Since the first Amazon Echo broke cover in 2014, smart speakers have become commonplace in many homes: reading out the weather forecast, queueing up tunes, keeping the kids entertained, looking up interesting nuggets of trivia, and much more.
Google joined the fray in 2016 with the original Google Home, and the Google Home Mini is the smaller, cheaper version of that – still powered by Google Assistant, but in a cuter form. Is the Google Home Mini worth a place in your home? Read on to find out.
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Google Home Mini: design and setup
There's no denying the aesthetic appeal of the Google Home Mini, like an oversized electronic pebble and available in no fewer than four tasteful colours: the white-ish chalk, the black-ish charcoal, the red-ish coral, and the turquoise-ish aqua. It should be able to fit in any room, no matter what the decor.
Power is provided via a single microUSB port which connects directly to the mains, and the only other interruption on the speaker's smooth curves is a physical microphone switch – you can toggle this off when you want to make sure the Google Home Mini isn't listening.
On the top, four LEDs light up to show that the Google Home Mini is listening, and to indicate volume levels, but you can't see them when you're not actually talking to the smart speaker. You can also tap on top of the Google Play Home Mini to pause and resume audio playback, and to turn the volume up or down (depending on which side of the speaker mesh you tap on).
That fabric top and plastic bottom combination is a good choice from Google, and makes the speaker – which is small enough to fit in your palm – very easy on the eye. All in all its a stylish, minimal approach, and even more so if you can find a way to hide the power cable behind a shelf or a book.
The rubber matting underneath the Google Home Mini keeps slips and slides down to a minimum when it's placed on a flat surface – you can stick it just about anywhere. With enough DIY knowhow, you could get your Google Home Mini up on the wall, but there's no bracket or fixing included in the box.
Setup is very straightforward, via the Google Home app for Android or iOS: it's just a question of connecting to your home Wi-Fi. If you've set up voice match for Google Assistant on your phone, you can transfer this over to the Google Home Mini, so some requests for personal information (such as your upcoming calendar appointments) only get read out if the speaker is able to recognise who you are.
Google Home Mini: features and usability
The star of the Google Home Mini show is of course Google Assistant, just as it is on the original Google Home. The software on board is exactly the same on both the speakers. If you want all the Google Assistant goodness with a few extra visuals and some additional tricks, try a Nest Hub or a Nest Hub Max.
We're not going to go into everything Google Assistant can do for you – you've probably already used it in one form or another – but the digital helper now covers a huge number of functions and tasks, and is getting smarter all the time.
You can get answers from the web, check your spelling, solve maths problems, hear the weather forecast, get a brief news update, check travel times to destinations, set alarms and reminders, hear what's coming up on your Google Calendar, check the latest sports scores, and much more besides.
The Google Home Mini can make calls to landlines and mobiles too, and Google foots the bill so it's free in the UK: it works via the Google Contacts on your phone, though your number shows as "private" or "anonymous" unless you change this in the Google Home app settings.
If there's a Chromecast on your home network, then the Google Home Mini can cast photos, Netflix shows, content from Google Play Movies & TV, or YouTube videos up on the big screen with a voice command. It can play music too: Deezer, YouTube Music and Spotify are some of the accounts you can link up, again via the Google Home app.
The device works as a Chromecast as well: if you don't want to ask your Google Home Mini to play something, you can just beam audio to it from your phone, whether you're playing music, audiobooks, podcasts or anything else. It's even possible to set up two Google Home Minis as a stereo pair, if you want to.
Audio playback is one reason to think about getting a more expensive, original Google Home or a Google Home Max, because the audio on the larger speakers is much better. The sound produced by the Google Home Mini is fine, and does for a few tunes or a podcast, and fills a room easily – but for the best audio fidelity, it's not the device to go to.
Then you've got the growing number of devices that work with Google Assistant, from Philips Hue bulbs to Nest thermostats. Any device that works with Google Assistant can be controlled through a Google Home Mini, and you can group devices together too if needed (to turn off all the lights in your house, for instance).
In terms of intelligence and capabilities, it's hard to separate Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa at the moment: they'll both serve you well in terms of what they do. One of the main reasons you might choose a Google Home Mini over an Amazon Echo Dot though, is if you're already heavily invested in Google apps and services, and have used the Assistant on other devices (like your phone).
Google Home Mini: price and verdict
The official retail price of the Google Home Mini is £49 – that's a decent price already but you can often find it on the web for cheaper than that, and at the time of writing it's down to £29 on the official Google Store. We've also seen plenty of offers for the Google Home Mini as well, including a free speaker for Spotify Premium subscribers. At £49 it's good value for money, and if you can find it for less than that then even more so.
The question is why you wouldn't want to buy one of these: the Google Home Mini can do so many tricks, and be helpful in so many ways, that it's not difficult to see why they've become so popular. They're almost cheap enough to get one for every room, which is probably what Google is hoping for.
If you're flush with cash you can go for a Google Assistant speaker with more audio oomph or a smart display, or if you're more into Amazon's products and services then you can go for an Amazon Echo, but for everyone else the Google Home Mini is a superb little gadget that can act as the hub for the centre of your smart home.