GOOGLE Home Mini
£39 • From store.google.com VERDICT
It’s the cheapest way to get the excellent Google Assistant, but don’t expect stellar sound
IT’S CLEAR WHERE Google found its inspiration for the Home Mini: as a smaller, cheaper alternative to the standard Home, with a view towards buying multiple units to spread around the house, it’s a Google Assistant-powered rival to Amazon’s Echo Dot.
It’s more handsome than the bland, plastic Echo Dot, adopting a sleek pebble-like shape with a robust-feeling fabric covering the top. When you talk to it, a screen lights up and shines through the fabric; a nice touch that provides necessary visual feedback without spoiling the Home Mini’s unobtrusive looks.
Around the back is a Micro USB input, used to power the smart speaker, and a switch to disable the speaker’s microphone. It’s a little fiddly to reach, and we prefer the easier-toreach control on Amazon’s Echo devices.
Google intended to have a tap-to-talk feature, where you could rap on top of the Home Mini and have the Assistant spring to life. Sadly, initial units were faulty and listened in to all conversations, so Google disabled this feature with a firmware update and has no plans to re-enable it. However, there are still tap controls to adjust volume: tap the right-side of the device to increase volume and the left-side to decrease.
As the Home Mini is powered by Google Assistant, it has all the same features as its big brother. Google Assistant is smarter out of the box and easier to converse with than Alexa; the former picks up natural language more easily, whereas Alexa often expects requests to be phrased in a certain way.
As Google can pull information from its other services, it’s generally smarter, too. The Home Mini can give you traffic reports to any location; Alexa can only give traffic reports between the two locations that you set.
As for supporting third-party services and smart home products, Alexa-powered speakers rule the roost, but the Home Mini can still be used to control certain kit, such as Nest thermostats and Philips Hue light bulbs.
You can stream music to the Home Mini using Spotify, Google Play Music or Bluetooth from your phone. Unfortunately, this leads us to an issue shared by both the Home Mini and the Echo Dot: sound quality is well behind any larger smart speaker. The Home Mini is fine for listening to the Google Assistant itself, but for music, there’s not nearly enough bass, and cranking up the volume results in distortion.
Unlike the Echo Dot, there’s no 3.5mm output, so you can’t even directly connect the Home Mini to a better hi-fi system. Luckily, it does support Casting, so you can send audio to any compatible wireless speakers.
Whereas the Google Home positions itself as an all-rounder, the Home Mini’s focus on multiroom presence and smart connectivity ends up working against it, if only in the sense that the Echo Dot does a similar thing, but slightly better. It’s not a bad speaker by any means, but if you want a smaller, cheaper device, stick to Amazon’s effort.