Google Home Mini review: Google’s new smart speaker is great, but the Echo Dot is better

As sun surely follows moon, the appearance of the Google Home Mini was inevitable, ever since the search giant launched its first smart speaker this time last year. Now, at last, Google has a range of smart speakers to rival Amazon’s with a smaller, cheaper unit to go alongside the larger Google Home.

It was about time, too. Up until now, if you wanted to dip your toe in the water of smart speakers – but weren’t sure if it was for you – the only way to try it out for less than £100 was the £49 Echo Dot, a temptingly priced gateway drug into the Alexa universe.

READ NEXT: Google Home vs Amazon Echo vs Apple HomePod

Google Home Mini: What you need to know

That’s basically what the Google Home Mini is: a cheap way to introduce yourself into the world of Google Assistant-powered smart speakers. Plus, if you already own a Google Home and love it, it’s also a more cost-effective way of spreading the net of assistants around your home. It’s a way of adding extra rooms to your Google speaker network for less.

Despite its smaller size, though, it does pretty much everything its larger sibling can, hooking into your home network and drawing on Google’s server-based AI smarts to answer questions, play music for you and control other third-party devices.

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Google Home Mini review: Price and competition

The new Google Home Mini costs £49 in the UK and $49 in the US and is a competitor for the Amazon Echo Dot, which retails for exactly the same price. Also worth noting is that it’s free with all Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL purchases from the Play Store and Carphone Warehouse until 31 December 2017, or while stocks last. It’s £80 cheaper than the regular Google Home and is available to buy right now in the UK and six other countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the US and Japan.

That’s about it when it comes to direct rivals, but it might be worth keeping an eye on the third-party smart speaker market over the next few months. A number of manufacturers have committed to producing speakers powered by Amazon Alexa in the run-up to Christmas 2017. There are plenty of manufacturers, including Sony and Sonos releasing products this year.

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Google Home Mini review: Design and key features

If there’s one thing in the pebble-shaped Google Home Mini’s favour it’s the design. It’s available in three colours – chalk, charcoal and coral (I was sent the charcoal for this piece) – and the roughly textured fabric that wraps around the top of the speaker looks great. It’s a lot Ikea-home friendly than the rather utilitarian Echo Dot.

Now, you can’t swap colours or buy different base textures like you can with the regular Home, but it makes up for this slight disappointment with touch controls to the right and left, which allow you to control volume, and four pinprick LEDs that light up in the centre to indicate the volume and activity. (This used to be a touchpad, but Google had to get rid of that feature because of a bug that would leave the device constantly eavesdropping on you.)

Around the base, you’ll find a single Micro-USB port for powering the Home Mini and a switch to mute the microphone. That’s it for external features; on the inside, there’s a 360-degree speaker and a pair of far-field microphones to help it pick up voices not only nearby but across the room, just like the Amazon Echo and Echo dot.

And, just like the larger Home, the Mini has dual-band WiFi with MIMO and Bluetooth so you can connect your phone to it directly. What it lacks compared with the Echo Dot is a 3.5mm output jack, so you can’t hook it up to your Hi-Fi and use it as a voice-powered streamer. However, once again, there is some form of compensation in the form of Google Cast compatibility, which you can use to send audio both to the speaker itself and from the speaker to any Cast-compatible audio equipment.

Google Home Mini review: Performance

That’s a pity because compared with the full Home and Echo speakers, sound quality isn’t great. It’s fine for listening to talk radio shows, podcasts and the like, but music sounds thin and brittle and lacking in body. It’s hardly surprising that there’s no bass. It’s only wee, after all, but I’d like a bit more richness in the mids.

The sensitivity of the microphones, too, is a little on the disappointing side, certainly compared with the Echo Dot. I found I was repeating myself more frequently than with Amazon’s efforts; and don’t get me started on Google’s key phrase. Maybe it’s just me, but I hate saying “OK Google” all the time, and while “Hey Google” rolls off the tongue a little easier, it’s still a bit of a tongue-twister compared with “Alexa” or  “Siri”.

Which is a shame, because the Home Mini is a perfectly capable digital assistant. Indeed, if you own and run any other Google hardware, and you’ve ever used the speech recognition on your Android smartphone, you’ll know exactly how impressive Google’s technology is. And the fact that it works beautifully with other Google products gives it an edge over Amazon’s Alexa alternatives.

I particularly like the way it’s possible to play movies and control playback to my Chromecast Ultra by voice, to find directions and have them squirted directly to Google Maps on my phone and to even locate my phone when I’ve mislaid it. Better still, the hands-free calling feature that was only available in the US and Canada until recently is coming to the UK, too, as is the broadcast feature, which allows you to use multiple Google Home speakers as an intercom system.

That’s only a small sample of the Google Home Mini’s capabilities and these, like Alexa’s Skills, continue to expand as time wears on. You can, of course, access services such as Google Play Music, control your Chromecast and Chromecast audio, but there’s also support for Spotify and a bunch of smart home gear, including British Gas’ Hive smart thermostat, Nest, Philips Hue and Samsung Smart Things among others.  

