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Google Home Mini
Gadget Reviews

Google Home Mini

Google’s voice-controlled puck is a decent assistant but not too smart by itself.

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After Amazon look poised to change the landscape and dominate the home speaker/voice assistant market with their growing Echo family of devices, Google quickly followed suit (to lesser effect) with a voice-controlled setup of their home. Much like the original Echo speaker Google’s original Home speaker/assistant was the search giant’s large and tubular entry into what’s becoming a huge market.

Much like the smaller, circular Echo Dot the new Google Home Mini is their answer to the smaller, circular Echo Dot. At least for Google-compatible gear. The potential is definitely there.

It’s ultra-cute and looks modern with a puck shape and minimalist contrast of a fabric top and matte plastic bottom done in bright orange. It fits all the keen characteristics of sensible, durable, and modern. The dimensions are just as small measuring in at 3.86 inches in diameter, 1.65 inches high — in fashionable chalk (white), charcoal (black), or coral (pink) color options

Connectivity is sparse, mostly by design and partly by firmware removing some of the wonkiness. Originally you were able to activate the voice assistant and pause/play music by tapping the top, but due to phantom touches and privacy concerns that the speaker was always listening, Google disabled this feature by the time of this review.

Setup literally takes less than two minutes: You plug the Mini into a power source with the supplied MicroUSB cable and get the Google Home app (Android/iOS) to link it up to your account and WiFi SSID. Afterwards, you’ll have to say “OK Google” (I prefer “Hey Google”) and the assistant answers as visibly indicated by four white LEDs lighting up.

Compared to the original Google Home unit, it should come as little shock that the Home’s tiny speakers leave much to be desired. The 40mm drivers will get the job done, although the harsh and tinny sound output isn’t ideal for music, but just right for the voice assistant to portray forward and considerably natural sound. It won’t fill larger spaces but is perfect for the bedroom as a secondary speaker.

Saying commands and asking question is an area that the Google Assistant excels at, depending on what is said in natural-language queries. The Home Mini handles interpretation quite well and doesn’t need exact wording to operate fluently,  For example, asking “Where is Thor Ragnarok playing near me?” gives me movie showtimes automatically or “Tell me about my day” shares a rundown of weather and current events from various news outlets.

We also like that Pandora and Spotify support is solid, and it’s clear Google Play Music is a much better experience compared to Amazon Music. People with offbeat playlists or genres that nobody has heard of will discover the service is fairly flexible in pulling up your favorite “No Wave Rock” or “Ghettotech” tracks. Making a direct call to as a speaker phone is another perk that operate either by number or contact name; I never realized how convenient it was until it was second nature.

The Home Mini is supposed to function as part of a home-coordinated ecosystem, similar to intercoms placed around the house where the nearest speaker can respond to your commands. All of this is possible when you pair multiple speakers (Google Home, Mini, and Max) and have compatible smart home products under the same roof. Chances are good that if you recently embraced things like the Philip Hue Starter Kit, Nest Learning Thermostat, or even heavy appliances from LG or GE. Like Alexa, the ability to automate your home is still growing and a lot of the essential features can be activated by a general phrase.

On the flipside, inquires for various snippets of information can be hit or miss. Either it vaguely pulls information from dodgy sources or fails to work at all. Integration continues to lag behind Alexa as additional third-party services are (at this point) entirely absent on the Google Home platform. Little things like ordering a Lyft remotely or managing TV DVR schedules are nowhere to be found. Hell, it initially didn’t know about the Pixel 2 was, which is Google’s very own smartphone.

Currently, Amazon’s Alexa remains the king (or queen) of digital voice assistants, but Google’s Home Mini definitely brings its own set of benefits to the table. It helps tremendously if you’re already entrenched in the Google family, a Chromecast user, subscribe to Google Play, or simply looking for a cheaper entry-point to the world of voice-assisted speakers than what Amazon offers. At this point the experience isn’t as robust or reliable, but it’s entirely possible Google can fill those gaps with smart software upgrades and better services. This makes the Home Mini a decent alternative, but again, mind the gaps.

About the Author: Herman Exum