Google Home Mini Review: Pint-sized voice control

An affordable alternative to the standard Google Home

Google Home MIni

The Pros

  • Affordable
  • Sleek and small
  • Voice control works great

The Cons

  • Sound quality is poor
  • Lacks Alexa's skills, just like the Google Home
  • No direct competitors in the Canadian market

If you take the Google Home Mini’s $79 CAD price into consideration, the device is an impressive smart home assistant.

Sit the tiny smart speaker beside the standard Google Home standalone voice-activated assistant, though and any way you look at it, the tech giant’s more affordable, miniature offering pales in comparison.

Putting the Mini in the broader context of the smart home assistant industry is an interesting task right now. While Amazon’s Echo products aren’t yet available north of the U.S. border, they’re almost certainly launching soon. The Home Mini is designed to be a low-cost alternative to the Home and a direct competitor to the Dot, which isn’t officially available in Canada — and might never be. This means that right now, the Mini sits in a league of its own in the Canadian market.

With that said, there’s a lot to like about Google’s Home Mini, especially if you’re looking for a cost-effective smart home assistant that’s actually officially available in Canada.

Like its bigger sibling (but also not)

Google Home Mini

In many ways, the Mini — which was announced alongside the Max, Google’s high-fidelity smart speaker — is a lot like its larger, higher-quality sibling, the regular Google Home.

The two devices feature Google Assistant, Home app integration and smart home assistant functionality, resulting in both the Mini and the standard Home performing nearly identically in some respects. This is where the similarities between the two devices end though.

While the standard Home is a moderately capable speaker in terms of sound quality as long as you don’t compare it to the Amazon Echo, the Mini is not — and this is coming from someone who does not consider themselves an audiophile in any sense of the word.

google home mini top

The Mini’s sound is flat, the device doesn’t get very loud and in general, music is muffled, despite the device being pitched as featuring a top-firing 360-degree capable speaker. In comparison, the Home includes three speakers that deliver muffled, but still full-sounding audio that are capable of easily filling even larger rooms.

Just like the Home though, the Mini is great at playing even obscure music from a variety of services like Google Play Music and Spotify, via relatively intuitive Google Assistant-powered voice commands. As expected, the Mini isn’t compatible with Apple Music, just like the standard Home.

On the plus side, the Mini’s voice recognition is identical to the Home. The tiny device’s two microphones are able to hear my voice from across the room, as well as when I’m standing directly beside it. Of course, similar to all voice assistants, I ran into instances where the Home Mini didn’t hear what I was saying, though this probably only happened three or four times in the few weeks I’ve spent with the tiny speaker.

Blending in

Google Home Mini

To an extent, the Mini looks like Google turned the Home upside down and then squished it down with a vice. The speaker features a fabric texture that’s reminiscent of its larger counterpart, though slightly thicker, along with a coloured matte plastic base.

Size-wise, Google’s Home Mini sits comfortably in the palm of a hand and will blend in with the decor of most people’s homes. Its overall design is non-descript and very un-tech device like, which is refreshing in an industry full of black, glossy smart home devices. The top of the Home Mini also features contextual controls that allow the user to lower or raise the volume.

When I first got my hands on the Home Mini, the speaker also featured a contextual Google Assistant activation button that could be used by tapping and holding the middle of the device; that feature has been disabled following multiple early Mini devices recording nearly everything the user was saying when they were around it.

Google Home Mini rear

I don’t miss this feature since I primarily control the Mini via voice commands, but this is still a huge misstep on Google’s part; the company just barely dodged a potential privacy bullet.

While the Mini’s play/pause button and volume inputs work adequately, they can also be frustrating at times. Many times when I tried to raise the volume the buttons were unresponsive, though the play/pause button felt more accurate.

I often opted to raise/lower the device’s volume via voice commands because I found them more responsive. In one instance, a cord was touching the top of the Mini, causing its volume to fluctuate randomly. While a minor inconvenience, this is an unforeseen problem common to all touch-sensitive buttons.

Google Home Mini side view

Four LEDs illuminate on the top of the Home Mini when giving the speaker voice commands, indicating that the Mini has acknowledged your question or command. Google’s standard Home features a similar feature — its lights briefly glow in a multi-coloured circle — but it’s nice to see the company has also carried this functionality over to its smaller sibling.

The speaker also features a physical mute button on its rear that could be useful for those concerned about privacy. Slide the switch on the Home Mini and it will turn off its always-listening microphone, while flipping it back returns the device to its normal, always-listening state.

The Mini does get confused if you mute it by voice but the physical button is still in the on position; you then need to flip the switch to mute and back to activate the device’s microphone again.