Google Home Mini review: Verdict

I do like the Google Home Mini, despite my issues with the key phrase and the slightly weak microphone and speaker quality. It otherwise works really well, replicating the features of the larger Google Home beautifully, and offers an affordable introduction to the world of digital assistants.

If you already own a Google Home, it’s a no-brainer, and if you rely on Chromecast or Chromecast Audio to deliver your media you’ll find the Home Mini a fantastic addition to your home.

On its own, though, is it better than Echo Dot? The answer to that question is ultimately a no and that’s purely down to the ecosystem. Alexa as a system is not only more mature with more capabilities, but it also has wider support amongst third-party speaker manufacturers. That may change over time but, for now, my vote goes to the Echo.

UE’s Blast and Megablast join the Alexa smart speaker family

Both the Blast and Megablast are slightly larger than the Boom 2 and Megaboom versions, most notably in height and weight. With Alexa onboard, you may end up using them as home-based units more than on-the-go sound though. The Power Up is a wireless charging dock, so it’s incredibly easy to move them from room to room or grab for the road — switching over to Bluetooth, of course.

These new models are about half an inch taller than their counterparts, and the Megablast jumps up considerably in weight, gaining nearly a pound. That weight accommodates added microphones and a reworked driver/passive radiator setup, helping to pump out its stated volume boost.

The maximum battery life on both has dropped a bit compared to the Bluetooth-only Boom series, with up to 12 hours on the Blast and 16 for the Megablast, but I’m guessing these devices will mostly live in the home. Plus, depending on how loud you play music, those ratings are actually pretty accurate. Playing at full volume though always knocks the numbers down to a few hours in my experience — with the larger of the two showing significantly more stamina than you’d think.

On the Alexa interface side, people in the US, UK, Germany and Austria get hands-free access to music services including Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn, with Pandora and Deezer lined up for future inclusion. You also get access to other Alexa services such as news reports, weather, audiobooks, voice control of compatible IoT devices, general inquiries and more than 25,000 skills.

The speaker setup is controlled through a new UE app tailored specifically for the Blast and Megablast, helping to get you onto your WiFi network and link your Amazon account for those Alexa services.

Ultimate Ears’ Blast and Megablast are also on a fast track to getting smarter over time with regular feature updates. Since they’re WiFi-capable, this can happen automatically when on your network. Another benefit of combining Alexa with an Ultimate Ears product is that you get those services on a high-quality audio device in a portable package, which can be moved wirelessly throughout the home and double as your Bluetooth boombox when on the road.

Pre-orders start today at the Ultimate Ears website and participating retailers for the Blast ($230), Megablast ($300) and Power Up ($40) with items shipping soon and hitting the shelves by the end of October. Bundles including a Power Up will be available from T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon for the Blast ($260) and Megablast ($330). For US customers, the speakers are available in Graphite (Black), Blizzard (White), Merlot (Red) and Blue Steel (Blue). Customers buying before January 13th, 2018, will also get a free three-month subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited.

Review: Google Home Mini is the cheapest way to get into the smart home – Entertainment & Life – telegram.com

Not content with being dominant online, Google is pushing into your home — with a line of smart devices and speakers that it hopes will grace your shelves and coffee tables very soon. The company handed out the smallest member of its speaker line, the Google Home Mini, to everyone who attended the launch event last week. These are my thoughts after a few days with it.

 

First things first: The main selling point for the Google Home Mini is its price. As the Google Home Mini itself will tell you — if you ask — it costs just $49. That’s $10 less than Amazon’s competing mini-hub, the Echo Dot. If you’re looking for an easy way into the smart home, Google Home Mini is the cheapest way to do that.

 

(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

 

And yet it doesn’t feel cheap. It feels like a total home hub in its own right — though with a few compromises.

 

 

 

In truth, if you have a Google Home, you pretty much know how the Google Home Mini works. And, if you don’t, it’s easy enough to figure out. Once you download the app onto your phone, it basically sets itself up and teaches you how to use it to ask for information, set timers and control whatever other smart devices you may have about.

 

It’s simple, and that’s good. It keeps a low profile; it’s much smaller than the Google Home, not even clearing the base of its older sibling. The Mini has just enough switches and indicators to function, and very little else.

 

 

 

If you’re looking to put multiple home hubs in your house — maybe one in the kitchen and one on the nightstand — that’s when the Google Home Mini really comes into its own. Like the Echo Dot, the Home Mini is an appealing way to make your smart home features available in more rooms, particularly at that $50 price.

 

For example: I have a Google Home. It sits in my bedroom and has the main function of controlling my bedroom lights and playing podcasts or music to put me to sleep. But placing it at my bedside meant that I had to choose not to put it in my living room, where I wanted to use it to control my Chromecast and television. With the Mini as a sort of satellite hub in the living room, I can now do both.

 

As a stand-alone speaker, Google Home Mini is decent — though certainly not something to recommend to an audiophile. It’s best for background music while you work or do chores, not for serious music appreciation, such as when you really want to hear the warmth of the clarinets. To be honest, the Google Home isn’t the world’s best speaker, either, but the Mini is noticeably less full.

