So you’re in the market for a low-cost smart home speaker, but you aren’t sure where to begin.
While Google may have arrived late to the party with Google Home, the search giant is rapidly catching up with Amazon with a slew of feature upgrades, device integrations and new hardware packing its smart assistant. With good looks, stocking-filler pricing and (almost) all the features available from its big brothers, the $50 Google Home Mini is perfectly positioned both as an entry-level gateway to the Google Assistant and supporting accessory for homes already equipped with Google Home.
Of course, Amazon and Queen Alexa are old hands at cute and compact smart assistants. Now on its second generation, their $50 Echo Dot has been wowing Alexa-fans for almost two years. Google Home Mini vs. Amazon Echo Dot – which is best? We put the two devices side-by-side and ran them through the gauntlet (ok not literally) to find out which device is better.
It’s showdown time!
While you could be forgiven for thinking that Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot are similarly-priced devices offering similar specifications, a dig into the spec sheets reveals some important differences. Yes, these are both entry-level, compact, smart assistant controllers, but there’s nuances you should be aware of.
With an array of seven far-field microphones, advanced Bluetooth audio support and, importantly, a 3.5mm audio jack, Amazon sees the Echo Dot as a low-cost Alexa controller. A tiny, integrated 0.6” speaker is a clear indicator that Amazon expects the Echo Dot to be connected – wired or wirelessly – to a standalone speaker.
Conversely, the Google Home Mini only has two far-field microphones for voice detection, but a larger, 1.57” driver. There’s Bluetooth input support, but not output, and the device lacks an audio port. Integrated Chromecast and Chromecast Audio streaming and enhanced audio format support demonstrates Google’s belief that Home Mini can serve as a competent, if compact, standalone speaker – alongside other duties.
The Google Home Mini also has faster networking support, with 802.11ac beating the Echo Dot’s 802.11n. That’s somewhat of a red herring, however, as 802.11n is more than sufficient for streaming high bitrate, lossless audio (for context, all Sonos speakers only offer 802.11n support).
We’ll discuss audio experience on both devices shortly, but it’s interesting to see that Amazon are a little shy about advertising the Echo Dot’s audio format support. There’s little in the device’s specification sheets, but an online Alexa developer support post confirms Echo enjoys AAC/MP4, MP3, HLS, PLS and M3U files, while performance with other formats (notably lossless FLAC and Vorbis) may vary.
Meanwhile, Google Home Mini’s website proudly boasts a strong line of formats supported, including HE-AAC, LC-AAC+, MP3, Vorbis, WAV (LPCM) and FLAD, suggesting it may be the better option for those with lossless audio libraries.
Winner: Google Home Mini
When it comes to aesthetics, Amazon and Google have taken very different approaches. Available in a choice of black or white, the Echo Dot very much resembles what you’d expect to happen if someone stomped on a regular Amazon Echo. The glossy, plastic puck has a build-quality that’s far more refined than you’d expect on a $50 device, and the compact size is unobtrusive in the home – although the large Amazon logo slapped on the front does detract somewhat.
The Echo Dot also retains the iconic blue and orange LED status ring seen on its big brother. It adds a little interest to an otherwise plain-looking device, but also makes the Echo Dot more noticeable than you may wish. Cute though it may be, the Amazon Echo Dot is clearly identifiable as a piece of technology – there’s little attempt to hide that fact.
While Google Home suffered a more than a few barbs regarding its resemblance to a certain brand of air freshener, there was a clear attempt to visually differentiate the device from other tech in the home. Building on an experiment with the Google OnHub router, Google offers a range of textured covers for the device that allow home owners to better integrate the smart speaker with its surroundings.
That mission continues with Google Home Mini, available in chalk, charcoal, and coral. Again, build quality is excellent and Home Mini’s pin cushion form factor gives the device its own identity. Unlike Amazon, Google has been gracious enough not whack a giant “G” logo on the speaker, helping Home Mini to almost disappear into its surroundings when not in use.
Google’s designers have even spent time crafting Home Mini’s circular power adapter, which fits neatly in the hand and protrudes from the wall far less than the Echo Dot’s power supply. There’s even clips on the power cable to tidy up any slack. These are small touches, yes, but they demonstrate a level of design detail and care that’s the hallmark of a great device.
