When it comes to smart home compatibility, the Google Home Mini’s primary competition is the Amazon Echo Dot. However, the Google Home Mini has the upper hand with everything else, including sound quality, search engine efficiency and ease of use. As a sub-$50 smart speaker, the Google Home Mini is the best value option. Google is adding compatible products and smart features to its ecosystem at an astonishing clip, and once Google’s compatibility list rivals Alexa’s, the Echo Dot will be clinging to its Amazon Prime shopping capability as the only relevant advantage over the Google Mini.
One of our favorite features of the Google Home speakers is Voice Match capability. During the setup process, the Google Home app asks you to say each wake phrase (e.g., "OK, Google") twice. Once the first voice is recognized and added to the list of six possible voices, you tap on the invite button to send the instructions to any other member of your family that has a Google account. Each user can then personalize their account by choosing the streaming services and news feeds they enjoy most. When you ask Google to play a song, it will use the service you designate, which allows the music service to analyze your favorite songs and recommend playlists and other similar artists.
The Google Mini is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and comes with three color options: black, gray and coral. The top of the speaker is covered with fabric and responds well to touch controls. You tap the top panel to pause the song, or hold your finger on either side to turn the volume up or down. When you say the wake phrases “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google,” there are four LEDs that light up on the top panel to let you know the voice assistant is listening. There’s also a switch on the side panel that turns the microphone off, which is good if you are nervous about having an active listening device constantly monitoring your conversations. The bottom panel of the Google Home Mini is made from slip-resistant matte plastic and hides fingerprints well. This is the most unobtrusive-looking smart speaker we tested.
It’s no surprise that this pint-sizedspeaker had a hard time competing with its larger competition in our audio quality tests, but it sounds significantly better than its main rival: the Echo Dot. Vocals and acoustic instruments sound better than expected and are serviceable for a medium-size family room. You aren’t going to get floor-rumbling bass from the tiny speaker, but the assistant’s voice is easy to understand and loud enough to hear from across the room.
The microphone array in the Home Mini isn’t as efficient as the full-size Google Home, but it produced above-average results in our range tests. We put the speaker just inside a room and walked out the door and around the corner while speaking the wake phrase and measured the distance from the middle of the door frame to the maximum distance the speaker recognized my voice. We also had music playing at 70 dB, which is about as loud as a normal conversation, while we did our range tests to see if the voice assistant could hear us over the music. The Google Home Mini could hear the wake word over the music from 18 feet away.
The Google Home Mini is the best small smart speaker we tested. It sounds significantly better than the Echo Dot and we prefer the Google assistant over Alexa for searching the web. This is a great price point for your first smart speaker purchase, and if you enjoy it, you could always add a larger, more powerful speaker to your Google Home setup.