 

But the Home Mini can hear your commands, even when its volume is cranked high — making it better than some smart speakers that can’t always hear you over the noise they’re generating.

 

If you have to adjust the volume by touching the speaker instead of using your voice, you can do so with easy taps on the speaker’s ends.

 

 

 

And I can group the Google Home and Google Home Mini together, so that they can, for example, play the same song. That comes in handy if I’m moving from room to room while vacuuming or folding and putting away laundry. I never have to miss a note or word of a podcast, and I don’t have to spend a lot on a smart speaker system to get that feature. It’s a little creature comfort, but still a nice one.

 

Of course, adding a Mini — either as a primary or secondary hub — also means allowing Google more access into your home. The Mini, like the Google Home, is always listening for its trigger phrases, “Okay, Google”or “Hey, Google.” And that, understandably, can be a bit disconcerting, particularly if you’re putting these devices in your bedroom or the bathroom. So, just as with the Home, Mini has a mute function, which will shut off the microphone. If ever you want to, you can flip that mute switch.

 

 

 

Google Home Mini has all the new features coming to Google Home, as well, including the ability to make hands-free calls through the speaker, using your smartphone. So, if you’re wrist-deep in bread dough and need to call your spouse for some extra ingredients, you can do that, and it can show up as a call from your own number. If you lose your phone, ask Google Home to call it for you — on Android devices, it will even ring if your phone is muted. (It can’t override a mute setting on the iPhone.)

 

You can also use Google Search as a sort of phone directory, to call the “nearest florist,” etc. But I haven’t found that feature too useful yet, if only because the nearest store isn’t always the best one. Still, it’s a promising feature, and shows off how Google is infusing its smarts into these devices.

 

And that’s the broader takeaway for anyone looking with interest at the Google Home Mini. Google knows this is a crowded space and is putting its software smarts front and center to stand out.

 

So, while Amazon may have a wider spread of products and Apple may pursue hardware excellence, Google’s focus is on function. So far, it’s working.

 

 

 

The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

For the longest time, the only affordable way to get into the smart home game was to lean onto Alexa and buy an Echo Dot. The little device turned out to be Amazon’s trojan horse into the smart home game, leading smart speaker sales in the process.

But now there’s another horse in this race. Google has the Home Mini, an adorable, pebble-shaped miniature of it’s bigger Home smart speaker, which is already a formidable foe for the larger Amazon Echo.

Verdict: Amazon Echo Dot review | Google Home Mini review

Neither are going to suit everyone’s needs, but they both can give you the information you need, contact friends and family and be a handy assistant in the kitchen. So which one should you plop down that money for? Let’s find out.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Design

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

The Echo Dot is utilitarian in design. It’s a small puck with easy-to-access buttons on the top that can mute the device, raise and lower the volume and activate Alexa’s recognition abilities. It’s also got a now-iconic bluish-green hue that lights up in a ring around the device.

It comes in white and black and is totally meant to slot onto or into your rooms and be totally forgotten about. Amazon wants this to simply blend into your life like other appliances. It’s like your Blu-Ray player, cable box or Roku.

Read this: The best integrated devices for Google Home

The Home Mini, on the other hand, looks a lot more… homely. Google’s super into fabric right now, and the top half of this device is covered in it. The bottom half is plastic, but the entire thing looks like a big ol’ pebble. It’s a little adorable and comes in three colors: black, gray and the more eye-catching coral, which is basically pinkish.

Unlike the Echo Dot, the Home Mini’s lights, which let you know your smart assistant is working, are up at the top. Like the larger Home, they are basically four dots that flash. Unlike the larger Home, they’re not placed on a slanted top, they’re directly on top of the Home Mini. This makes it a little harder to see whether Google Assistant is activated or not, but maybe you prefer it that way.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

The Home Mini is also meant to blend into your existing decor, but it also looks good enough that it doesn’t have to. Most of that is down to the Home Mini hiding all of its buttons and features under that fabric, which makes it look like a decoration and not a tech product. This, unfortunately, has some down sides. It’s not as simple to use as the Echo Dot, which you can look at and see buttons on. In fact, the touch pad on the top of the Home Mini no longer works because of a glitch that activated some units to constantly listen.

So while the Google Home Mini is the better looking device of the two, and is the one of them that you wouldn’t be even slightly embarrassed about in your home, its design feels more like form over function. On the flip side, Amazon has gone for function over form. One looks better, one works better.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Interactions and sound performance

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

Amazon and Google’s smart speakers are always getting better at recognizing our voices. We’ve nary had a problem with the Echo Dot recognizing our voices, even when we’re speaking during a song. Same goes with Google Home Mini, but in both cases, the further away you get the less accurate they’re going to be.

Google has always made a big deal of its Assistant’s ability to understand context. You can ask it a question, then follow-up with another question on that same topic without repeating what you’re talking about. This mostly works well, though there are sometimes instances where it just flat-out fails.

Alexa can do some contextual actions, but it’s not quite up to the level of Google Assistant yet. Though it’s likely both of these things will get better and better as time goes on. Alexa is also a little more rigid than Assistant because of the lack of context. There are still moments when some skills require language to be a little too exact to do anything, which can be frustrating.

