Google Home Mini full review

Smart speakers are quickly gaining popularity, not least because Google and Amazon have cheap models that are hard to resist - especially when they're on offer. And right now, both the Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot are discounted to £34.99, which truly is a bargain.

They’re the kind of gadget that you don’t know you need until you try it out. People often ask why they’re better than having Siri or the Google Assistant on your phone: the difference is that these speakers are completely hands-free so you can talk to them and get results while you’re busy doing something else.

But which speaker is the one to get? Echo Dot or Home Mini? We help you choose.

Where to buy?

Amazon is the best place to buy an Echo Dot for £39.99/US$39.99. Note: The model reviewed here is the 2nd-generation and has now been replaced by the 3rd-gen Echo Dot 2018.

And you can buy a Home Mini direct from Google for £34.99/US$34.

If you prefer, you’ll also find them at Argos, Currys, John Lewis and other retailers. 

In a YouGov survey published in April 2018, it was revealed that Google Home Mini holds 9% of the UK smart speaker market (plus 7% for the standard Google Home) compared to Amazon Echo's (combined) 75%.

Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Features and design

The Echo Dot lacks the curves and fabric of the Home Mini, but it’s so small that it’s not obtrusive. The range of colours – black or white – is also more restrictive than the Home Mini, although the Mini offers just one extra colour: Coral.

Amazon Echo Dot vs Google Home Mini

Both devices have built-in speakers, but the Home Mini’s sounds better. It’s louder and has a fuller-sounding range, despite it being about the same size as a Krispy Kreme donut.

It’s not great if you want to listen to a lot of music, but the Google Assistant’s voice sounds clearer and, frankly, nicer.

Amazon Echo Dot vs Google Home Mini

We like that there are no visible buttons on the Home Mini: you tap the left- or right edge to adjust volume (or simply ask it to be quieter or louder).

The disadvantage is that it isn’t as easy to mute the mic on the Home Mini because the slider is somewhat hidden at the base rather than on top with the Echo Dot, which also has a useful extra button for doing things like silencing alarms.

We also like the Echo Dot’s aux port which can be used to connect a better speaker using a cheap, standard minijack cable. It’ll also let you pair a Bluetooth speaker to get better audio.

The Home Mini has no AUX port, but you can use its Bluetooth connection to pair another speaker or to stream audio from your phone or tablet.

(Also see: Echo Dot could merge with Fire TV in harmonious entertainment mash-up)

What can they do?

The most important factor, naturally, is what the assistants can do for you. This is a tricky area because both have their strengths and weaknesses. We've also covered these differences in our Google Home vs Amazon Echo comparison.

You’ll realise fairly quickly that this isn’t ‘true’ AI.  Neither Alexa nor Google Assistant truly understands what you mean all of the time (and sometimes it feels like most of the time).

Alexa, though, tends to need you to structure your requests more carefully than Google Assistant. Both require you to say the ‘wake word’ before they’ll listen to you, which means your conversations aren’t all recorded and listened to by Amazon or Google.

Amazon’s wake words trip off the tongue more easily, though since “Alexa”, “Amazon”, “Echo” and “Computer” are quicker and easier to say than “OK Google” or “Hey Google”.

Amazon Echo Dot vs Google Home Mini

But in terms of their real capabilities, Alexa is stronger when it comes to shopping (mainly because it’s tied into Amazon’s Prime ecosystem) and the Assistant is better at general ‘search’ questions because it has the power of Google search behind it.

Both will give you a news and weather ‘briefing’ which you can configure via the Alexa / Home app. They are also both great at playing music on request, whether from Spotify or their respective Amazon Music / Google Play Music services.

Alexa has a slight edge for controlling smart home kit such as Wi-Fi light bulbs, thermostats and other gadgets thanks to a large library of ‘skills’ which can be enabled either by asking Alexa or via the app.

You can use IFTTT with both devices, but this is more useful on the Home Mini where there isn’t any ‘app store’ of skills to enable as with Alexa. Some of the time you can control devices directly with no set up but otherwise it’s something you’ll have to set up yourself using IFTTT, which can be a bit of a hassle.

It gets hit and miss on both devices if you ask more complex questions such as “What’s on at the nearest cinema” because Alexa will respond with the address (not what’s on) and the Google Assistant usually picks a cinema miles away and not the nearest.

Similarly, you may or may not get a sensible answer when asking about opening times of local shops. You’ll either be lucky or get a response “Hmmm, I don’t know that one” from Alexa and “I’m still learning” from the Google Assistant.

Ask them about “How many days until Christmas”, “What’s 6 feet in centimetres” or “How tall is Mount Everest” and you’ll have no problems.

Enable the right skills on Alexa and she’ll tell you when is the next train to London Bridge or the current status of the Northern Line. Home Mini is not so well equipped to deal with such things yet.

Amazon is constantly adding new features to Alexa, one of which is calling and messaging. Calling has since been added to Home Mini too. 

For music lovers, you can group multiple Echos and play music in sync across them all, turning it into a proper multi-room system. And you can also now tell Alexa to play music on a specific Echo, which you couldn’t do originally.

The Home Mini, meanwhile, benefits from being able to hook into Google services which Alexa cannot, such as YouTube and Google Photos - even Nest's Hello doorbell. You can also use a Home Mini to control a Chromecast, which opens up quite a few possibilities such as being able to search for specific shows on Netflix or displaying photos from a particular trip from Google Photos, and it also supports multiroom audio. 

Google Home Mini: Specs

  • Google Assistant
  • 40mm driver, 360 sound
  • Far field voice recognition with off switch
  • Touch controls
  • Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • Android and iOS compatible
  • Chromecast and Chromecast Audio built-in
  • Micro-USB
  • 98x42mm
  • 173g
  • Google Assistant
  • 40mm driver, 360 sound
  • Far field voice recognition with off switch
  • Touch controls
  • Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • Android and iOS compatible
  • Chromecast and Chromecast Audio built-in
  • Micro-USB
  • 98x42mm
  • 173g