Echo Dot vs Google Home Mini

google home mini top

Beyond sound quality and contextual button issues, the Google Home Mini also suffers from a few other minor problems. While connecting the smart speaker to Google’s Android or iOS Home app is a simple process, the fact that the Mini isn’t capable of being linked to a standard Bluetooth speaker could be an issue for some.

Amazon’s Echo Dot on the other hand, can be hooked up to almost any Bluetooth speaker, making it a more versatile option.

In contrast, the Home Mini can only connect to Google Cast-enabled speakers and device, just like the standard Home. This means I’m able to cast audio content from my smartphone to the Home, but not to a speaker (I don’t own a Cast compatible speaker).

Goolge Home Mini bottom

It’s worth pointing out that in some ways this comparison isn’t fair in the Canadian market given that the Amazon Echo Dot hasn’t yet launched here. 

An affordable alternative

If you're looking for a smart speaker that's capable of controlling a wide range of smart home products, then the Home Mini is a viable alternative to the more expensive standard Google Home.

On the other hand, if you want a smart home speaker that's a solid Spotify or Google Play Music playing companion, the Home Mini's sound quality is so lackluster -- yes, even more so than the already not great regular Google Home -- it just isn't worth it.

Other issues that plague the standard Google Home like a lack of Alexa and the Echo's clever 'Skills,' also remain a problem with the Home Mini, though this could change as Google continues to add new features to its line of Home devices via software updates.

Still, that $79 CAD price tag is difficult to beat, especially with no other low-cost smart home products currently available in the Canadian market.

The ball is truly in Amazon's court now when it comes to low-cost voice-enabled speakers. The Google Home Mini is priced at $79 in the Google Store and is available now.

"If you're looking for a device that's capable of controlling your disparate smart home products, then the Home Mini is a viable alternative."

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Comments

  • G-Money41

    It doesn’t seem like it’s currently possible to buy a Mini in Canada. I pre-ordered through Best Buy on the 11th but it still hasn’t shipped. Google was quoting a 3 week shipping timeline when I looked to pre-order through them, and Staples still shows it as a pre-order.

    Is there another place to pick this up?

    • Have you checked Best Buy in-store? The last time I was at my local Best Buy I saw quite a few sitting on store shelves.

    • G-Money41

      Hmm – not in good old Calgary. Every Best Buy shows no stock.

    • Interesting. There are lots in the GTA!

    • Uberman X

      Mine shipped from Google when I preordered on the Canadian Play website. Perhaps it isn’t available at the moment online due to stock shortage as they shipped the initial orders?

    • Marshall Davidson

      Lots of stock out there…Not sure why Best Buy hasn’t shipped yours but you should contact them about that.

  • TrollSoul

    I have one and don’t think they did quality is as poor as you say. It’s sounds fine in smaller rooms and apartments and I usually have it on volume 6 or 7.

    • I use mine in my bathroom (which is basically the size of a closet) and find the sound pretty bad. To each their own though!

    • Marshall Davidson

      Let me ask you Patrick. Why do you need this in your bathroom? You already claim to have two Google Home devices in your condo and now this? My God. A little over the top don’t you think?

    • TrollSoul

      There’s your first problem…

  • Steve Aldred

    7 times I think you told us that the Amazon echo isn’t available in Canada. I think we got it after you repeated yourself 3 times in the opening 3 paragraphs. Plus a whole section comparing it to the dot which you have so eloquently started is not available in Canada.

    • Strange, I count three mentions :).

      To completely ignore the Dot wouldn’t result in a good review (it’s still possible to get the Dot in Canada with a little ingenuity).

    • Smanny

      A good review would include things where this Mini can also play movies, YouTube videos, and music to your home theater system or Chromecast enabled TV as well.

      BTW I counted no mentions of that information.

    • TechRanger

      I would actually appreciate more info on the multi-room specific capabilities and features of the home system in general – would be great to know how well it works since with the lower cost Mini, it is more feasible for more of us to implement.

  • JD

    FYI Amazon disabled Canadian Addresses again on the Echos (grandfathered for the old if you took advantage of it)

    • Marshall Davidson

      Well its pointless really because you can’t order on the Echo and ship to a Canadian address so what was the point to begin with? That’s about the only reason a Canadian address would’ve been relevant.

  • Marty B

    I have a full Google Home in my kitchen/dinning room area upstairs. Perfect for listening to music when cooking or dining.

    I specifically bought the Mini to connect downstairs in my family room. Coupled with a Chromecast attached to my entertainment system I have the Mini’s music output sent directly to my surround speakers. As a result I don’t care about the sound quality from the Mini. In this specific application a larger Google Home would have been a waste.