Read this: Google and Amazon’s war for the future of smart home

Also frustrating? Google Home Mini doesn’t have a headphone jack, which means to connect it to external speakers you’ll need to pony up for a Chromecast so you can cast your audio to it.

Now, Home Mini does fare better than the Echo Dot. In a side-by-side comparison between the two, we found the Echo Dot was much tinnier and distorted at higher volumes. So while the Home Mini does pack quite a punch for its size, it’s a little more difficult to upgrade the sound because you need to also have a Chromecast, whereas the Echo Dot can just plug into a better audio system if needed. It’s also not going to replace your home audio system any time soon, nor rival the full-sized Google Home.

On the whole, Google’s contextual advantage and better base sound make it a winner over the Echo Dot. However, if you’re looking to upgrade to better sound because you’ve invested in some good sound equipment already and want something that works with a 3.5mm jack, the Echo Dot may line up better for your needs.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Features

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

When smart speaker work, we love them, but what’s weird is that they don’t do an awful lot yet. They can give you some information, control some smart home tech and, yes, play music – but that’s about it.

On the music front, the Home Mini wins. As stated earlier, it just sounds better than the Echo Dot. On the other two fronts, things are much closer though. Like in smart home control.

Currently, Alexa can control a lot more stuff in your home than Google Assistant can. A lot of this is down to Alexa being around longer and being more popular, which means developers are sure to make sure their smart home products work with it.

Support for Google Assistant is growing, and many of the big players are already there, like Philips Hue, Nest and more. Plus, Home Mini has the benefit of Google’s ecosystem. You can take advantage of Chromecast to put your content up on TVs and enhancing your sound with speakers. You can’t do that with the Echo Dot.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

The other advantage for Assistant is that it feels more personal. You don’t have to turn to that aforementioned rigidity, instead saying things like “good night” to initiate an end-of-night sequence for all your smart home products. That’s cool, and it feels more magical than Alexa’s version, which is a more robotic “Turn off all the lights.”

To be fair, that’ll soon be fixed as Amazon is rolling out a feature called Alexa Routines that’ll allow just that. You’ll get more contextual smart home voice options, so you can say “good morning” to get things going or “the lights are too bright” to dim them a bit. That API is rolling out to developers now, but it shouldn’t take too long for that to filter out to users. Also, thanks to a recent update, the Echo Dot can now make calls to landlines and mobiles with your own phone number – just like you can with the Home Mini.

The Echo Dot, from a feature perspective, is more well rounded than what Google is offering. Sure, Google Assistant is still better at contextual commands and can take advantage of Google’s services, like Calendar and Chromecast, but Echo Dot works with more smart home products and is achieving parity on some of the cool things Home Mini can do.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Price

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

At first blush, both the Echo Dot and Home Mini are $49.99. However, both Amazon and Google have begun launching a bunch of different promotions to get you to buy in to either the Home Mini or the Echo Dot over the other.

Read this: The best skills for Amazon Alexa

For instance, in celebration of the Sonos skill for Alexa, Sonos customers will get $25 off an Echo Dot, which is a whopping 50% discount. But if you buy one of Google’s new Pixel 2 smartphone, you’ll get a free Home Mini with your purchase. Amazon also discounts the Echo Dot every once in a while for Prime members, and even offers multi-packs once in a couple of months.

It’s not difficult to buy into either of these ecosystems, but right now Amazon has more deals, making the Echo Dot a little more enticing for those on a budget.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Final verdict

The smart speaker battle is constantly evolving, as each company announces new features there’s a volley from the competition. There feels like there’s a back-and-forth between Amazon and Google that’s making a choice harder for consumers while also bringing better and better experiences.

Google’s contextual powers make Assistant a little more smart than Alexa, especially if you’re entrenched in the Google ecosystem. These devices, ultimately, are a way for you to buy into these ecosystems. This is Google’s most affordable option, as Amazon has the likes of Sonos and other Alexa-enabled devices to get you in. And of course, Apple has its HomePod on the way – though both of those options aren’t as affordable.

Functionally, we think the Echo Dot might still be a better purchase for a lot of people right now thanks to its wider support for smart home products and near parity in terms of feature sets.


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Review: Google Home Mini is the cheapest way to get into the smart home | Lifestyles

Not content with being dominant online, Google is pushing into your home – with a line of smart devices and speakers that it hopes will grace your shelves and coffee tables very soon. The company handed out the smallest member of its speaker line, the Google Home Mini, to everyone who attended the launch event last week. These are my thoughts after a few days with it.

First things first: The main selling point for the Google Home Mini is its price. As the Google Home Mini itself will tell you – if you ask – it costs just $49. That’s $10 less than Amazon’s competing mini-hub, the Echo Dot. If you’re looking for an easy way into the smart home, Google Home Mini is the cheapest way to do that.

(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

And yet it doesn’t feel cheap. It feels like a total home hub in its own right – though with a few compromises.

