If you’re already a big user of Google’s services, Google’s Assistant kit will fit right into your household. For example, you can link your calendar, photos, mail and schedule with the Home Mini quite seamlessly. It's the most affordable smart speaker you can get in SA readily, and it looks hella good.
There has never been a better time to invest in a new virtual best friend than right now. Self-isolation can get… pretty lonely. And this Google-made voice-controlled doughnut has made it socially acceptable to talk to your house.
A while ago we tried out the Google Nest Hub, and the only problem we had with it is that we don’t have enough Googles to fill the house. The Google Home Mini is the perfect addition to any smart home. It’s cheap, small and easy to link to an existing setup.
This little puck can do everything its big bro can do, barring the larger speaker’s power and display (for obvious reasons — this one’s smaller and doesn’t have a screen). Is it worth investing in one? That depends on your needs and approval of Google’s… ahem, questionable security.
Is Google always listening?
We’re going to say this right off the bat: If you’re at all worried about online safety, it’s best you don’t get a Google companion in the house. There has been some clap-back to Google having a bit too much access to people’s daily lives.
But Google has incorporated more intensive control over what information it accesses. Like its big brother, the Home Mini doesn’t send recordings to the mothership unless you use its name (like “Hey Google” or “Ok Google). If you do use the hot-phrases, then any recordings sent to Google are also apparently deleted. That’s according to Google, so do with that what you will.
You can access account settings and delete any recorded history in the ‘My Activity’ section of the Home app.
But also consider that using a Home speaker is really no different from typing something into Google and hitting ‘search’. So if you’re that scared of being listened to, just go ahead and don’t use the internet ever again.
Cute as a button
The Google Home Mini fits perfectly in the palm of your hand if you’ve got normal-sized hands. Whatever that may be. It’s small enough to go unnoticed on a counter but still looks good, whether you have the charcoal, coral or teal coloured hardware.
But there are some issues. Firstly, Google has had to ‘permanently remove’ all of the top touch functionality on the Home Mini. Users should have been able to tap the fabric on top to play or pause music, and also ‘press and hold’ to call up the assistant. But, because of a bug, Google just removed the capability.
You can still turn the volume up and down by tapping on either side of the LEDs, but it’s a shame you now have to say “Ok Google, pause” to stop a morning alarm, rather than just whacking the top with your hand.
Because of its size, it only has one port — the micro-USB charging port. There’s no audio jack, which means you’ll have to connect it to another Cast-enabled device if the speaker isn’t enough to blast your Daily Mixes to.
Not the boom-boom
So what can the Home Mini actually do? Aside from controlling your smart home, answering obscure questions and adding things to your shopping list, the most useful is hands-free music control.
But don’t expect cinema-level audio playback. You won’t buy the Home Mini for its sound. It’s a tiny little speaker that’s good enough to listen to you and play back audio cues. Audiophiles will scoff at the sound quality if you catch our drift.
Also, because it doesn’t have an audio-out jack (like the Amazon Echo Dot has), you can’t connect the Mini to a range of Bluetooth speakers or home sound systems. You’ll have to connect it to a Chromecast-enabled environment. Luckily, this product range is growing. Just check the box of a BT speaker before buying it. And invest in a Chromecast.
Knowledge is power
What makes Google’s hardware really great, though, is Google’s software. With its machine learning algorithms, Google is always improving its answers, which makes the Mini the best argument-stopper.
When we asked it ‘does it rain diamonds on Neptune?’, ‘where do thoughts come from?’, ‘what came before the big bang?’, ‘can gravity slow down time?’ and ‘how do speakers work?’, it gave a thoughtful answer each time. Google is the almighty search engine, so it makes sense. But the fact that it understands our wonky Souf African Engrish is admirable.
Another cool feature is Broadcast, and lets you send a voice message to all other Home devices in your house. That’s if you have more than one, which we highly recommend if you’re able to invest in these pucks.
Google has teamed up with Disney to bring audio stories from the likes of Mickey Mouse and Lightning McQueen to Home speakers. That’s perfect for households with bored children (oh, and they’re especially bored now). Just say ‘Hey Google, tell me a story”, and she’ll drop some cute anecdotes for the small humans.
Google Home Mini Verdict
If you’re already a big user of Google’s services, Google’s Assistant kit will fit right into your household. For example, you can link your calendar, photos, mail and schedule with the Home Mini quite seamlessly.
Another strength is controlling your smart home, with Google’s Home kit supporting most major brands now. It’s easy enough to link most of your smart home tech with the little puck. But coming in at just R600 a pop, the Mini is the most affordable smart speaker you can get in SA right now. We would recommend pairing it with a Nest Hub, which is the more powerful speaker and display combo. But a few Mini’s scattered across the house would do the job just fine.