GOOGLE Home Mini

Computer Shopper - - SMART SPEAKERS -

£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.

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