In truth, if you have a Google Home, you pretty much know how the Google Home Mini works. And, if you don’t, it’s easy enough to figure out. Once you download the app onto your phone, it basically sets itself up and teaches you how to use it to ask for information, set timers and control whatever other smart devices you may have about.

It’s simple, and that’s good. It keeps a low profile; it’s much smaller than the Google Home, not even clearing the base of its older sibling. The Mini has just enough switches and indicators to function, and very little else.

If you’re looking to put multiple home hubs in your house – maybe one in the kitchen and one on the nightstand – that’s when the Google Home Mini really comes into its own. Like the Echo Dot, the Home Mini is an appealing way to make your smart home features available in more rooms, particularly at that $50 price.

For example: I have a Google Home. It sits in my bedroom and has the main function of controlling my bedroom lights and playing podcasts or music to put me to sleep. But placing it at my bedside meant that I had to choose not to put it in my living room, where I wanted to use it to control my Chromecast and television. With the Mini as a sort of satellite hub in the living room, I can now do both.

As a stand-alone speaker, Google Home Mini is decent – though certainly not something to recommend to an audiophile. It’s best for background music while you work or do chores, not for serious music appreciation, such as when you really want to hear the warmth of the clarinets. To be honest, the Google Home isn’t the world’s best speaker, either, but the Mini is noticeably less full.

But the Home Mini can hear your commands, even when its volume is cranked high – making it better than some smart speakers that can’t always hear you over the noise they’re generating.

If you have to adjust the volume by touching the speaker instead of using your voice, you can do so with easy taps on the speaker’s ends.

And I can group the Google Home and Google Home Mini together, so that they can, for example, play the same song. That comes in handy if I’m moving from room to room while vacuuming or folding and putting away laundry. I never have to miss a note or word of a podcast, and I don’t have to spend a lot on a smart speaker system to get that feature. It’s a little creature comfort, but still a nice one.

Of course, adding a Mini – either as a primary or secondary hub – also means allowing Google more access into your home. The Mini, like the Google Home, is always listening for its trigger phrases, “Okay, Google”or “Hey, Google.” And that, understandably, can be a bit disconcerting, particularly if you’re putting these devices in your bedroom or the bathroom. So, just as with the Home, Mini has a mute function, which will shut off the microphone. If ever you want to, you can flip that mute switch.

Google Home Mini has all the new features coming to Google Home, as well, including the ability to make hands-free calls through the speaker, using your smartphone. So, if you’re wrist-deep in bread dough and need to call your spouse for some extra ingredients, you can do that, and it can show up as a call from your own number. If you lose your phone, ask Google Home to call it for you – on Android devices, it will even ring if your phone is muted. (It can’t override a mute setting on the iPhone.)

You can also use Google Search as a sort of phone directory, to call the “nearest florist,” etc. But I haven’t found that feature too useful yet, if only because the nearest store isn’t always the best one. Still, it’s a promising feature, and shows off how Google is infusing its smarts into these devices.

And that’s the broader takeaway for anyone looking with interest at the Google Home Mini. Google knows this is a crowded space and is putting its software smarts front and center to stand out.

So, while Amazon may have a wider spread of products and Apple may pursue hardware excellence, Google’s focus is on function. So far, it’s working.

Which Cheap Smart Speaker Wins?

With the launch of the Google Home Mini, there are now two sub-$50 smart speakers competing for dominance in your living room, bedroom and elsewhere around your house. But how does the Mini compare to the Amazon Echo? We put them through a seven-round matchup to find out which is the best budget speaker.

Design

With its hockey-puck-like shape, the Echo Dot is a chief example of function over form. Nothing stands out about its design, but this speaker is a cinch to use. Four buttons on top let you control the volume, turn the mic on and off, and activate Alexa. A ring of LEDs around the top edge makes it easy to see when Amazon’s voice assistant is listening.

The cloth-covered, pebble-like Home Mini is aesthetically more pleasing, but not as intuitive to use. Instead of physical volume buttons, for instance, you merely have to tap either side of the device. That’s cool, but it’s not obvious unless you read the manual. Four LEDs on the top of the Home Mini indicate its status and when the assistant is listening, but you can’t see these lights from across the room. Originally, you could tap the top of the Home Mini to activate the Assistant, but Google has disabled that functionality due to malfunctioning units.

Winner: Echo Dot. While it doesn’t look as nice as the Home Mini, it’s easier to use.

Audio Quality

Both the Echo Dot and the Home Mini have a single speaker, but Google put much more thought into its speaker’s audio capabilities than did Amazon. When I listened to the same tracks on both devices, the Dot produced thin, reedy vocals with almost no bass.

By comparison, the Home Mini turned out louder, richer and fuller sound. While this device won’t replace a larger speaker, it would be just fine if you wanted some background music in your bedroom when you’re going to sleep or waking up.

Winner: Home Mini. Its speaker sounds miles better than the Dot’s.

Smart Home Features

Google and Amazon are positioning their devices to act as a means to control smart home gadgets, from lights to locks to thermostats. However, Amazon is much further along in this regard; Amazon’s smart home page lists nearly 600 devices that will work with Alexa.

