At a hardware event in October, Google announced the newest member of the Home family: the Google Home Mini. This hockey puck-shaped device is a speaker and a gateway to the internet. Even at its full retail price of $50, the Home Mini is worth every penny. The question is: Should you go big, go Home, or go mini?
The design is more minimal than its air freshener older brother, the Google Home. It can be purchased in several different colors: Chalk, Charcoal, and exclusive Coral color, which is the model I have here. There’s a fairly stylish, soft fabric coating on the top that feels really good in the hands even though that’s irrelevant. You’re not going to be touching this device. And it looks good sitting on a desk or a table.
There was a capacitive touch button on the top that allowed you to top to pause and play music but it has been disabled via software due to privacy concerns. Apparently, it was overly sensitive and inadvertently activating on its own. Early Home Minis were reportedly activated without the owner’s knowledge and recording its surroundings 24 hours a day. So Google decided to disable the feature altogether, following those revelations.
Thankfully, the two other capacitive touch buttons aren’t disabled. There are capacitive touch buttons on the left and right hand side of the speaker to adjust the volume. So if you don’t want to adjust the volume with your voice, you can use these buttons instead.
The only hardware button is a mute toggle to the side. We also have a micro USB cable for charging. This cable and port is being phased out. So even though it only serves as power, I would have liked to have seen a USB-C cable. Come on, Google. Get with 2017.
Now the Mini is a speaker first and foremost. But if you judge it solely on its ability to emit sound in a crisp and clear manner, you’ll probably be slightly disappointed. I mean the Mini is bigger in person than it is online and it has a bigger speaker cavity than the one I imagined. Unfortunately, the sound is so-so. There’s not as much bass and the clarity of the sound isn’t as good as other speakers in its price category.
One way to improve the sound quality is to use a better speaker. And chances are, you have a better speaker already. If you attach a Chromecast Audio to a high quality speaker that you already own, you can just tell the Google Home Mini to play music through that speaker instead. It’s really simple and the microphones pick up my voice across the room 9 out of 10 times even when music is blaring.
If you want to go big, I recommend the Google Home Max. It’s a $400 Google Home device that delivers a vastly superior sound.
Unfortunately, the Home Mini doesn’t have a headphone jack built-in so you can’t just connect the Mini directly to a better speaker. That would have been pretty nice to see. If you want improved sound quality, you could also just buy the regular Google Home for about twice as much. But the improvement on sound quality is really the only difference between the two models and the difference is marginal so it’s probably not worth spending the extra money on it.
The reason you should buy this device is for the Google Assistant. This $30 to $50 device gives you access to the best digital assistant in the world. After you set it up via the Google Home app, you can ask it all sorts of questions like “How far away is Chipotle?”, “What’s the weather?”, “How far away is the moon from Earth?”, “What’s on my calendar?”, “What’s the news?”. You can even have the Assistant cast movies and TV shows to your TV. And since the Assistant updates and operates via the Cloud, its functionality is always expanded.
The price of $50 is worth paying to have the Assistant in your bedroom, your studio, and/or living room. As of making this review, Google has lowered the price to $29. And for that price, this device is worth every single penny. Unless sound quality is of most importance to you, you shouldn’t go big or go Home. You should go Mini.
Google Home Mini via Google Store