Google Home In Depth Explainer Tips – If you buy something with links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to
My Google Assistant is many things, but it’s mostly a meteorologist. I work 40 miles from my apartment, and the Bay Area’s many microclimates mean I’ll experience some weather between my door and my desk. The questions come in the same order every morning: Hey Google, what’s the weather in San Jose? Hey Google, what about in San Francisco? Hey Google, what about tonight?
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The new Google Home Mini is well suited for this use. Google’s latest smart speaker emphasizes smart over speaker: it’s a small pebble of a thing, about the size of a crosswise slice of a softball. Unlike, say, the Home Max, which Google built to sound big, the Mini is just supposed to be so small, so cheap, and so simply designed that you’ll put it somewhere and never notice it again. Google imagines that you will maybe put one in every home, ensuring that there is always a mic nearby by hearing you ask for the weather, set timers or control your smart home. Sure, it plays music, but you won’t like how it sounds. In short, it’s a Google-made replica of the Amazon Echo Dot.
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After using the Home Mini for a few days, I think I get the use case. This is a complementary device: to a good speaker, so you can control Spotify with your voice; to a Chromecast, so you can claim the Internet finds you something good to watch; To a Home Max or even regular Home, so you can extend the range of your Google Assistant. By itself, it is expensive and compromised. As a $50 add-on, as a repeater for your router or a universal remote for your TV, it’s excellent.
Can’t beat the price: At $49, the Home Mini makes a cool holiday gift for anyone you even like. In my eyes, at least, Google has successfully pulled off just the right kind of boring design. (Except for the Coral model, which you can’t help but notice.) Sure, it looks like a futuristic metal donut, but you’ll set it up and never notice it again. It’s much more attractive and cozy than the Echo Dot. It only takes about two minutes to get up and running, and setup is even easier thanks to a recent update to the Google Home app. Like any Home, the Mini does all the Google Assistant things and does them all just like the original Home.
For such a small speaker, it’s pretty loud – you can easily hear it from across the room. You mostly won’t interact with the mini itself, but the controls are handy. Tap either side to turn the volume up or down; Quickly tap the device to pause or play, or press and hold to get Assistant.
Most of what’s great about the Mini holds true for all Google Home devices: The Assistant is impressively useful and getting better all the time. Using the Mini as a speakerphone works really well, and it’s a pretty handy remote control for my Chromecast-enabled TV watching. Voice Match works well (if not perfectly), and as far as I’m concerned multi-user support should be smart speaker table stakes. It does smart-home controls well, and the upcoming Routines feature—which lets you do a bunch of things with a single command—should make them even better. Even the new app makes finding stuff to do or watch better.
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It may be loud, but the Home Mini sounds like crap. Absolutely no bass, clipped highs, just crammy sound quality all around. It doesn’t matter when it’s just the assistant telling you traffic conditions, but listening to music on the Home Mini is hardly better than listening through your phone’s speakers. Since there’s no AUX port, the only way to connect the Mini to a better speaker is via Chromecast, which certainly doesn’t work like a 3.5mm cable. You can’t even Bluetooth to another speaker, which is odd because you can use the Home Mini as a Bluetooth speaker for your phone or laptop. Why, don’t.
You can’t actually see the four LEDs on top of the Mini, so it’s hard to tell if the speaker hears you say “Hey Google.” I highly recommend the audio alerts, which you can find in the accessibility section but should probably be on by default for the Mini. Also, Google needs to figure out how to better arbitrate devices so I don’t get so many phones and speakers responding every time I ask a question.
The big debate is between the Echo Dot and the Home Mini. There is no clear winner. The Home Mini is better looking, but this one has a line-out jack. Google Assistant is better at answering questions and making phone calls, but Alexa is better for smart home and music stuff. It’s an ecosystem question, really: If you already have a Pixel and drive Android Auto, go with the Home Mini, and maybe buy a Max or Home, too. If you’re looking for cool music, buy a dot, plug it into a real speaker and enjoy. Neither is perfect, but both are worth the $50. If you buy anything with links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to
Home looks like a gadget you would really want in your home. Assistant does all the basic things really well, plus a few remarkably cool things too. It’s an impressively good speaker, for such a tiny package.
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Not much of the Google-infused personalization or intelligence seems to be here yet. Google doesn’t have many third-party partners yet, so you’re stuck in Google land.
I’d be lying if I said unplugging my Amazon Echo didn’t feel a little like a breakup. “Alexa,” I whispered while pulling the plug, “it’s just for now.” But it wasn’t Alexa, it was me. More specifically, it was someone else. I need the site for Google Home.
The $129 home smart speaker plays a vital role in Google’s futuristic vision of “a Google for everyone,” powered by its omnipresent Assistant. Almost nothing about it is new; It’s like some Googler bought an Echo and wondered if, ah, maybe Google should make one too. (I mean, the product development timeline
Allow for that.) It’s not a knock-off, though. Google aspires to another level of power, personalization and accuracy – not to mention a cuter package than the got tennis ball can Amazon designed.
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I like home. It provides much of what Echo offers, while signaling much more product and platform ambition than Amazon. Great potential is only worth so much, and Amazon seems to understand better than anyone what’s possible with these devices right now. Sometimes home feels like sci-fi magic. Sometimes it reaches beyond its grasp and falls flat. The Echo is less impressive, but more reliable.
The good news is, you can’t go wrong here. You will like them both, although neither one is perfect. The question is how much you’re willing to bet on what these devices could be, and which company you think can deliver on that promise.
Every gadget sitting front-and-center in your home had better look nice. Home does. It sits 6 inches tall, with a bulbous bottom and a sharply sloped top that makes it easy to see the four lights that indicate home is listening or working. It looks like something you could plant a succulent in, or a modernist orange juice carafe. Or an air freshener.
The speaker is a subtle, matte white, and you can choose from a dozen bottom caps to complete the look. The back features a Google icon and a mute button for when you don’t want to ooze. Home’s single cable nestles flat against the bottom. As long as you don’t have a complicated Wi-Fi setup, it takes about two minutes to get started with the Home app. The whole thing is minimalist, thoughtful and warm. It will look just right nestled between your ferns and that club table lamp you got at IKEA.
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Home is an excellent speaker, by the way – richer, brighter and more dynamic than the Echo, and loud enough to fill a room. It is much more than I expected. The downside is that Home doesn’t work like a normal Bluetooth speaker, which is weird and annoying. Then again, it’s $50 cheaper than the Echo. You have to save somewhere.
Really, though, home is not about the device. Neither does the Echo. It’s about what’s inside. The thing you talk to, the thing that talks back, the thing that knows I have a meeting and traffic sucks and I’m going to be late if I don’t leave right now. What really matters is the cheerful and chirpy chatter of the speakers. Without Google Assistant, there isn’t much to talk about.
The home assistant isn’t the same as the one in the Pixel, or the one in the Allo messaging app. Well, strictly speaking, it’s the same. But you will not use them the same way, and they do not work