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Google Home Mini review: It doesn’t outdo the Dot |

Google Home Mini review: It doesn’t outdo the Dot

The Google Home Mini is the gateway drug Google desperately needed to compete with Amazon’s Echo lineup. If you already have a Google Home, adding a Mini to another room is a no-brainer. If you’ve yet to decide which smart-home ecosystem to buy into, your decision will be more complicated.

Like the Echo Dot, a Google Home Mini can do everything its larger sibling can do. The bulk of the processing power it needs is in the cloud, so very little is needed in the device itself. The biggest difference lies in the speaker; and on that score, the Mini sucks just as badly as an Echo Dot. But I can’t imagine anyone relying on a Mini for music reproduction any more than I can a Dot.

The Google Home Mini and the Echo Dot are essentially smart-home extension cords. They’re cheap enough that you can put one in every room, so you can tap the power of the cloud from anywhere. For me, that means being able to control my smart home with voice commands from just about every room, including my enclosed patio and the garage.

Using the Google Home Mini

I like the Google Home Mini, although I won’t be using one in my home on a regular basis for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. The Mini is more attractive than an Echo Dot (although the coral model I reviewed looks like jelly donut), and its volume and play-pause controls are completely camouflaged beneath its fabric cover. But I have to wonder what that fabric will look like after a year or two of hands touching it and dust settling on it. I suppose I could hit it with a vacuum now and again, but will it stand up to the occasional spray of stain remover?

Michael Brown / IDG

The Mini’s mic mute switch is much more awkward to use than the button on the back of the larger Google Home.

The Mini’s mic button, on the other hand, is a side-mounted slider that requires two hands to operate: one to hold the speaker and the other to manipulate the switch. The Echo Dot’s top-mounted push button, and the button on the back of the Google Home, are much easier to use. Google recently disabled the Mini’s ability to summon Google Assistant when you touch the top of it over privacy concerns: The Mini wouldn’t stop recording everything it heard and uploading it to Google’s servers. Whoops.

Four LEDs light up when you summon Google Assistant, but these are much less obvious indicators that you have the Mini’s attention compared to the LED ring around the Echo Dot. You might want to turn on the accessibility feature that causes the Mini to produce a sound when you summon it. The LEDs will also light up to represent volume levels when you tap either side.

Going back to the Mini’s music capabilities for a second: The Echo Dot might not sound any better, but it does have the ability to send its audio to external speakers, via Bluetooth or its analog auxiliary port. And several manufacturers have come out with speaker docks that you can attach to an Echo Dot—the Ninety7 Vaux being just one example—that deliver superior sound without changing the Dot’s footprint. The only way to improve the Mini’s sound is to pair with a Google Cast-enabled speaker.

I’ve had a Google Home since its early days, and have found it to be more sophisticated than the Echo. It’s better at understanding my requests, and it’s much more helpful when I’m seeking general information. But the Echo series is compatible with more devices, and it’s vastly superior at controlling my smart home system of choice. There’s also a raft of accessories available for it, ranging from the aforementioned speakers to batteries that render it completely portable, recessed mounts that let you install it in your ceiling, and even fabric sleeves to dress it up.

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