Google Nest Mini review: better bass and recycled plastic | Technology


The second generation of Google’s smallest smart speaker gets a new name, more eco-friendly, a little smarter and more bass.

The £49 Nest Mini replaces the Google Home Mini as part of a revamped and renamed line of Google smart home products under the Nest brand, pushing its predecessor to a clearance price of only £19.

From the outside you would be hard pushed to see what has changed. The Nest Mini sticks with the same pincushion design with a fabric top and nonslip rubber pad on the bottom.

The top contains three far-field microphones and is touch sensitive. If music is playing, approaching the top with a hand lights up the LEDs to show you the volume and where to tap using ultrasound presence sensing.

Google Nest Mini review



The hidden LEDs light up as you approach the top of the Nest Mini with your hand while music is playing. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Tapping on the left or right edge adjusts the volume, while tapping on the four central LEDs pauses or plays the music.

There is a mic mute switch on the bottom as well as a new hole for mounting the Nest Mini on a wall.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 98mm x 42mm

  • Weight: 181g

  • Connectivity: Wifi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, Chromecast

  • Speakers: one 40mm driver

The body is made from 35% post-consumer recycled plastic and the top from 100% recycled plastic bottles, which is a step in the right direction.

The Nest Mini also has a new faster machine learning chip built into it, which is part of Google’s push to do more natural language processing locally for better speed and privacy. It also has a new wake word engine, which is designed to prevent accidental activation of Google Assistant while still enabling it to hear you from across the room.

I certainly noticed a reduction of accidental activations in a similar to that of the recently launched Google Nest Hub Max smart display. The less smart speakers are activated the less chance that they inadvertently capture speech you’d rather they didn’t.

Improved sound

Google Nest Mini review



A more rounded sound makes the Nest Mini a surprisingly pleasing listen, even if it cannot quite fill a room. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Google has also upgraded the speaker, which it says produces twice as powerful bass. It certainly has a bit more punch in the low end and a more rounded sound than the Home Mini.

Vocals are clear, Google Assistant sounds great and details only start to get lost a little bit at maximum volume.

It is still a small speaker and cannot quite produce real, room-filling sound but it is pretty good for what it is – I enjoyed listening to it more than I anticipated.

Google Assistant natively supports music playback from Spotify, YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Deezer, BBC and other radio stations in the UK. You can also either Chromecast to the Nest Mini or use it as a Bluetooth speaker, both of which worked well from Android devices and iPhones.

Google Assistant

Google Nest Mini review



The Nest Mini listens out for its ‘Hey Google’ or ‘OK Google’ hotwords unless you flick the mic mute switch in its side. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Google’s voice assistant continues to lead the pack in terms of natural language understanding and capability.

Teach it your voice and it can distinguish between users, giving personalised results pulling from information in your Google account such as your calendar.

It will answer most questions, set timers and everything else you would expect from a voice assistant in 2020, including controlling most common smart home devices such as lights.

Google recently rolled out a male voice for Assistant in the UK, allowing users to switch it over from the default female voice on a per-account basis. The UK still lags behind the US, however, in its choice of voices.

Price

The Google Nest Mini costs £49 and is available in four colours: chalk, charcoal, coral and sky. It is also frequently discounted to £34 or less.

For comparison, the Google Home Mini costs £19, the Google Home costs £49, Google Home Max costs £199, the Nest Hub costs £119, the Nest Hub Max costs £199 and Amazon’s Echo Dot costs £24.

Verdict

The Google Nest Mini is a future-proofing update rather than a radical change. Sure, it sounds a little better, the controls are improved and the wall-mount is nice.

But it is the improved machine learning chip within it that is the real upgrade – and one that is likely to be of larger benefit as we shift more and more of processing of our voices to local devices rather than Google’s servers. It is faster and better for privacy.

So the Nest Mini continues to be an excellent little smart speaker that gives the dominant Amazon Echo Dot a very good run for its money.

Just do not buy it at full price, given it is likely to be frequently and heavily discounted as with its predecessor.

Pros: good sound for the money, wall mount, made of recycled plastic, Google Assistant, Bluetooth 5.0, native BBC radio playback

Cons: No 3.5mm input, privacy concerns of a smart speaker, not quite room-filling sound

Google Nest Mini review



The rubberised bottom stops the Nest Mini slipping around on surfaces or there is a mounting hole for attaching it to a wall. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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