Google Nest Mini review: In 2016, Google showed its first smart speaker, the Google Home ($ 130 at QVC). A year later, its puck-sized sibling is the Google Home Mini ($ 40 at Best Buy) arrived. Small but mighty, this speaker came with all of the Smarts from Google Home, but at an affordable price of $ 49.
With Google and Nest under one roof, the second generation of Google Home Mini is known as the Google Nest Mini. At first glance, it looks just like its predecessor, but a handful of new features make the Nest Mini, still priced at $ 49, for an even cheaper price.
The Nest Mini pictured here looks very similar to the first generation Google Home Mini.
James Martin / CNet
The Nest Mini looks a lot like the Google Home Mini, and it does so on purpose. Google didn’t seem interested in fixing what wasn’t broken, and you get nearly identical aesthetics when you put the Nest Mini in your home. There are four colors that swap out the Home Mini’s teal, which has been named Aqua, for a darker, grayish-blue shade called Sky. The colors of coral, charcoal and chalk are retained.
The same muting switch as before is on the outside of the loudspeaker. However, there is now a DC power jack instead of the micro USB port for the Home Mini. So don’t assume that your old Home Mini power cords will work interchangeably with the Nest Mini.
The Google team spent hours testing the audio transparency of dozen of fabrics to create a more environmentally friendly cover for the Nest Mini. The speaker’s upper is made from 100% recycled plastic and the outer case is made from 35% recycled plastic. Google told me that a pint of plastic bottle makes enough fabric to cover a little more than two speakers. This is a small design detail that could tip the balance for an environmentally conscious consumer looking to choose between the Nest Mini and an Echo Dot ($ 40 on Amazon).
The Nest Mini has a blue color called sky and a wall mount on the back.
James Martin / CNet
There is also a wall bracket on the back of this new smart speaker. According to Google, this was inspired by the different ways that users place, mount and attach smart speakers to surfaces in their homes. Ironically, the company that created the perfect way to mount your smart speaker as a wall clock isn’t the company with a clock display on their smart speaker. This title goes to Amazon and the new one.
While the Nest Mini looks almost identical to the Google Home Mini, it includes numerous updates.
The Google Home Mini has two microphones to recognize your voice throughout the room. The Nest Mini has three functions to improve far field detection. In my testing, the third microphone increased the range the assistant could hear me, and it heard me particularly well over music being played from other speakers nearby. Of course, a lot of it depends on the acoustics and layout of your home.
The microphones also use a new feature that Google calls ultrasonic detection. The speaker emits tiny inaudible chirps that ricochet off objects in the area, reflect back to the microphones, and tell the device if someone is nearby. This is enabled when music is playing. However, you can turn it off if you want to in the Home app. You can also call your home speakers from the Home app if you have Google Duo installed on your mobile device.
When ultrasound detection is on, two LEDs will light up when you pass your hand over the Nest Mini to show where the volume control touch points are on each side of the speaker. This is a thoughtful addition as I’ve always struggled to find the touch controls in the Google Home Mini. Touch controls for playing and pausing music are at the top.
Two LEDs on the side of the Nest Mini show you where to tap to adjust the volume.Tyler Lizenby / CNet
The Google team also redesigned the speaker in the Nest Mini so that it is bigger, a little heavier, and has more space around the components for a fuller bass sound.The Nest Mini has a machine learning chip with up to one TeraOPS computing power. This chip helps the speaker learn which commands are repeated often so that he can respond to them without needing the cloud. Suppose you turn on your kitchen lights or want to play a specific song at the same time every day of the week. The Nest Mini learns these actions, stores this data locally, and processes these commands without sending any information to Google’s servers.
This is part of Google’s foray into what the company calls “Ambient Computing,” the idea that with the help of Google, your smart home can start anticipating your needs. Ambient computing reduces the number of times you have to speak to your smart speaker to get information and makes your assistant a more seamless part of your home behind the scenes.
The Home mini speaker (left) and the Nest mini speaker (right).Juan Garzon / CNet
One of my favorite updates to the Nest Mini is ambient IQ. If you’re listening to the news, podcasts, or other streaming audio that has people talking (it doesn’t work with music), the Nest Mini can set ambient noise in the background, like an exhaust fan in the kitchen.