Google Assistant is hard to beat • Surprisingly good sound for a tiny speaker • Design you won’t mind staring at
No aux connector • Awkward touch controls
The Google Home Mini is everything that’s great about Google Home at a fraction of the cost.
The smaller Google Home has all the same smarts as its larger counterparts, but at less than half the price. It’s difficult to see how that doesn’t shake out as a win for Google.
Mini but mighty
The Home Mini comes in just three colors: chalk, charcoal, and coral. And, unlike the bigger Google Home speakers, there’s no way to swap out the color, which would have been nice, but at less than fifty bucks it’s hard to complain. Even with the limited colors, I still very much prefer Google’s unassuming design to Amazon’s hunks of black plastic.
Underneath the cloth are four LEDs that light up when you say “OK Google.” There are also touch controls, though they aren’t immediately obvious — tap on the right or left side of the speaker to turn the volume up or down. Initially, you could also long press in the center to activate the Assistant, though Google disabled the feature after reports that some Google Home Minis were .
Google never added that functionality back, but it doesn’t really matter because you’re going to end up talking to the speaker much more than you will touch it.
I was pleasantly surprised that, despite its smaller size, the Google Home Mini was not only surprisingly powerful, but that its mics were consistently able to pick up my voice even when I was far away or music was playing. In fact, as far as I could tell, its voice recognition is just as good as what’s on my original Google Home.
Like the Echo Dot, you do have the option to connect the Home Mini to a nicer speaker — provided it’s Chromecast-enabled (unlike the Echo Dot, it doesn’t have an aux hookup for connecting to third-party speakers). And the speaker will also work with Chromecast-enabled TVs, which is super convenient.
The Google difference
The Google Home Mini is also the perfect vehicle to show off some of Google’s biggest strengths. Voice matching features, which let you teach the speaker to recognize your voice, not only helps with accuracy, it also enables some other neat tricks, like linking your voice to .
Other features are just convenient: lose your phone, and the speaker can ring it to help you find it. And if you have multiple Google Home speakers, you can use them as a kind of home intercom system, broadcasting messages throughout your home. And, with the new “continued conversations” feature, spending so much time chatting with Google Assistant feels more and more natural.
These abilities aren’t unique to Google, by the way. Amazon has its version of these features for Alexa, and it’s become a kind of constant horse race to see which company is first to each improvement.
And, yet, I still find myself drawn to the Google Home more than Amazon’s counterpart. Besides the fact that the Google Home Mini sounds a bit better than the Echo Dot, Google manages to make everything feel just a bit simpler.
In the beginning, Google Home critics liked to point out that Google’s developer ecosystem still lagged behind Alexa’s skillset, which now has more than 30,000 skills. But Google’s managed to make up considerable ground in the span of a few months. At its I/O developer conference this year, the company announced Google Assistant is now compatible with more than 5,000 devices across . Alexa may still have more skills on paper, but that distinction matters much less when consider that Google Assistant is compatible with just about every gadget you can get your hands on.
Unless you’ve already invested into Amazon’s ecosystem, like with a Fire TV, chances are Google is more than able to handle what you need — even more so if you’re already at all entrenched in Google’s ecosystem of gadgets and services.
And that really gets at why Google stands to do so well with the Home Mini: It’s never been easier (or cheaper) to go all in on the its Assistant.
There’s a reason, after all, that Amazon’s Echo Dot is its most popular speaker: It’s small, connects to speakers you already own, and it’s super cheap. By that measure, the Google Home Mini checks all the boxes and then some.