The Google Home Mini is Google’s second attempt in bringing its smart voice assistant into your home. The first being the larger Google Home that retailed at a higher price point of USD$129 (SGD$171).
The Home Mini as its name suggest is the smaller and more compact version of the Google Home. Together with the Home Max (the largest and most expensive speaker in the line-up), Google is offering consumers a smart speaker at a variety of prices in different form factor and colours.
It’s hard to ignore how attractive the Google Home Mini is – in terms of its potential and price. Google puts its recommended retail price at USD$49 (SGD$65) but it has gone down to USD$29 at its lowest with a USD$10 Play Store gift voucher thrown in. Clearly, Google sees the Home Mini as the perfect Trojan horse into your home.
However, Google is not alone in wanting a piece of the voice assistant smart home market. Amazon’s Echo speakers with Alexa are currently the market leader with over 20 million Alexa devices sold and Apple is joining in the game with its Home Pod speaker powered by the company’s Siri voice assistant. So how does the Google Home Mini match up? Read on to find out.
Right out of the box, you get everything you need to get started. The Google Home Mini comes with a wall adapter, microUSB cable, a quick start guide and of course the speaker itself. There’s really not much else Google could have included considering that the Home Mini is meant to be placed at various spots at home and at just USD$50, you would be hard pressed to find a WiFi speaker like the Home Mini.
The Home Mini has no built-in battery and its powered fully via the microUSB port. The port itself is concealed within the housing of the speaker, which fits the included microUSB cable perfectly. However, if you’re using a cable with a slightly fatter connector, you will find that it is almost impossible to fit the cable into the speaker. On the left of the port is a mute slider. The Google Home Mini is by default always listening for wake words (“Okay Google”, “Hey Google!”, you can’t change these) and you can choose to mute the microphones of the speaker with this button if you do not wish to accidentally trigger the speaker.
Google covered the entire speaker with a cloth mesh giving it a rather Scandinavian look. The bottom of the speaker is secured with a rubber base to prevent it from sliding off your desk or table. This crowd pleasing design is easy on the eyes and differs greatly from the cold, industrial-like design of other WiFi speakers like the Amazon Dot. To fit your home, Google is giving you a choice of 3 colors: Black, Grey and Orange.
Beneath the cloth mesh is a row of 4 LEDs which serve as indicator lights. The LEDs light up when you speak to it, pulsate when processing a question and each dot also represents 25% of audio volume. While useful, it is hard to see the lights from across the room when you’re away from the speaker. Besides commanding the speaker verbally to change the volume, you can also physically increase or decrease the speaker’s audio output by tapping on the left and right side of the Home Mini.
The Google Home Mini can be set up easily via the Google Home app for both iOS and Android. This would require you to log into your Google account (read: Gmail) in order for the Home Mini to provide you with more customised answers like when is your next flight or when will your next appointment be on the calendar.
The Google Home App also allows you to name the speaker (“Living Room”, “Bed Room” etc), control multi-room playback, connect to online music streaming services like Spotify and also to link to other IoT devices which you can then command the Home Mini to control verbally.
It might be hard to grasp what on earth is the Google Home Mini and why would anyone need it.
At the very least, it’s a Bluetooth/WiFi speaker that plays music. But using the Google Home Mini purely for music playback would be doing a great injustice to yourself. The sound quality honestly isn’t quite great and there is little to no bass if that is something you look for in your music. While it is technically a 360-speaker, it struggles at high volume and I don’t see myself using for my next house party – without my guests leaving early or turning the speaker down. The Google Home Mini can of course cast the music to compatible Chromecast speakers but it’s hard to understand why Google couldn’t have included a line out jack for users to hook it up to a better speaker much like the Amazon Echo Dot.
However, having spent a couple of months with the Google Home Mini, I can definitely see the value it provides in a smart home or to my daily life. I use it to set my daily alarm every night and even tell it to snooze when I need an additional 10 minutes of lazing in bed. Coming out of the shower, I could easily ask the Home Mini to play the top hits on Spotify or to remind me to leave home at a certain time. The built-in microphones are one of the best I have seen in a speaker. Even at a very high volume of 85%, saying the wake words “Hey, Google” would get the Google Mini to pause the music and listen to your command.
The Home Mini is also really good at answering questions as well. You can ask it for the weather or to read you the news, it even plays a variety of white noises when you can’t seem to sleep at night. If you have a memory of a gold fish and an Android phone (not mutually exclusive ;p), you could even ask the Home Mini to “Find my phone” and your phone will start to deep loudly even if it is in silent mode.
What’s really impressive about the Home Mini is its integration with other IoT devices. Connecting my Xiaomi Smart lamp to the Home Mini allows me to turn on/off the lights verbally and also to dim the lights or get it to turn on at a specific time. Google Home currently supports a long list of 3rd party devices and also works with the ITTT standard. If you have multiple Home Minis, you can also use it to broadcast a message throughout the house as well.
The Google Home Mini is not for someone who is looking for a high fidelity, great sound WiFi speaker. Instead, this fun USD$50 speaker is an affordable option for one who is looking into building a smart home or to have Google Assistant all around the house. Google might be late to the game but the Home Mini proves that good things take time and what Google took so long to come up with (a full 18 months after the Echo Dot) it made it up with its thoughtful and useful features. If you’re looking for a better sound option with Google Assistant, take a look at the larger and more expensive Google Home Max.