Google Home Mini Google’s Assistant just got smaller and smarter
Play music, get information and turn off lights without typing or swiping
A much cheaper version of Google’s smart speaker and a rival to the Amazon Echo Dot (see our review, Issue 487), the Home Mini is a fabric-covered four-inch puck that listens for your commands and responds by connecting through your home broadband, via Wi-fi, to Google’s servers.
Many people’s first reaction to these domestic voice assistants was ‘Who needs that?’ or ‘That’s creepy!’. Bringing the price down to under 50 quid make buying one easier to justify, and those who have used them often end up using them all the time. And their popularity suggests concerns about internet companies listening to you through home devices are outweighed by the convenience of being able to play your favourite music, get a weather forecast, turn the lights down or check a date hands-free.
Google Assistant’s capabilities are the same with this or the full-size Google Home (£119 from John Lewis www. snipca.com/24151, see Issue 501, pictured below right). If you’ve used the Google Assistant app on your phone you’ll already be familiar with it, and you might wonder why you need a home speaker too. The answer is simply that you’re much more likely to casually yell at it while sitting at home than get out your phone. Saying ‘OK Google’ feels silly at first, but you get used to it.
As you’d expect, it integrates with other Google hardware and software. Have you got Chromecast plugged into your TV? You can control that by voice. Want directions? The Home Mini can zap them straight into the Google Maps app on your phone. Some non-google kit is also supported, including British Gas’ smart-heating system Hive and Philips’ smart lighting Hue devices, but not as much as with Amazon’s Alexa. On the other hand, Google Assistant is better at answering questions.
Unlike the Echo Dot, the Home Mini doesn’t have a jack output to stream music to an existing speaker – you need a Chromecast Audio dongle (£30) for that. Being so dinky, it isn’t a great speaker in itself. And we found it didn’t respond as reliably to our voice as the bigger model, which has more microphones. SPECIFICATIONS 802.11ac Wi-fi • Bluetooth 4.1 • Far-field microphones
• Speaker • Mains adapter • Requires Android 4.4 or IOS 9.1 or higher device for apps • Chromecast • 42x98x98mm (HXWXD) • 173g • One-year warranty www.snipca.com/26008
ALTERNATIVE: Amazon Echo Dot £50 Apart from the audio jack (rather than Chromecast), this box has similar abilities and shortcomings
VERDICT: It works quite well, and at this price we are more tempted to recruit a digital butler. The choice between this and Amazon depends on your priorities and whose products you prefer