By comparison, while Google Home is compatible with an equally wide range of product types, they represent far fewer companies, at about 50.

Winner: Echo Dot. While it’s no fault of the Home Mini’s hardware, Amazon’s service works with far more smart home devices.

Voice Assistant

We’ve done a few head-to-head competitions between Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant (check out our 300-question showdown), so we’ll just hit the highlights here.

Both Alexa and Google Assistant let you call any number in the U.S. and Canada, a very helpful feature.

The two devices can both recognize individual voices, and provide information tailored to that person, such as their schedule or the time it’ll take to commute to work. However, Google Assistant can translate speech into different languages.

MORE: Amazon Alexa Guide: Tips, Tricks, and How-Tos

However, after that, Alexa is capable of far more, as a result of Amazon opening up its API so that third parties can create Alexa skills to augment the assistant’s abilities. There are now more than 24,000 skills, spanning the gamut from humor to productivity to games to fitness. To help you sort through them all, we’ve cultivated a list of our 50 favorite Alexa skills.

While both can deliver briefings of the day’s news, weather and sports scores, only Alexa lets you specify favorite teams and order things off of Amazon (natch).

Winner: Echo Dot.Alexa can do far more than Google Assistant.

Music and Movie Playback

Both Google and Amazon support Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. Amazon has Amazon Music, while Google has Google Play Music and YouTube Music. However, only Amazon lists support for Sirius XM.

The Echo Dot’s speaker may be horrible, but Amazon has attempted to ameliorate the situation by letting you pair the Dot via Bluetooth with a second speaker, or by using its 3.5mm audio jack.

The Home Mini has neither of these capabilities, so you can’t pair it with other speakers. However, it can be used to stream both music and video to Chromecast-enabled devices, as well as TVs running the Android TV platform. So, you could say, “OK, Google, play YouTube,” and that service will pop up on your TV.

Winner: Home Mini. Although it lacks the ability to pair or connect to a Bluetooth speaker, the Mini’s integration with Chromecast and Android TV devices gives it the edge.

Microphone

To test the microphones on the Home Mini and the Echo Dot, I placed them about 15 feet away from me. With no music playing from either device, I could talk in a library-quiet voice, and both devices were able to hear and understand me.

I then played music through each speaker one at a time, and again tested their sensitivity. This time, I had to raise my voice to slightly more than a normal speaking volume in order to be heard.

Winner: Draw. Both performed well, and while I had to raise my voice while music was playing from each speaker, it wasn’t unreasonable.

Price and Value

The list price for both the Echo Dot and the Home Mini is $49. However, Amazon is currently discounting the Echo Dot for $45 and often offers other deals for its mini speaker, such as bundling it with other smart home devices.

Winner: Echo Dot. It’s $5 less than the Home Mini, and Amazon offers more deals.

Bottom Line

Amazon Echo Dot

Google Home Mini

Design

X

Audio Quality

X

Smart Home Features

X

Voice Assistant

X

Microphone

X

X

Music and Movie Playback

X

Price and Value

X

Total

5

3

Amazon’s Echo Dot may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts. While its speaker is weak, you can pair it easily with better speakers. Most importantly, Alexa can do far more than Google Assistant can, and the Dot is Amazon’s least expensive method for getting Alexa into your home.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom’s Guide, Amazon

Google Home Mini offers cheapest way to get into the smart home

Not content with being dominant online, Google is pushing into your home — with a line of smart devices and speakers that it hopes will grace your shelves and coffee tables very soon. The company handed out the smallest member of its speaker line, the Google Home Mini, to everyone who attended the launch event last week. These are my thoughts after a few days with it.

First things first: The main selling point for the Google Home Mini is its price. As the Google Home Mini itself will tell you — if you ask — it costs just $49. That’s $10 less than Amazon’s competing mini-hub, the Echo Dot. If you’re looking for an easy way into the smart home, Google Home Mini is the cheapest way to do that.

(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

And yet it doesn’t feel cheap. It feels like a total home hub in its own right — though with a few compromises.

In truth, if you have a Google Home, you pretty much know how the Google Home Mini works. And, if you don’t, it’s easy enough to figure out. Once you download the app onto your phone, it basically sets itself up and teaches you how to use it to ask for information, set timers and control whatever other smart devices you may have about.

It’s simple, and that’s good. It keeps a low profile; it’s much smaller than the Google Home, not even clearing the base of its older sibling. The Mini has just enough switches and indicators to function, and very little else.


Note to self: Stock up on doughnuts, for scale purposes.

Note to self: Stock up on doughnuts, for scale purposes.
– Washington Post photo by Hayley Tsukayama

If you’re looking to put multiple home hubs in your house — maybe one in the kitchen and one on the nightstand — that’s when the Google Home Mini really comes into its own. Like the Echo Dot, the Home Mini is an appealing way to make your smart home features available in more rooms, particularly at that $50 price.

For example: I have a Google Home. It sits in my bedroom and has the main function of controlling my bedroom lights and playing podcasts or music to put me to sleep. But placing it at my bedside meant that I had to choose not to put it in my living room, where I wanted to use it to control my Chromecast and television. With the Mini as a sort of satellite hub in the living room, I can now do both.

