Google Home Mini Review

Same Assistant, Smaller Package

Google is making a push for hardware in a big way, but it doesn’t always mean it’s a big product. Search has been Google’s mainstay product over the last decade, but it’s betting on its new artificial intelligence software to be the next huge hit for them. Assistant is the evolution of Google Search moving forward and products like Google Home are giving its voice a face.

Now we have a smaller, cheaper version of the new Google Home Mini to compete with the super popular Amazon Echo Dot. Let’s take a deeper look at the Google Home Mini and find out whether Google can pack a great product into a small package.

Hardware

The Mini’s hardware is well designed, but not without flaws. The good news is that the pill-shaped design is sleek and blends in with almost any setting. I find the fabric covering offers a nice look and feel to the unit that I think most consumers will be pleased with. The Mini comes in three colors: Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral. At the top, there’s a touch-sensitive portion on the sides of the Home Mini that can be used to adjust the volume up and down while listening. If voice options freak you out, there’s a dedicated mute button just next to the power input to cut the microphone completely off.

The bad? The same touch portion that controls the volume is supposed to also have a play/pause feature when tapped and could launch Assistant manually without using the OK Google hot-word. Why am I speaking in past tense with words like could? That’s because early reviewers have revealed a manufacturing defect that causes the manual Assistant switch to be constantly on and listening to users. Rather than try to initiate a recall, or wait for a possible software fix, Google has permanently disabled this option via a recent update. It will be interesting if Google re-enables this after further testing, but for now, this will not be available.

Setup

Setting up the Google Home Mini was very easy and is one of the strong points of the device. The app does a great job of walking you through connecting to WiFi and other appropriate steps to bring the Mini to life.

The app also offers suggestions on other ways to use the Mini such as Chromecast, which is Google’s wireless playback feature (more on that later). There’s even an option to use the speaker as a Bluetooth device but it’s buried a few layers into the app.

You are then prompted to setup Google Assistant to recognize your voice with the usual “OK, Google” command. After this, you will set a few preferences like connected apps that play nice with Home. For me, this was all Google services with YouTube and Play Music, but other options like Pandora and Spotify are on board as well. Only one can be set as the default when asking to play something without using the app name in the command, however.

Speakers and Daily Use

If you’ve used the standard Google Home or even Assistant, then the Mini is a breeze to use. The similar “OK, Google” and “Hey Google” hot-words will launch a virtual butler that ties into all the major services that Google has at their disposal. I have found the microphones to be very good, but not quite as powerful as the standard Home. I have had instances that the bigger Home would pick me up but the Mini wouldn’t from farther distances. Search gets you to the best answers the web can offer, while Google Play Music, and other connected apps, can serenade you with your favorite tunes.

Speaking of music, casting is also here and honestly, it’s my favorite feature. The ability to add full home speakers to enjoy audio around the house for $50 is awesome! It’s not Sonos or Bose quality sound, but I don’t need that. I just want fashionable, small speakers to spread across my house to enjoy podcasts and music in any or all rooms that I choose. And it it’s stupid simple. Find the Chromecast icon in my favorite audio app and push it to find available speakers. Done.

The Home Mini also works with the same smart home implementations as the standard edition. Philips Hue, Nest, Wemo, and others can easily be plugged into the device. After you initiate the partnership, capable smart home devices can be controlled via the Mini commands. The only one I had available in my home was a Wemo outlet and it worked flawlessly.

Conclusion

Is the Google Home Mini a worthy, smaller version of the Home? Yes. The compact design and smaller price tag make the Mini a compelling addition to the Home lineup at the entry level. It pits the speaker directly with the Amazon Echo Dot that is a complete impulse buy into the Echo ecosystem. Google could no longer ignore this success at the bottom of the segment and has produced a worthy first edition. They need to expand the connected apps and services to truly compete with Amazon’s headstart, but the Google Home Mini won’t disappoint those invested in the Google ecosystem who also want to start making their home just a little smarter.

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