    Really looking forward to upgrading upstairs to the Google Home Max and moving that upstairs Google Home to the upstairs TV with another Chromecast.

    Until Amazon officially supports Canada without “a little ingenuity” it is moot to even mention the device in a Canadian review IMHO.

    • Rian

      I completely agree, there’s no point in mentioning Amazon because the Echo isn’t available here and there’s no upcoming release date for it. Not everyone is going to cross the border to get one, I’d much rather prefer to get the Google Home.

      I currently connect my phone to a Bose Bluetooth speaker in my kitchen/dining room, which I imagine would sound as good (if not better) than a Google Home. Do you have a BT speaker or just the Home? Either way, I’m still thinking of getting the Mini for the living room to control the Chromecast and smart lights.

  • Jessie Kropp

    So far I’m perfectly happy with my Mini. I wouldn’t mind getting the top functionality back some day but it’s true that I primarily interact with the device by voice. As for the skills, I have yet to see something personally in my house not work with Google Home. My Philips Hue, Leviton and Sonoff based devices all work.

  • Rian

    Is anyone else in the GTA heading to the Donut Shop tomorrow/Friday? Even if you don’t win a Google Home Mini, you would get free donuts and a 20% off the Mini anyway, so win/win.

    • Marshall Davidson

      What?

    • Smanny

      Is Google’s Donut shop in Toronto open now?

    • Rian

      Yep, from 10-6 I think.

    • TechRanger

      Would love to but not worth the 4 hour drive for me!! I was thinking of picking up a couple of Minis for my kids rooms – just for some convenience and also ambient bedtime music- hopefully it’s good enough for low volume. I understand that Home now has intercom like capabilities? can someone confirm that? It would be great as a house wide PA system lol!

    • Stephen B Morris

      It’s not live yet.

  • Smanny

    Why is there no mention of this mini playing music, movies or YouTube videos on your Chromecast enabled TV? This little Google Home mini can play all that stuff to your home theater system as well. Why didn’t you mention any of that Patrick?

    • Russ

      Since that’s all been covered in lots of Google Home reviews, he probably decided to focus on the merits of the Mini. I think that makes sense, but it could probably have been mentioned alongside the early hyperlink to the MS Google Home review.

  • Russ

    I’ve got the Mini on my bedside table, and have it set up for multi-room audio with my Google Home. I particularly like that you can assign defaults for audio and video playback. So, if I ask to play Spotify, it’ll automatically go to the multi-cast group without me having to ask.

    Sure, the sound isn’t amazing, but TuneIn on the Mini sounds a lot better than my clock radio.

    My biggest annoyance with the Home devices is that the Logitech Harmony integration isn’t available in Canada. I actually got it working months ago by changing my Home’s location to a US address (and then back to Canada), but the September firmware update that required reconnecting to services killed that (it looks like Google closed the US address loophole). What this tells me is that Harmony integration works just fine, and there’s a non-tech reason that it’s being restricted. Hopefully that’ll be resolved in the near future.

    • Homer J. Simpson

      I now have both the Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini and the sound quality on the Mini is definitely better than the Echo Dot. Obviously, not superior listening quality but point is the speaker on the Echo Dot is poor. Even the cheaper Eufy Genie Alexa device has slightly better speakers than the Echo Dot so Google Home MIni is definitely leading in terms of sound quality for these cheaper speakers.

    • TechRanger

      FYI – I use my harmony daily but through IFTTT. Not sure if it will suit your needs but might be worth checking out if you haven’t already.

    • Russ

      I’m using IFTTT to turn my TV on and off, but you can’t change channels or volume, as far as I’m aware. The Harmony IFTTT integration is pretty limited.

  • Roger

    If buying mainly for music, get the Google Home, not the mini. For everything else, mini is fine.

  • Solorchid

    79 CAD IS CRAZY compare to 49 USD…. and you call that difficult to beat? Either you r crazy or you r over paid…

  • Stephen B Morris

    Great review. About the Bluetooth speaker part of the review, you can connect a Chromecast Audio to any non cast enabled speaker including Bluetooth ones. I have one connected to my JBL Flip 2. Works like a charm. I find sound “sounds” better coming from WiFi vs Bluetooth and I’m free to walk around without disconnection or have notifications disrupt the experience.

  • Malcolm Graham

    Bought a Google Home Mini and returned it! Why? Randomly turned on and unable to provide any Canadian news (tried Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa). It was only able to provide the local weather. Had the same issue with Google Home (no local Canadian news).