As a stand-alone speaker, Google Home Mini is decent — though certainly not something to recommend to an audiophile. It’s best for background music while you work or do chores, not for serious music appreciation, such as when you really want to hear the warmth of the clarinets. To be honest, the Google Home isn’t the world’s best speaker, either, but the Mini is noticeably less full.

But the Home Mini can hear your commands, even when its volume is cranked high — making it better than some smart speakers that can’t always hear you over the noise they’re generating.

If you have to adjust the volume by touching the speaker instead of using your voice, you can do so with easy taps on the speaker’s ends.

And I can group the Google Home and Google Home Mini together, so that they can, for example, play the same song. That comes in handy if I’m moving from room to room while vacuuming or folding and putting away laundry. I never have to miss a note or word of a podcast, and I don’t have to spend a lot on a smart speaker system to get that feature. It’s a little creature comfort, but still a nice one.

Of course, adding a Mini — either as a primary or secondary hub — also means allowing Google more access into your home. The Mini, like the Google Home, is always listening for its trigger phrases, “Okay, Google” or “Hey, Google.” And that, understandably, can be a bit disconcerting, particularly if you’re putting these devices in your bedroom or the bathroom. So, just as with the Home, Mini has a mute function, which will shut off the microphone. If ever you want to, you can flip that mute switch.

Google Home Mini has all the new features coming to Google Home, as well, including the ability to make hands-free calls through the speaker, using your smartphone. So, if you’re wrist-deep in bread dough and need to call your spouse for some extra ingredients, you can do that, and it can show up as a call from your own number. If you lose your phone, ask Google Home to call it for you — on Android devices, it will even ring if your phone is muted. (It can’t override a mute setting on the iPhone.)

You can also use Google Search as a sort of phone directory, to call the “nearest florist,” etc. But I haven’t found that feature too useful yet, if only because the nearest store isn’t always the best one. Still, it’s a promising feature, and shows off how Google is infusing its smarts into these devices.

And that’s the broader take-away for anyone looking with interest at the Google Home Mini. Google knows this is a crowded space and is putting its software smarts front and center to stand out.

So, while Amazon may have a wider spread of products and Apple may pursue hardware excellence, Google’s focus is on function. So far, it’s working.

A smart thermostat is a great investment, and now it’s cheaper than ever

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61OlIVCeC L._SL1000_AmazonOne of the biggest barriers to smart home tech is its price. 

There are ways to start your smart home without breaking the bank, but you have to get creative.

One of my favorite smart-home accessories is the Nest Thermostat, and its new sibling the Nest Thermostat E has many of the same features for a far lower price. Both models are widely regarded as the best smart thermostats you can buy.

The biggest immediate difference with this E model is its screen. Instead of having a full color LED display, the Nest Thermostat E has a custom “frosted” one that shows only the current temperature and whether you’re conserving energy. It’s more basic, but you still see all the information you’ll need to know. 

While it looks different, the Nest Thermostat E acts just like the standard Nest Thermostat. You can still control the temperature with your voice if you have the Google Home or an Amazon Echo. You can also use Nest’s app on your phone if you don’t have a smart speaker, and you’re still able to turn the temperature up or down by turning the ring around the thermostat to the left or right. The Nest Thermostat E employs all the same energy-saving features to help save you money each year. Basically, it’s a Nest. 

The one other consideration to make when you’re deciding between the standard Nest Thermostat and the Nest Thermostat E is compatibility with your heating and cooling system. According to Nest, the original model is compatible with “95% of 24V heating and cooling systems,” while the E model “works with most 24V heating and cooling systems.” You should check your system’s compatibility here before buying one.

If your system is compatible, and price is the only factor that’s held you back from buying a Nest in the first place, I can’t recommend one highly enough. Every time I’m faced with an old school thermostat I remember why I invested so heavily in the Nest Ecosystem. Both of these smart thermostats are featured in our buying guide to the best smart thermostats.

Anyone looking to make their home smarter without breaking the bank should consider the Nest Thermostat E a good investment. It’ll make your house a little less complicated, and may very well pay for itself over the course of a few years.

Nest Thermostat E, $169, available at Amazon

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Google Home Mini Review: It’s Smart, but Not on Its Own

My Google Assistant is many things, but it’s mostly a meteorologist. I work 40 miles from my apartment, and the Bay Area’s many microclimates mean I’ll experience several weathers between my door and my desk. The questions come in the same order every morning: Hey Google, what’s the weather in San Jose? Hey Google, what about in San Francisco? Hey Google, what about tonight?

The new Google Home Mini suits this use perfectly. Google’s latest smart speaker emphasizes smart over speaker: it’s a small pebble of a thing, about the size of a crosswise slice of a softball. Unlike, say, the Home Max, which Google built to sound great, the Mini’s just supposed to be so small, so cheap, and so simply designed that you’ll put it somewhere and never notice it again. Google imagines you’ll maybe place one in every home, ensuring there’s always a mic close by to hear you ask for the weather, set timers, or control your smart home. Sure, it plays music, but you won’t like how it sounds. In short, this is a Google-made replica of Amazon’s Echo Dot.

