilities that the Google Home brings in addition to its chic, premium build and the low price make it an instant star.
If you’re in the market for a cheap speaker, the Google Home Mini will do the trick for many. But, keep in mind that it’s best viewed as a supplement to the Home family, not the foundation. This device’s specialty, aside from being oh-so smart, is mainly to reward those who are already within Google’s Cast-enabled walled garden with a cheap, new device.
Yes, the Google Home Mini is less than half the price of the larger Google Home, and half its size, too; however, it just doesn’t sound like we’re getting half its performance – we’re getting something a bit less.