When Amazon launched the Echo Dot in 2015, it made a breakthrough in the smart speaker industry by offering all of the smarts of Alexa in a package that was considerably smaller and more affordable than its flagship Echo speaker. That's essentially the same path that Google took with the Home Mini, and while all of the things it does are done better by the regular Home and Home Max, it's become the smart speaker that I recommend to friends and family looking to venture into this field.
That's not to say the Home Mini is without its faults, but for anyone who's in the market to make their home a bit smarter, this is what I've come to love (and sometimes get annoyed by) with the Google Home Mini.
Always getting better
Things that are still great
I could spend all day blabbering about the Google Assistant (the brains behind Home Mini), and while I'll touch on that in a bit, something that I think the Home Mini excels the most at is with its hardware. It's the same primary size and shape as the Echo Dot, but it looks ten times better.
The rubber bottom grips nicely to whatever surface you place it on, the plastic underside looks perfectly fine, and the fabric top helps the Home Mini blend seamlessly into the rest of your home's decor — available in gray, black, and coral shades.
Touch controls on the left and right work good for controlling your volume, stopping alarms, and ending voice calls, but the real star of the show here is sound quality.
I won't lead you into believing that the Home Mini sounds just as good as a Home Max, Echo Plus, or Sonos One. It just doesn't. However, for a speaker this small and compared to what Amazon achieved with the Echo Dot, I'm still amazed to this day just how good the thing sounds. The volume gets more than loud enough, vocals are crisp, and there's even a decent amount of bass.
A smart speaker is only as good as the assistant that powers it, however, but this is another area where the Home Mini continues to excel. In fact, it's continued to get better and better since its release. Google's constantly adding new features to the Assistant, and while finding and managing these can be a challenge at times, the sheer amount of things you can do without having to talk like a robot continues to be the Assistant's strong suit. Alexa may have more Skills at its disposal, but the Assistant's ability to pick up on context so you can talk in a natural manner is far more impressive.
Life with a Google speaker
What's not so hot
My experience with the Home Mini has been mostly positive, but that's not to say it's a perfect product.
If you're like me and live with two Home speakers in a relatively small space, be prepared for some continuity annoyances. Multiple Google Home products work great together for streaming music to multiple speakers at once, but beyond that, there's a lot to be desired.
There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to ask Home Mini to create a to-do list.
When making dinner, I'll often ask the Google Home in my living room to set an alarm while waiting for some to cook. I'll ask how much time is left on my timer after a few minutes have passed, but the Home Mini in my bedroom thinks I'm talking to it and says "You don't have any timers set." There are also times when I'm in my bedroom at night, ask the Home Mini right next to me to set an alarm, and the one in the living room will decide that I was talking to it and set an alarm out there.
These annoyances aren't necessarily limited to the Home Mini, but rather a problem that Google has with its entire Home lineup. Setting an alarm or timer on one Home should do the same for the rest of the speakers connected to your Wi-Fi network, and I really hope this is something we see added in the near future.
Even with just one Home Mini, there are still little quirks here and there that can put a damper on the whole experience. Google's decision to restrict shopping lists to the Google Express app is an irritating move to push its online shopping service on all Home users, the Home app is a bloated mess that's in desperate need of simplification, and it's beyond me why I'm still unable to add things to a to-do list. Maybe this is something that'll change now that there's a proper Google Tasks app, but we'll see.
Should you still buy it? Absolutely
The Home Mini has a retail price of $49, but you can often find it being sold with a $10-$20 discount or being included for free with the purchase of a Pixel 2, Pixelbook, or something else. No matter how you get your hands on the thing, it needs to have a place in your home.
Life with a smart speaker is just easier. Whether you're setting timers, listening to background music, asking it to play a show on your Chromecast-enabled TV, control smart bulbs, or whatever else, a Home Mini is the perfect tool for making your life simpler. That may sound like a lofty claim to make for a $49 plastic and fabric donut, but it's true. As someone that uses the Home Mini every day, I can safely say that it offers the best combination of design, sound quality, smart features, and value that you can find in a product like this right now.
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