Review: Google Home Mini – One month later!

I purchased the Google Home Mini – Google’s first “hockey puck” sized home assistant, directly competing with the likes of Amazon’s Echo Dot – for my wife for Christmas and we’ve been using it every day for the last month. Google’s offering almost one-up’s Amazon’s, utilising their massive technical capabilities/know-how to provide you with the best day-to-day assistant that you need in your home.

Features

  • Speaker is made up of a 40mm driver outputting 360 degree sound
  • Two far-field microphones
  • Choice of three colours of fabric (“charcoal”, “chalk” or “coral”)
  • Chromecast and Chromecast Audio built-in
  • Compatible with¬†802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz) Wi-Fi
  • Micro USB for power
  • Compact size
  • Ever growing list of integrations with IoT/smart home devices

Setup/Install

Setting up the Google Home Mini was an absolute breeze and the process will be incredibly familiar if you’ve ever setup any Chromecast devices before – simply open the Google Home app, tap the “Devices” icon and then hit “Add new device”. If you’ve never setup a Google Home/Chromecast device before, it’s simply a case of plugging the Home Mini into a wall outlet, downloading the Google Home app (iOS/Android).

From there, you’ll need to switch your mobile device’s Wi-Fi connection over to the temporary network your new device is broadcasting (usually an obvious network name such as “HomeMini7634”). Open up the Google Home app and follow the on-screen prompts to finalise the setup!

Detailed instructions/step-by-step guides can be found on Google’s Support pages:¬†https://support.google.com/googlehome/answer/7029485

Design

The Home Mini has a very chic/modern design, with a plastic base (which according to Google’s spec sheet, is made up of recycled materials)¬†and fabric top. Beneath the fabric lay four small LED notification lights, to let you know when the assistant is listening, as well as the touch-sensitive left and right sides which can be used for volume control or to pause music/alarms/timers.

On the rear of the device is the Micro USB in port, as well as the microphone switch that allows you to disable the microphones from actively listening in.

Google Home Mini - Side View

The underside of the device is home to a non-skid, silicone pad – meaning wherever you put this speaker down, it’s not going to move around unless you choose to move it. That makes it a great addition to a kitchen, where it may get knocked, or an office desk where it’s probably most useful!

The device is very compact in terms of its overall size, easily fitting in the palm of your hand. Measuring in at only 3.86in (98mm) across and 1.65in (42mm) high, this little speaker can fit in even the smallest of available spaces. Paired with the included 1.5m power cable, it should be easy to find a spot to place this speaker.

Day-to-day usage

I have the Home Mini situated in my living room, where my wife and I spend most of our time. The Home Mini blends in pretty well with our overall decor, thanks to its modern design and various colour options.

Google Home Mini - Colour Options

Thanks to the ability to integrate directly with various different smart home products/IoT devices, we can control our lighting, TV and multi-room audio without needing to pull out our phones. Lazy, I know – but surprisingly useful. There are your standard big name integrations: Philips Hue, LIFX, TP-Link’s Kasa, Hive, Nest, SmartThings,¬†tado¬į, Spotify, Netflix as well as many “smaller”, more niche brands – a full list of apps/integrations can be found here.

That being said, one¬†major let down for me at the moment is the lack of integration with Sonos – possibly the biggest/best multi-room speaker systems on the market right now. To make things slightly more annoying, Alexa is able to integrate with Sonos and has been able to for some time now!¬†Why Google…. why?

One of my favourite features of the Home Mini is the “Shopping list”. I fully appreciate that this particular feature exists on Echo devices also, but for whatever reason I get along much better with Google’s offering – maybe it’s the autofill options when inputting items manually onto the list? Either way, being able to shout “add apples to the shopping list” at the Home Mini whilst staring into an empty fridge and getting an “OK, I’ve added apples to your shopping list” is great. Since moving houses, we’ve found we don’t have anywhere to put a shopping list and if I don’t have my phone in my pocket, by the time I’ve gone to find it I’ve forgotten what I needed to buy.

