- Compact and subtle
- Impressive mics
- Smart app control
- Music lacks oomph
- Alexa still better
We review Google’s most compact and affordable smart speaker, the Google Home Mini, which offers full Google Assistant smarts on a limited budget.
Smart speakers are one of the hottest gadgets of 2017, with a host of major manufacturers now racing to get their voice-controlled devices into UK homes. Amazon was way ahead of the crowds with its rather good Echo speaker, which has expanded into a full family. Google wasn’t too far behind with its first Google Home device however, and now the search giant has released a rival to Amazon’s cheapest and smallest Echo.
The Google Home Mini is tiny and affordable, yet still boasts the full Google Assistant functionality of the more expensive Home model. You can speak to this mini speaker and demand all kinds of information, as well as control your smart home devices through voice alone. That’s particularly handy in the kitchen, when hands tend to get rather messy.
We’ve been testing this dinky smart speaker for a few days now and here’s our full review.
Check out our guide to the best smart speakers right now and coming soon, for Google Home alternatives to suit all budgets and needs.
Google Home Mini Review: Design
As you might expect from the name, this dinky smart speaker is essentially a more compact version of the original Google Home.
Quite a lot more compact, as it happens. Shave off that entire plastic section on top of the Home and smooth out what’s left and you pretty much get the Mini, which now resembles a smooth, fabric stone. The design is certainly a lot more subtle in its black and white forms, so you can tuck the Mini away in any available space and it’ll blend in nicely. Alternatively, there’s a stand-out pink version that is undeniably cute.
That material can’t be removed and replaced, although it’s quite resistant to stains and can be gently cleaned with baby wipes. You’ll just need to be careful if placing the speaker in your kitchen.
As for buttons, there’s a mute control hidden around back, which can be used if you’re paranoid about ‘them’ listening in. You also have touch-sensitive volume controls hidden on the left and right edges of the speaker, if you don’t wish to change the volume with your voice, plus a tap-to-pause button up top.
Overall it’s a very neat, tidy and dinky design which happily rivals the likes of the Echo Dot. That smooth finish is very appealing and the choice of colours is small yet should satisfy most consumers.
Google Home Mini Review: Functionality
Plug the Mini into any available socket via the micro USB cable (about a metre in length) and you can commence setup. This is done via the nifty app, which is available for Android devices as well as on iOS for iPhone users. Thankfully this is a very straightforward process, with clear instructions and illustrations throughout. You should be done in just five to ten minutes overall.
Check out our Google Home Mini unboxing and setup video below for a closer look at the design, as well as the app interface and features.
You still get those four coloured LED lights up top, this time woven into the fabric. These flash to indicate that the Home Mini is listening, as well as to indicate the volume level and so on. Just say ‘OK, Google’ or ‘hey, Google’ and the speaker comes to life, ready to serve.
We’re suitably impressed at the range of the Home Mini’s mics as well. This smart speaker will work well even in a large room and could clearly pick out our commands from several feet away, regardless of background clamour.
Speaker quality is of course limited, given that tiny design. The 40mm driver outputs a reasonably clear voice when blasting information, while the respectable top volume means the Google Assistant can be heard even in a reasonably noisy environment. However, if you actually want to play music, you’ll definitely want to cast to another available speaker. Thankfully this is quite easy, using either the app or voice commands.
Want a smart speaker with some serious grunt? Check out the Google Home Max instead. Alternatively, the Sonos One and Amazon Echo Plus are good options too.
We’ve covered the Google Assistant plenty in the past and we’re still moderate fans, thanks to that ever-growing support for online services and smart home gadgetry.
If you want to fill the room with music, you can link to a Spotify or Google Play account. There’s TuneIn support too, for kicking back with a bit of radio. You can also control your connected devices, including your Nest, Tado or Hive heating, plus Philips Hue bulbs, Lightwave products and so on. With full IFTTT support, you can set up your own groups and control everything from one spot, like your very own command deck.
Google’s Assistant still isn’t quite as easy to talk to as Alexa, occasionally misunderstanding what you require. However, it’s definitely improving and hopefully can deliver just as strong experience soon.
Google Home Mini Review: Verdict
If you’re after a dinky smart speaker to tuck away out of sight, or perhaps some affordable secondary units to spread your smart home control to other rooms, the Home Mini is a solid choice. That Google Assistant is continuing to improve all of the time, while the hardware is pretty good too; as long as you aren’t after high-quality music playback, of course.