Hands On Preview: Google Home Mini

Unless you're rich enough to have an actual butler, there are two choices when it comes to home voice assistants: go big with a smart speaker, or go small with mini hub.

Amazon’s Echo Dot has long owned the latter, but now it has an infuriatingly charming adversary in the Google Home Mini.

This furry little doughnut wants to be your gateway drug to the world of talking to lightbulbs and being proved wrong in front of family members on matters of fact.

But is it better than an Echo Dot? I spent a little time talking to one at Google's Pixel 2 party to find out.

DESIGN: CUTE AS A

SMART

BUTTON

Round one definitely goes to the Home Mini – design-wise, it makes the Echo Dot look like a plastic toy.

Okay, the fabric look isn't exactly original (Libratone's being doing it on speakers since 2009), but it gives the Home Mini a 'good guy'  feel compared to its rival's Darth Vader black.

Both smart speakers are about the same size, with the Home Mini coming in three different colours (charcoal, chalk and coral). If your neutral lounge is in need of a dash of colour, then coral is definitely the one to go for.

Underneath that fabric are four LEDS, which light up to show that the Home MIni has heard you or that it's thinking about your request. 

One big missing feature compared to the Echo Dot, though, is the lack of 3.5mm jack, which means you can't hook it up directly to some old speakers to give them voice control. To do that, you'll need a Chromecast.

Instead, that button you can see on the underside of the Home Mini is there to simply turn the mic on or off. You know, if it's starting to make you feel a little paranoid.

FEATURES: TALK TO THE SUPER-BRAIN

It might have a 360-degree speaker, but the Home Mini isn't really for playing music.

It'll certainly have a stab at playing whatever you ask it to find on Google Play Music or Spotify, and there are basic volume and start/stop controls if you touch the side or top on the Home Mini.

But it struggled to rise above the din of our demo room and the Google reps were at pains to point out that it's happier directing requests to a Chromecast-equipped system.

So what does it do? One of the main things is controlling your smart home. Google has pretty much caught up with Alexa in this area, and the Google Assistant will soon be getting improved 'routines' that let it, say, turn on the lights, start your coffee maker and play a playlist with a simple 'good morning' command.

One advantage it does have over the Echo Dot is 'Voice Match'. Although the Echo does now support multiple users, Home speakers can automatically recognise who's speaking and give you tailored responses based on your Google account.

And that's the main difference between the two - if you're a big user of Google's services, the Home Mini will happily fetch your calendar info or tell you the best deals on Google Flights. It's also much better at answering random, general knowledge questions.

But if it's mainly voice-controlled shopping you're after, then the Echo Dot is still likely to be a better bet.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

If the cartoonish design wasn't a big enough hint, Google is pitching the Home Mini as the voice assistant for young families.

Two new upcoming features back this up. The first, called broadcast, lets you send a voice message to all other Home devices in your house. No more banging on the ceiling with a broomstick to say when dinner's ready.

Secondly, Google has teamed up with Disney to bring audio stories from the likes of Mickey Mouse and Lightning McQueen to Home speakers later this month. Your bored offspring will be able to summon these by simply saying 'Hey Google, tell me a story', as your babysitter looks on feeling slightly obsolete.  

GOOGLE HOME MINI EARLY VERDICT

Unless you've already filled your house with Echo Dots, the Home Mini is shaping up to be a great entrée to home voice control. 

It's nicer looking than the Echo Dot, costs the same and works better with Google services like Gmail, Maps and Calendar, particularly in busy households thanks to Voice Match recognition. Google Assistant is also better at handling random factual questions that tap into the Google superbrain.

Still, it's a slight shame that the Home Mini doesn't have an aux output for hooking up it directly to other speakers (without a Chromecast), so the Echo Dot still holds the advantage here. Amazon's rival is also naturally better for voice-ordering shopping, if that's your thing.

So while the Home Mini wins out on visual charm, it remains to be seen whether it can topple the Echo Dot as our favourite mini smart assistant. We'll bring you a full review before it starts shipping on 19 October. 

Source : http://www.pcauthority.com.au/feature/hands-on-preview-google-home-mini-474758

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