Google wants to get into your home, and not just via your smartphone. With the emergence of vocal virtual assistance came “smart” wireless speakers, and Amazon’s Alexa platform has proven that it’s a viable market. Google first attempt, the Google Home, was good but didn’t make waves or anything. In the follow up, Google is trying a different route – affordability. With the new Home Mini, you can get a smart speaker for only $49. This makes it a direct competitor to the Amazon Echo Dot. But how does it compare? This Synopsis sums up the deal with the Google Home Mini Smart Speaker.
The “mini” moniker is totally justified when you get your hands on this device. It fits in the palm of the hand, so bear no worry that it’ll make a dent if you deal with a limited living space. This fact also makes it a viable travel champion, but just be aware that you unfortunately cannot use it on-the-go. There is no battery and you must plug in to use it.
- Small footprint
- Solid and chic build
- Easy to use
- Relatively cheap
- Loud for its size
- Touch controls can be iffy
- No Off switch
- No battery power
- Sound quality is just okay
What it’s like to use
- The Home Mini carries over the original Home’s design language – a layer of smooth plastic and one with coarsely woven fabric (composed of nylon and polyester). Three flavors are available: Chalk (which we have), Charcoal, and Coral.
- Opposed to the original’s cylindrical shape, the compact size of the Home Mini means that it was given a hockey puck-like shape. This also means that sound is expelled from the top surface, instead of around the body.
- The bottom of the Home Mini has a substantial rubber insert, that helps the unit stay in place. If you need to reset the device, a tiny button is located here that you have to hold for 12 seconds.
- The speaker has a physical switch to turn the mic off, but no power switch. If you want to turn the device off, the only way is to unplug it.
- The only physical features on the unit are the mic switch that we just talked about and a micro-USB power port (strangely, not the current USB-C standard), that’s it. But there are hidden touch controls about the top surface for volume up/down, play/pause, and long-press to toggle Google Assistant. But of course, all these functions are optional, as they can be controlled with your voice.
- Setup isn’t instant but it’s easy. You need to have Google’s Home app installed on your mobile device, which is used to tie your Google account to the speaker. The main steps are to activate Google Assistant (Google’s vocal virtual assistant) on the speaker and train your voice to it.
- The volume control is for media playback. You cannot turn off the volume to the virtual assistant – Google wants it to always be available.
- The touch volume controls are nice – Left side touch is to decrease and Right side is to increase – and the four-dot light indicators are used to visually show the volume level. However, the touches don’t register 100% of the time. Sometimes it takes a couple extra taps.
- It’s not apparent, but the volume level can be adjusted by only 10 steps. If you’re not by the speaker, or want a quicker way to change the volume, you can just command the speaker to change to a specific numerical volume level.
- The speaker responds to “Okay Google” or “Hey Google”. You’ll see the four LEDs light up immediately when the Home Mini is called upon. The device is seamless responsive – so you can start talking right away. However, a slight annoyance is that if your Android phone is nearby, it will turn the screen on and prompt Google Assistant there too (if you have this setting enabled). However, the Home Mini will always take priority and execute the command, at which the phone screen will shut off.
- There’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to access to Google Assistant. Most apparent are elementary commands, like to request music, weather, or Google Search information. For instance, if you have a Chromecast, you can ask the speaker to cast a video to your TV. Additionally, you can ask it to do other helpful stuff other than information, such as roll a dice or flip a coin, manage an alarm or timer, and control a smart home device (i.e. light switch or thermostat that is partnered with Google Assistant).
- The audio on the Home Mini gets surprisingly loud for its size. And being that it points upwards, it fills the room.
- However, the sound quality is middling. There’s a clear lack of bass and a thin and unfulfilling sound.
- The treble becomes overpowering at higher volumes. You start to notice some sibilance and distortion at about volume level 7, turning the sound unpleasant, like the speaker is getting pushed past its limit.
There isn’t a whole lot to the Google Home Mini with respect to the unit itself. It is what its size suggests and doesn’t pull any surprises. The real magic here in the software (or cloud) that it has access to, which isn’t too surprising being that it is the software giant Google that we’re talking about here. Google has had several years to mold its virtual assistant into something truly valuable – that is, if you’ve had enough practice figuring out what all its capabilities are.
However, like with the Amazon Echo Dot, a compact version of a wireless speaker means that you’re going to get compromised audio quality. The Home Mini can get notably loud for its size, but that’s about it. We’d only recommend the Mini if you don’t want to pay too much and you have limited space, not if you use your speaker avidly for music or parties.