Dedicated voice assistants are all the rage right now, and for good reason. Nothing adds a little sci-fi to your home quite like an AI buddy. A few different companies have come up with their own, and not to be left in the dust, Google has theirs. The pint-sized Google assistant–the Home Mini–is a charming little pebble of a device that hopes to help you control your smart home appliances, keep you posted on the various goings-on in your world, and generally make your life a little easier. We get to find out if it succeeds.
The Home Mini is quite unobtrusive. Dressed in a non-threatening grey, with a fabric mesh speaker top, four LEDs, and hardly anything else, it’s a piece of tech that will fit in anywhere you can put it that’s also in reach of a wall outlet. Controls are sparse on the device. Apart from a single slider that mutes it, you won’t be able to see anything to interact with anywhere on there. Volume controls are capacitive, and tapping on either side of the four indicator lights will turn the volume up or down. Turn the Mini over, and you’ll find a bright orange skid pad that helps keep it in place, while checking the rear of the unit reveals a single microUSB port for power input. It’s very sleek, whichever way you turn it, and would fit perfectly in a minimalist environment.
Coming in at a dainty 3.8 inches in diameter by 1.65 inches high, it has definitely earned its title. Inside the little smart speaker, you’ll find the usual wireless protocols. Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac come standard, with additional support for practically all of the current consumer Bluetooth standards. Far-field speakers take care of the listening, making sure the little pebble can hear you from across the room, and a large, reasonably powerful 40 mm driver ensures you can hear it in turn. Power is courtesy of an included 5 V micro USB adapter, so you don’t have to worry about losing a proprietary power plug should you have to move it to some other location. It’s an impressive enough spec sheet in such a small device. But can it perform?
User Experience: 3.5/5
You may be wondering what you can use the Home Mini for. Well, the short answer is: a lot. Just like the assistant on your phone, you can ask it to do simple tasks such as set alarms, make reminders, and do quick searches for information. Need to find out if you should be bringing an umbrella? Ask it what the weather is, and she’ll set you straight. It’s not even that hard. Just get its attention with a quick “Hey Google,” and ask away. If you’ve trained it to recognize your voice, you can even ask for your agenda for the day, and she should be more than happy to oblige. Does it really work as advertised? Well, that’s the thing.
When it works, it works great. Order it to play music, and she’ll get right on it. Ask who built the Eiffel tower, and it’ll get that info to you. In our daily use, however, we found there was a lot of struggle to get her to understand what we were saying. We’ve had to deal with her asking several times what we wanted her to do, or getting the command wrong altogether. It would sometimes take a few attempts to get the assistant to set a timer or alarm, for example. We’re not sure what causes this, as the speaker is in a central location in our condo, and we speak louder and clearer than usual.
Again, playing music also had a few issues. Pairing with a Samsung Bluetooth speaker was achieved easily enough, however, playback was frequently stuttery. It would be fine for a while, but then go back to having difficulty streaming shortly after. You can of course play music from its built-in speaker, but it’s of significantly lower quality than can be found on dedicated bluetooth speakers.
When it does work, it’s amazing. I can have it search for and play a YouTube video on the Chromecast plugged into the TV, for example, all without even looking at my phone. Other smart devices can also be controlled with similar ease, as long as they are supported, which is a lot of fun, and actually quite useful. Asking it to execute simple searches is also quite useful. Cooking, for example has been transformed at our home. From conversions, to timers, and reminders, having an assistant to do the menial stuff saves a significant amount of time. Being able to check the weather and my schedule for the day while I’m getting ready for work is another thing we’ve been using the Home Mini for—all hands-free, and extremely convenient.
I do wish i could give it a higher score. The main reason it’s not higher than just a 4 is because it misses commands just a little too often. That can be frustrating, and even potentially disastrous, should you mistakenly set the timer to 50 instead of 15 minutes as you’re baking. Still, it’s not actually that expensive, and a decent way to get a useful home assistant without breaking the bank.
Give it a try before you drop your cash on it. If it works for you, grab it—it’s a no-brainer.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE August 2018 Issue.
Reviewed by Ren Alcantara