After using the Home Mini for a few days, I think I get the use case. This is a complementary device: to a good speaker, so you can control Spotify with your voice; to a Chromecast, so you can demand the internet find you something good to watch; to a Home Max or even regular Home, so you can extend the range of your Google Assistant. Alone, it’s adorable and compromised. As a $50 add-on, like a repeater for your router or a universal remote for your TV, it’s excellent.

WIRED

Can’t beat the price: at $49, the Home Mini becomes a killer holiday gift for anyone you even kind of like. To my eyes, at least, Google has successfully pulled off exactly the right kind of boring design. (Except for the coral model, which you can’t help but notice.) Sure, it looks like a futuristic metal donut, but you’ll set it up and never notice it again. It’s much more attractive and home-y than the Echo Dot. It only takes about two minutes to get up and running, and setup’s even easier thanks to a recent update to the Google Home app. Like any Home, the Mini does all the Google Assistant things, and does them all just as well as the original Home.

For such a small speaker, it’s pretty loud—you can hear it easily from across the room. You mostly won’t interact with the Mini itself, but its controls are handy. Tap on either side to turn the volume up or down; tap quickly in the middle to pause or play, or press and hold to get Assistant.

Most of what’s great about the Mini holds for all Google Home devices: the Assistant is impressively helpful, and getting better all the time. Using the Mini as a speakerphone works really well, and it’s a pretty handy remote control for my Chromecast-enabled TV watching. Voice Match works well (if not perfectly), and as far as I’m concerned multi-user support should be smart speaker table stakes. It does smart-home controls well, and the upcoming Routines feature—which lets you do a bunch of things with a single command—should make them even better. Even the new app makes finding stuff to do or watch better.

TIRED

It may be loud, but the Home Mini sounds like crap. Absolutely no bass, clipped highs, just crummy sound quality all around. That doesn’t matter when it’s just the Assistant telling you traffic conditions, but listening to music on the Home Mini is barely better than listening through your phone’s speakers. Since there’s no AUX port, the only way to connect the Mini to a better speaker is through Chromecast, which certainly doesn’t work as well as a 3.5mm cable. You can’t even Bluetooth out to another speaker, which is odd given you can use the Home Mini as a Bluetooth speaker for your phone or laptop. Which, don’t.

You can’t really see the four LEDs on top of the Mini, so it’s hard to know whether the speaker heard you say “Hey Google.” I wound up turning on the audio alerts, which you can find in the accessibility section but should probably be on by default for the Mini. Also, Google needs to figure out how to better arbitrate devices, so I don’t get so many phones and speakers responding every time I ask a question.

The big debate is between the Echo Dot and the Home Mini. There’s not a clear winner. The Home Mini’s better-looking, but the Dot has a line-out jack. Google Assistant’s better at answering questions and making phone calls, but Alexa’s better for smart-home and music stuff. It’s an ecosystem question, really: If you already have a Pixel and drive with Android Auto, go with the Home Mini, and maybe buy a Max or Home as well. If you’re looking for killer music, buy a Dot, plug it into a real speaker, and enjoy. Neither’s perfect, but both are worth the $50.

RATING

7/10: A solid accessory, but not the centerpiece of your smarter home.

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Forget the Google Home Max, this smart speaker has a built-in subwoofer

The smart speaker market is getting more competitive with new products making an appearance almost every week. Case in point, a few days ago Google introduced the Home Max, a product which brings premium audio, alongside the affordable Home Mini.

The Google Home Max is yet to go on sale, but in the meanwhile, customers who care about audio can check out an alternative. Meet the Aivia speaker – a gadget created by Canadian startup SproutBox Design – which is also powered by the AI wits of the Google Assistant.

The Aivia takes inspiration from the Amazon Echo Show and incorporates an 8-inch HD tablet into its body to allow easy access its Android-based interface and apps (like YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Firefox or Spotify). Like in the case of other speakers, you can stream digital content over to Aivia via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. But in order to set itself apart from the crowd, the Aivia includes a few unique features, as well.

First, it boasts a 15-watt subwoofer on the side for improved sonic output. Secondly, it includes a wireless device charging surface on the top, so you’ll be able to charge your phone by letting it rest on Aivia.

The speaker is quite portable as well. The built-in 10,000 mAh battery ensures users can get up to 5 hours of cordless playback on a single charge.

The two large full range speakers located on the left and right work in concert with the subwoofer – all powered by Bang & Olufson engineering – to produce the highest quality audio output. Last but not least, there’s also an 8-megapixel front facing the camera for video calling.

SproutBox Design has been developing the speaker for two years now and even showcased it at CES 2017 earlier this year. Now they’ve launched it on Kickstarter to gather funds and the good news is that the funding goal has already been exceeded.

If you like the Aivia then you can head on Kickstarter and make a pledge. Super Early Bird packages are still available for $249 a pop which will get you an Aivia speaker. Note, the device is expected to retail for $399 a pop just like the Google Home Max.  If everything goes well Aivia starts shipping in July 2019.