Google Home Mini - my first take

Sunday, October 29, 2017 3:15 PM UTC

Intention

I own two Amazon Echos, one in the office and one in the living room, and I use them regularly during the day. Though the Echos do not always understand what I am saying I am quite happy with what they offer. I mostly control my smart home devices with it and use timers. Very rarely I use the personal assistant features like telling the news or adding something to my calendar. Especially the speech recognition could be better (at least in German) so my next approach was to check if the Google Assistant aka Home was better in that discipline. The normal Google Home speaker is way too expensive for me so since Google introduced the new devices like the Home Mini I planned to get one - now here we are. The price is equal to an Echo Dot which also is 59,- EUR.

The package

What do you get for the 59 bucks? The Home Mini device, a white USB-to-Micro-USB cable, the power brick and some paper work. The cable is a bit annoying as it is fixed connected to the power brick so that you cannot use a multi-USB power adapter like the Anker 4x USB. Of course you can use any spare Micro-USB cable.

The design

I got the light grey kit ("Kiesel" in German which means "pebbles"). I like the color as it fits to any room design you may have - and black is dead boring. I like the fact that there are no visible buttons like on the Echo Dot. The LED indicator lights shine through the fabric that sorrounds the Home Mini almost entirely. At the bottom it has a rubber base which keeps the device in place. There is also the switch to turn off the microphone. The volume control is done with touch gestures on the top plate on the left and right side followed by a tick sound and visual feedback with the 4 LED lights - nice!

Setup

The setup is the same as with the Echos. The device creates a wifi network to which you connect your phone running the Google Home app. Once you connected your phone and setup the wifi connection for the device itself you are ready to go. Very simple. What you will see immediately: there aren't as many options as in Alexa's app to add services ("Skills"). Somehow Google's device learns "skills" directly via software updates and you don't have to add them manually - I guess there aren't as many as for the Echo yet. Of course you can connect various music accounts such as Spotify or Deezer, Netflix is also supported.

Smart Home

This is the thing I am interested in the most. Luckily I encountered that most of my devices are supported, only my smart bulbs are not - yet. I bet there will be support for them, soon. Once the services are connected the devices can be controlled by just saying "Hey Google, turn on my desk". A weird thing is that you have to assign a room for each device or scene to work properly from what I can say so far. There is one essential thing still missing: device and scene groups. For example in Alexa I have a group called "Studio" which switches on 3 LED bulbs and my smart sockets that controls the lights on my desk. I think you can create a new "room" to combine those devices but the problem is: a device can be assigned to only one room so you cannot have different combinations. I think there will be groups soon.

Voice recognition and interaction

The vioce recognition feature is better than Alexa's - as expected. Google Home is more loquacious though and confirms with complete sentences instead of just saying "ok". This might be an entertaining behaviour for others but can be annoying if you just want a short interaction. If it doesn't understand it always replies that it's still learning more things each and every day. I prefer the "I don't know how to do that" phrase of Alexa.

Resume

Googe's smart assistant for the living room is growing better and better. Once it will allow to create device groups it could replace or support the Amazon experience. I'd really like to use it to listen to custom playlists from my own Plex media server once it is supported. If you have to decide whether to buy an Echo or a Home, I'd currently recommend the Echo though.






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