Google’s tiny speaker/smart assistant is a useful (and fun) house companion that’s set to get even better. But only if you’ve got the necessary accessories and smart home gadgets to help it live up to its fullest potential.
Google Home Mini, $62.80 on Lazada, $79 on Google Store
What We Loved:
- Compact, unobtrusive design
- Google Assistant is the highlight. It's constantly improving and evolving with new functions.
- Convenience of having Google Search and services under one roof (e.g. Google Maps, Translate, Calendar, Youtube).
- Easy set up and control functions. Mobile app makes exploring the Google Assistant a breeze, and complements voice commands.
- Really value-for-money, considering it’s price.
What We Didn’t
- Sound quality is modest at best. Great for pop songs, not for classical/instrumentals.
- Limited support capabilities. Chromecast is essential for multimedia voice control.
- Compatible services are still limited for Singapore’s version.
- Needs more work in computing translations. Still misses some commands, or mistranslates some - due to accent or colloquial language used.
Homeowners who already have a range of compatible smart home devices at home (and need an all-in-one hub to control them). Regular users of Google’s suite of services.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard of Google Home, the search giant’s latest range of smart speaker assistants. Finally arriving in local shores, homeowners can now ask questions, make voice commands and control their host of smart home devices - in Singlish, no less.
In fact, the pocket-friendly Google Home Mini makes it almost impossible not to give things a try. Note, try is the word. While the tiny speaker comes with Google’s full Assistant capabilities, it’s scaled-down size (and price) trades off with sound quality. And unless you’re willing to integrate into Google’s smart home ecosystem - the Home still has a long way to go in terms of becoming truly indispensable.
Opening the Box
Packed in a cube-shaped box, the handy Mini’s the perfect size for gifting (others or yourself - up to you!). Upon opening, users would have to tear a perforated tab. It’s a bit like biscuit boxes - once open, the box cannot be completely sealed back. Perhaps Google doesn’t expect users to return the device anytime soon?
Inside, the box included:
- 1 x Home Mini device
- 1 x Power cable and socket
- 3 x Instructional leaflets.
‘Donut’, ‘cheese wheel’, ‘macaron’ - many foodie comparisons have been made about the Home Mini, which definitely plays up its cuteness. It’s all good, though - thanks to its compact size, the Home Mini easily blends in to any home setup.
The Mini’s navigation is simple - there’s only one button that allows you to turn on (or off) the microphone for Google Assistant. Meanwhile, the sides of the Mini work as a touch-enabled volume control. Tap left to reduce, right to increase. Some drawbacks? This feature can come off annoying at times; when picked up, its sides might mistakenly register it as a change in volume.
Using the Google Home App
Think of the app as a control center for the Home Mini; it’s here where users can toggle controls, settings, sync compatible devices and explore what add-ons or features to try with Google Assistant. You can also check activity logs and access helpful information that the Assistant sends over when you make a search query. Really handy, if you're the type that prefers to read than listen.
Using the Google Home Mini
While the Google Assistant does overshadow the rest of Google Home Mini’s qualities - let’s not forget that it is also a speaker and smart home hub! We tested each of these core features, and here's what we loved (and didn't) about it:
The Assistant is where the Mini really shines. Combining Google’s suite of services (Search, Maps, Translate, Contacts, etc.) into one platform, it's an understatement to say that the Assistant does a lot. Reading the news, getting transport information or even asking it random questions, like 'what’s 1234 x 4321?' - it handles whatever’s thrown at it with ease.
And things don't stop there - what's great about Google Home is that major improvements are constantly being introduced and seamlessly integrated into the device's software. Think upcoming developments like Google Duplex, a feature that allows the Assistant to help make phone calls on your behalf. It's these useful improvements that keep users coming back for more.
Voice recognition sensitivity is good here; the Mini responds quickly the moment it hears ‘Hey Google’ and even manages to capture voices over a noisy background or playing music. Response to queries were fast, though computing complicated commands such as transport data still took some time.
Smart home control is equally fuss-free. The app comes with an extensive list of supported home automation systems and devices you can 'add'. From there, the Google Home also allows you to customise voice commands, and users can create command ‘recipes’ on platforms like IFTTT. It was fun exploring with our Philips Hue Lights, and we were (slightly) amazed that the custom commands worked like a charm.
Unfortunately, for a smart assistant that's built as a speaker, the Home Mini doesn't do music playback as well. Without a 3.5mm jack or USB cable, the Google Home goes completely wireless. Users can stream music via apps like Tidal or Spotify or play music via Bluetooth. While it does cut out the physical clutter of cables, it makes music playback a tad less universal - if you're using an unsupported music app or don't have Bluetooth? You're out.
Sound quality is mediocre and has a tendency to go to the extremes. When it gets loud, it’s too loud; and when it’s soft, it’s hard to even hear anything at all. There’s an emphasis on vocals, with background music often drowned out. It’s fine if you’re playing vocal-driven pop music, but if it’s classical or instrumentals, subtle musical arrangements would not be easily discerned on the speaker.
Another area which we were slightly disappointed by was video playback. While one of Google Home's main highlights is being able to play Youtube videos or Netflix shows on TV with a voice command - the catch is that it can only be done with Chromecast-enabled device or one with a connected Cast dongle (sold separately).
Lastly, Assistant’s ability to recognise local speech manages to get most of our lingo (surprise!). But it isn’t entirely perfect. There were a couple of times when the Mini misheard our queries. One instance was when we asked ‘What is 1,000 calories in kilojoules’, to which the Assistant understood as ‘How many calories is 1,000kg’. Hmm.
So, is it worth the buy?
For it’s price, there’s no harm in getting a Home Mini. Backed by a powerful search engine, complementary services and localised features, there are many things first-time users can explore with the device, and perhaps come to rely on in the long run. However, if you’re not fully invested in the Google Home (or smart home) lifestyle - a lack of smart home devices and accessories like the Chromecast can seriously frustrate users and limit the Mini’s capabilities.
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