We all love to sing in the shower — or at least I do — and for the past two years I've used a first-generation Google Home Mini as my bathroom speaker. Sitting right next to my shower on top of my vanity cabinet, it's been a great companion to my daily singing-in-the-shower routine, albeit with some issues. The main one of these has been voice recognition, as the Home Mini usually fails to hear me over the louder volume and running shower.
The new Nest Mini, announced last week at Google's Pixel 4 event, is the successor to my bathroom pal and comes with more than just a new name. It's got several enhancements in audio playback, a new machine learning chip for better voice recognition, and proximity sensors to help show you where the volume keys are.
After a few days with it, I can safely say it's the best bathroom speaker — heck, the best small speaker for any space — I've ever used.
At a glance
Bottom line: The Nest Mini is perfect for the one place I'm wary of putting anything more expensive: the bathroom. It makes for the ultimate shower buddy, where your bathroom is your microphone and arena. It'll likely be on sale for Black Friday, making it an even better buy.
- Surprisingly loud
- Cute capacitive controls
- Better voice recognition
- Excellent value for money
- Mounting hole is useful
- It's still a small speaker with minimal bass
- Assistant still hesitates
- Not recommended for high-fidelity music
It hears you a lot better now
Nest Mini What I like
The most annoying thing about the Google Home Mini specifically, and Google Assistant speakers generally, has been when the microphones fail to hear you over loud music. The Nest Mini has no such issues.
With the volume set to 10 (out of 10), the Nest Mini can still hear me over the music's blare, whereas the Google Home Mini often couldn't. It's hard to quantify exactly how much better it is, but I'll tell you this: I can shout down the hallway, through a closed door, and the Nest Mini still hears me. The Google Home Mini didn't have that superpower.
Thanks to the new extra microphone and the on-device machine learning chip, it seems to work from approximately 30 feet away, compared to around 25 feet with the Google Home Mini. Positioned by the front door of my apartment, it triggered when I was laying in bed activating my bedtime Assistant routine. Considering it's the exact same site as the original Google Home Mini, it's a welcome improvement.
In the space of a few days, I have seen little improvement but this is likely a feature that needs a fair amount of time to learn my habits. In theory, this should all mean that things like turning the lights on and off should be much faster, but we'll see how Assistant does once it learns my habits.
The Nest Mini is the perfect small speaker for the bathroom and other small spaces.
Google says the new Nest Mini has double the bass "when measured at the 60Hz to 100Hz range." It's a bold claim, and it bears out in practice, too: the Nest Mini sounds considerably fuller and more balanced than the Google Home Mini.
The Nest Mini can also get really loud — much louder than its predecessor. For a speaker this small (it's practically the same size as the Home Mini), it is mighty powerful.
Of course, the size of the Nest Mini means the audio output is somewhat limited in quality; for most songs it's fine, but if hi-fi music is your main priority, you'll want to spring for a bigger, and better, speaker.
One of the most interesting updates to the Nest Mini is the addition of new capacitive buttons. There are now three buttons: volume up, volume down and a tap in the center to play or pause. They're incredibly useful, especially because Google added some intelligence to the proceedings.
There's a new ultrasonic sensor that can tell when your hand gets near and will automatically enable two small lights on the left and right as a guide for tapping the volume buttons. This feature is especially useful for late-night interactions where changing the volume using your voice can disturb a sleeping partner.
The Nest Mini is an iterative upgrade over the Google Home Mini but that's OK as, ultimately, the Home Mini is a fantastic speaker for so little money.
If your room doesn't have anywhere feasible to place the Nest Mini, the new mounting hole is a welcome addition. The Google Home Mini has developed an accessory ecosystem, with many of the accessories featuring mounting options. Now you can just pop a nail in the wall, hang the Nest Mini and be done with it, although you probably won't get the wire to hang straight like Google shows in its press pictures.
The charging port has also changed from the standard-but-dated micro-USB to a barrel type charger, similar to the Amazon Echo Dot. This is likely down to the Nest Mini's greater 15W power requirement, and other than having fewer available third party chargers, it doesn't affect the experience in any way.
The software needs further tweaks
Nest Mini What I don't like
With all the improvements fixing the key things I didn't like about the Nest Mini, there's virtually nothing I don't like about the Nest Mini. The only thing I'm still wary of is the long-term performance, as I've found other Google Assistant speakers tend to take longer and longer to respond to voice requests over time.
Google says the new on-device machine learning chip should improve Assistant by learning the routines and phrases you say often and processing them locally. I'm sure it will eventually, but there's still a pause when I'm activating any of the routines I use frequently. That said, on device AI is going to improve with time, so I'm quietly excited about the Nest Mini eventually responding almost immediately.
Nest Mini Bottom Line
Whether you're getting into the Assistant speaker market for the first time, or this is your tenth speaker, the Nest Mini is a great small speaker.
The Nest Mini is a great small speaker. At full price, it's a great buy; discounted, it's an absolute steal.
It brings the new Assistant, and the machine learning chip should allow conversations with Assistant flow faster. In my testing, it still missed a beat or two while waiting for a response from the server, but none more so than the previous Google Home Mini or Amazon's Echo Dot.
At $49, it's a product that's easy to purchase on a whim. Based on the history of the Google Home Mini during Black Friday last year, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nest Mini price be reduced drastically, or see multiples bundled alongside other Google Assistant products. There's also multiple colors you can choose from, which help it to blend into your home.
If you have the chance to pick one up at a low price, it's worth doing so as this is a small, but mighty, speaker that's perfect for the bathroom and other small spaces.
Small speaker, big sound
An excellent purchase, at a price that'll get lower
The Nest Mini is perfect for the one place I'm wary of putting anything more expensive: the bathroom. It makes for the ultimate shower buddy, where your bathroom — not just your shampoo bottle — is your microphone and arena. It'll likely be on sale for Black Friday, making it an even better buy.
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