We review the TicHome Mini from Mobvoi, the latest Google Assistant smart speaker to hit the UK, rivalling the Amazon Echo Dot and Google’s own Home Mini device.
Smart speakers are big business in 2017, with huge numbers of UK consumers grabbing a voice-activated device to help out in their home. Amazon’s Alexa AI is one of the biggest names in voice assistants, available on a growing number of smart home devices including the rather brilliant Echo speaker, but Google has already proved stiff competition with its own imaginatively titled Google Assistant.
Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo is the Google Home speaker, which in 2017 was joined by the dinky and feature-stuffed Google Home Mini. Like Amazon’s Echo Dot, the Home Mini is a compact version of the original speaker, designed to live anywhere around the house.
Of course, in late 2017 and 2018 we’re expecting to see loads of new rival smart speakers, using the Alexa or Google Now assistants to control your connected devices and answer your every question.
One of the first competitors to arrive on the scene is the TicHome Mini, a Google Now device that’s almost as dinky as the Home Mini and Echo Dot. However, the TicHome Mini comes with a built-in battery, more powerful speakers and splash-proof design, making it a more flexible smart speaker overall.
Mobvoi TicHome Mini review: Design
The TicHome Mini is chunkier than both the Google Home Mini and Echo Dot, yet still pleasingly compact as far as smart speakers go. You can secrete it away in any available nook, while the choice of colours means you can pick one that blends into your chosen decor.
The majority of the chassis is constructed from plastic, with a silver edging to break up the colourful finish. On the bottom edge you have a rubber foot to keep the speaker from sliding around when poked, while the top edge – which houses the buttons and dual mics – has a soft-touch, rubber feel. That surface can get scratched up quite easily as a result, yet does a reasonable job of hiding any marks.
The actual speaker is set into the TicHome Mini’s curved bottom and it’s near enough a 360-degree effort, just like with the Google Home Mini. You’ll also find the micro USB port down here for charging the Mini back up. It’s a shame you don’t get the reversible Type-C, but that’s a minor grumble at best.
We’re pleased that the TicHome speaker is IPX6 splash resistant, as that means we could rock it in the bathroom without worrying about getting the thing wet. Even when housed in the shower cubicle, the TicHome Mini worked perfectly well.
Mobvoi TicHome Mini review: Setup and features
To setup the TicHome Mini you just need to download the Google Home app to your iPhone or Android smartphone. This will automatically detect your smart speaker and walk you through the (thankfully quick and painless) procedure.
With that done, you’re ready to rock. The app can show you some of the stuff that the Google Assistant is capable of, otherwise you just need to use your voice to control the TicHome.
Say ‘OK, Google’ and the speaker kicks into life, thanks to those always-listening mics. These microphones are perfectly sensitive, so you hear you even from across the other side of a large room, usually over a fair bit of background noise. On the whole the voice recognition works well too, proving more or less a match for Amazon’s Alexa.
Although Amazon has had more time than Google to partner up with manufacturers of smart home goodies, Google Now supports a healthy range of connected devices these days. You can see the full list here, but the likes of Philips Hue, Nest, TP-Link, Hive and IFTTT are all golden. You can also stream tunes from Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and of course Google Play Music.
While you can pause your audio and raise or lower the volume using voice commands, you’ll also find buttons on top of the TicHome Mini that do the same. In addition there’s a mute mic button, for those times you need a bit of privacy.
If you want to play some music or audio from a service that isn’t directly supported, you can connect your mobile to the speaker using Bluetooth. While the TicHome Mini’s website talked of NFC compatibility, we couldn’t find any way of pairing our various phones with the device simply by tapping. Thankfully all you need to do is use the ‘pair’ voice command and then find the speaker in your handset’s Bluetooth menu, and the two devices will shake hands.
Mobvoi TicHome Mini review: Audio quality and battery life
Although the audio quality of the TicHome Mini isn’t quite breathtaking, it’s certainly a step up from the Google Home Mini and Echo Dot. On top volume, you’ll clearly make out every word that the Google Assistant spits, even in a busy, noisy kitchen.
If you’re after something for listening to a lot of music, be warned that you don’t get the same full-bodied sound as dedicated small speakers such as the UE Wonderbooms. Likewise, the TicHome can’t manage the impressive bass levels of the even dinkier Bose SoundLink. However, for a quick blast of Britney in the shower, it’s perfectly up to the job. And if you want to, you can always connect wirelessly to a proper full-sized blaster via Bluetooth.
On a full charge, the TicHome Mini can pump out non-stop music or other audio for around four to five hours. Charging isn’t too fast, taking roughly three hours from empty to full, so you’re best off keeping it plugged in the majority of the time and unplugging only when you need the freedom of movement.
Mobvoi TicHome Mini review: Verdict
The Mobvoi TicHome Mini costs 84 Euros when ordered direct from the official website, which is a significant step up from the £49 Google Home Mini and Echo Dot. However, you do get the same satisfying voice-controlled smart functionality, with the added bonus of a built-in battery, splash proofing and more powerful sound.
That extra flexibility will certainly make this speaker a worthy purchase for some over the Google and Amazon rivals, despite that boost in asking price.