Winner: Google Home Mini
Amazon’s Echo Dot has been around much longer than Google Home Mini, so that’s given Amazon time to build out a relatively strong ecosystem. Both devices can connect to and control a swathe of smart home stalwarts like the Nest Learning Thermostat, Philips Hue lighting, power outlets, smart locks and more. Google is working with partners to rapidly build out hardware integrations, but Amazon still has its nose in front.
Alongside hardware connectivity, both devices can also access third-party software services (known as “skills” or “actions”) that deliver enhanced features like news reports, recipes, reservation bookings, jokes, quizzes and more. Again, the Echo Dot leads here, with thousands of skills available for the device (some of which you may actually wish to use). Google’s offering is certainly smaller at this point, but is expanding quickly.
Before jumping in with Amazon Echo or Google Home, be sure to review the streaming entertainment services you currently use. As per usual, Amazon very much sees Echo as a gateway to service subscriptions, so heavily promotes Amazon Music over other options, although you will find support for Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio and Sirius XM. Apple Music or Google Play Music? Not so much.
It’s a similar story with Google Home Mini, which has no problem helping you access music from online radio sources or Spotify’s free and premium services, but don’t expect support for Apple Music or Amazon Music any time soon.
The Echo Dot proves to be a more welcoming partner than Google Home Mini. Bluetooth audio output and a 3.5 mm auxiliary jack allows the Echo Dot to hook up with almost any speaker or AV receiver. Although Google Home Mini supports integrated Chromecast support, with no physical inputs (apart from power) or Bluetooth audio output, the device can’t compete on connectivity.
Winner: Amazon Echo Dot
Ease of Use
One thing to be aware of when purchasing either smart speaker is that both Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant are in active development with perpetual changes. It means that both devices are regularly enhanced with new features, but you may also find that commands that worked previously no long work or might require a slightly nuanced voice instruction. Or, they might seemingly work for everyone else except for you. It can be a real frustration with both Amazon and Google services.
That said, both devices work well at picking up voice commands, even when blaring out your tunes at full volume. The seven-mic array in the Amazon Echo Dot gives the device the edge over Google Home Mini when streaming music, but bear in mind that the output from Google’s speaker is far louder.
The Echo Dot’s design, with an overt LED status ring and physical buttons for volume, mic muting and triggering Alexa on the top of the device, give Amazon a slight edge on usability over Google Home Mini. The latter supports microphone muting via a rear switch and subtle, touch sensitive volume controls on either side of the device, all of which work well.
However, Google had to disable top-touch features, including an Action button, from Google Home Mini due to the device registering “phantom” touches and recording audio continuously.
Winner: Amazon Echo Dot
As we mentioned earlier, while both devices support audio output, Amazon positions the Echo Dot more as a companion voice controller designed to be connected to a dedicated speaker like the Amazon Echo. Three-hundred-and-sixty-degree sound and a larger driver in the Home Mini makes it a “smart speaker for any room” according to Google. But how do they stack up?
Let’s be clear. Neither of these devices are going to rock your world. Google Home Mini delivers louder audio with punchy bass. At full volume, the speaker manages to keep distortion in check, but there’s a lot of treble and it’s quite harsh. There’s little to no separation and the overall effect is muddy. Sure, it’s a step up from your phone’s speakers (and the Echo Dot for that matter) but $50 won’t buy you a match for a decent, dedicated Bluetooth speaker.
If you’re desperate for a desktop speaker for an online service, then the Echo Dot can certainly stream music, but it’s quieter than Google Home Mini and with limited bass and harsh treble.
Overall, Google Home Mini is the better speaker, but we wouldn’t really want to listen to either device for a long period.
Winner: Google Home Mini
Which should you buy?
If you’re already invested in a smart assistant ecosystem, neither Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini deliver compelling reasons to switch.
Amazon should be celebrated for creating this compact, smart controller category with the original Amazon Echo Dot, which delivers much of the magic of it’s big brother(s) at a fraction of the price. But it’s very much a companion device – a supporting controller for Alexa around the home and a smart addition to a dedicated Bluetooth speaker.
It’s clear that Google’s engineers and designers have spent time understanding and then building on the Echo Dot’s foundations. It looks better, sounds better, and while it lacks the Echo Dot’s wealth of integrations, Google is catching up quickly.
Of course, with both manufacturers limiting availability to specific regions, you may not have much choice. But if you find yourself staring at the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, wondering which one to take home, it’s Google’s cute and compact smart speaker that should win the day.
Published at Fri, 10 Nov 2017 22:15:35 +0000