Google was the first to copy Amazon’s Bluetooth speaker combined with an AI assistant with the reveal of its Home device in November 2016. The latest iteration of Home again takes a leaf from Amazon’s playbook and shrinks the size of the device.
Revealed at Silicon Valley firm’s hardware event in early October – alongside the Pixelbook, Home Max and Pixel 2 – the Google Home Mini is designed to compete with the Echo Dot. This is abundantly clear from the matched price point of £49.99.
Where the Mini shines is in its design. Around the size of a large mushroom the device is easily able to fit in the palm of an adult hand, meaning its possible to hide the device away in the corner of a room, on a bookshelf or in an alcove. It’s almost the sort of product that’ll be in a hotel room and you probably wouldn’t notice.
If you decide to have the voice controlled assistant on display, Google has created it in a number of seemingly inoffensive colours. These include a dark grey (charcoal, in Google’s rhetoric), silver (chalk) and orange (coral) fabric finish covering its outer dome. The fabric’s relatively soft to touch, although may get dusty quickly, and lets the light of the four LED lights below it shine through.
There are also haptic controls on the top of the device that allows volume to be turned up and down with a touch on either of its sides.
The device is incredibly easy to setup and won’t take you long at all. You need to connect it to a mains power supply, download the Google Home app (on both iOS and Android) and then follow the instructions to hook-up the device to your home Wi-Fi network.
If you remove download times, and the five minutes it will take to find where you wrote down your Wi-Fi password, the overall process takes fewer than 10 minutes. Google has rightly made it possible to easily get its AI speakers online and if you’re purchasing multiple of them, as it would like, the setup for each will only take a couple of minutes.
Once online, the Mini has the capabilities of the Google Assistant. You can ask it questions, set alarms and timers, connect Spotify and other streaming accounts and for those with smartphone devices, control them using your voice. This review isn’t looking at the capabilities of the Google Assistant, which is available on phones and the main Google Home device, but it’s safe to say all the things that can be achieved on the Assistant also work through the Mini. (Also: saying ‘OK Google is as much of a tongue twister as it is on any of the compatible devices).
Inside the Mini are a series of microphones that will pick-up your voice from most places around a decent sized room. When the Mini is triggered the four LED lights under the fabric covering will light up. This lets you know its listening and is useful for a glance out of the corner of your eye.
As expected, the speakers in the Mini aren’t brilliant for playing music. They’re small, but listenable to if you don’t care about high-quality audio or have a small room. If a comparison has to be drawn, the Mini’s speakers are a bit better than a decent set of inbuilt laptop speakers. Disappointingly, unlike the Echo, there’s no external 3.5mm output to connect the Mini to another speaker and it can’t stream music to Bluetooth speakers.
For the privacy conscious, any device that sits in a home and can listen to the people around it will be a worry. The Home Mini caused a greater level of concern when it was released when early models given to journalists were found to be recording everything that was said (not just when the trigger word was uttered).
Google now says it has fixed the issue but the incident could act as a red flag for those already sceptical about the device. To stop the Google Home Mini listening for its wake word the device has a small switch hidden out of view on its underside. This isn’t as prominent as the one on the top of the Google Home and as a result will probably see fewer people mute the microphones. (When the device is muted, four orangey/red LEDs will show).
Overall, the Home Mini is a well designed device. It’s filled with Google’s search smarts, is discreet enough to sit in a room and not want to be the centre of attention, and is a strong addition to the larger Home. If you’re not overly picky about music sound quality or going to connect it to external speakers, it’ll do the job at more than half the cost of its bigger sibling and easily competes with Amazon’s Dot.