Your shopping list is synced up to the Google account your Home Mini is setup with, which fortunately my wife and I share.¬†HOWEVER if you setup the “multi-user” mode on the Home Mini, you’ll find that you each get a separate shopping list which can become quite confusing and can be quite annoying. There were a couple of times where I went to the shops and returned without a few items that my wife had added to her own shopping list. To fix this, I shared our “central” shopping list with each of our accounts and set it as the primary – now when we each add something to the shopping list, it adds to our “central” shopping list ūüôā

Audio Quality

The Home Mini consists of a single 40mm driver for outputting audio, so whilst it can get fairly loud the audio quality isn’t the best. Due to the single driver in the unit, the Home Mini lacks decent bass and can tend to sound quite “tinny” as you crank the volume levels up. In all honesty, the speaker seems fairly lacklustre when being used for listening to music and could easily be outperformed by lower priced bluetooth speakers.

That being said, the speaker is more than satisfactory for the non-music/assistant functions of this device. When the Google Assistant is reading back your calendar info, weather forecast or even news articles – decent bass levels aren’t really required. I’ve not yet had a chance to try out the Home Mini for voice calls, as the feature is not yet enabled in the UK but is for those of you in the US.

If you’re using the Home Mini to expand your core Google smart home ecosystem (a full-sized Google Home) and therefore as a complimentary speaker/assistant, then chances are you’ll be using that primary Home speaker or your integrated smart speakers/Chromecast Audio device for outputting your music.¬†Another option would be to use the Home Mini in a group of speakers (as TechRadar did), by using a Chromecast Audio enabled speaker and another couple of Home Mini’s (faux surround sound) – you may find that the musical experience is slightly better than when the speaker is standalone.

Issues I’ve had

“I’m not sure how to answer that” or “I’ve not yet learned this, but my team are working on it” is definitely an annoying response when you’re asking a seemingly simple question. This was a major annoyance for me with my Echo Dot, which required adding a bunch of “skills”. The problem here is, you can’t do this with the Home Mini… what you get is what you get. Other than integrating with third party services, there’s no third-party addition of basic functionality.

VERY occasionally, the Home Mini doesn’t seem to pick up the “OK Google” or “Hey Google” hot words. This is more noticeable when there’s background noise, in which case I’m not so fussed. It’s when there’s no other noise and I have to say “Hey Google” two or three times in order to get a response. If you’re not at the right angle, you also may not notice the four LEDs on top of the Home Mini when they’re on – this doesn’t bother me so much, but compared to the Echo/Echo Dot it seems like an oversight to me?

No 3.5mm out means that you’re reliant on the built-in speaker, which ultimately isn’t ideal for listening to music. If you’ve got some Chromecast enabled speakers, or a Chromecast Audio device plugged into some speakers, you’ll be able to cast to those. If you don’t… you’re stuck with the mediocre built-in driver.

Summary

The Google Home Mini is a great device, there’s no denying that. At only ¬£49, this speaker is relatively cheap, is Wi-Fi connected, can provide you with a¬†wealth of information using only your voice and integrates with tonnes of other devices. Not only that – it¬†looks so much nicer than its competitors!

Furthermore if you’re already using Google’s cast enabled devices, or even have a full-sized Google Home – the Home Mini is a great extension to such a setup by expanding features, functionality and even usage range beyond what you already have.

However, if you’re looking to get a Home Mini as a primary source of audio, I’d personally suggest you re-think your options. The Home Mini’s pretty lacklustre¬†audio quality¬†means that your music listening experience won’t be so great. This speaker is definitely better when used primarily as a source of information.

Google’s product range is ever expanding, their Assistant/”AI” capabilities constantly growing and learning and new features are being added to the Home devices constantly. ¬£49 per speaker is still a fair amount to invest – despite being low priced for what is on offer. The Home Mini, however, is definitely pretty useful even when using it for the most basic of tasks, where you’d typically need your phone in hand.

Useful Links

Google Store: https://store.google.com/

Product page: https://store.google.com/product/google_home_mini

Setup guide: https://support.google.com/googlehome/answer/7029485

Will Stocks

As a career "IT person" and technology enthusiast, I've been around technology for over 8 years now. From enterprise-grade hardware to consumer equipment, IT Support to Systems Administrator - I'm passionate about all forms of tech, learning how it works, integrates and the scenarios in which different people would use them. I started willstocks.co.uk in 2017 and have also contributed to other websites around the Internet.

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