Google Home Mini Review

Half a year after launching the Google Home Mini internationally, Google is finally bringing their mini smart speaker to Singapore. How smart is the Google Home Mini? How does it perform as a speaker? Most importantly, should you get one?


Summary – Think Twice Before Purchasing

Pros:

  • Modern and sleek design
  • Great build quality
  • Works seamlessly with Chromecast
  • Supports wide range of smart home devices

Cons:

  • Cannot understand Chinese, Malay and Tamil
  • Sound quality unimpressive
  • Limited music app support

Pricing – Reason to Join Courts/Challenger Membership!

The Google Home Mini is usually priced at S$79, but with a Courts membership, you can get 30% off online with the code GH30. If you are a Challenger member, you can purchase it from hachi.tech or any Challenger shop for only S$59.

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If Challenger and Courts are able give so much discount, does it mean that Google is purposely overpricing the Google Home Mini in Singapore? Even then, S$79 is pretty reasonable for smart speaker/home assistant if it works well. But does it?


Design – Sleek & Unobtrusive

Despite a lack of experience in building hardware, Google never fails to impress when it comes to the design. The Google Home Mini is shaped like a pebble, with a nice feeling fabric top complemented by matte plastic below.

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There is a Micro USB charging port and a microphone mute switch on the back of the Google Home Mini. As this is only a smart speaker, I will not penalize it for not using USB Type-C, but I wish it had a 3.5mm port for audio input.

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On the bottom of the device you will find a red rubbery grip, which prevents it from sliding off your table. You may not notice it but there is a button below the Google “G” logo; while powered, press and hold it to factory reset the device.

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When powered, you will see 4 LED dots on the top of the Google Home Mini. These dots usually appear white, but will change its colors to illustrate certain statuses. When booting up, they will appear multi-colored, symbolizing Google’s logo.

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You can adjust the Google Home Mini’s volume by tapping on either side of the LED indicator. It wasn’t clearly stated on the box or instruction manual and I only figured it out after visiting the “Tech Specs” page on Google’s online store.

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Image obtained from Google’s online store

Inside the Google Home Mini’s box you will find a one-piece Micro USB wall adapter, but from my testing, you do not have to use it to power the Google Home Mini; a phone charger, or even a power bank, can be used to power it.

 

The Google Home Mini comes in three colors: Chalk (grey), Charcoal (black) and Coral (red). Chalk and Charcoal are both available at Courts and Challenger, but Coral is exclusive to Google Singapore’s online store, found here.


Setting Up – Quick & Simple

Before you can use the Google Home Mini, you will have to download the Google Home app, the same one used to control Google’s Chromecast. Once you have the device powered up, the app should detect it and ask you to set it up.

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Follow the steps. connect it to your WiFi network and in a matter of seconds, the device will be done setting up. It will then ask for your address, default TV and music speaker. Lastly, there will be a tutorial for some basic commands.

After that is done, you are good to go. On the Discover page of the app, you will find suggestions that will help you further set up and customize the Google Home Mini. More suggestions will pop up as you use the Google Home Mini.

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Smart Assistant – Not so Smart After All

The Google Home Mini is equipped with Google Assistant, the same one found on your phone. For a voice assistant, Google Assistant is pretty versatile and does an excellent job at providing accurate and relevant replies to your questions.

To get its attention, say “Hey Google” or “OK Google”.

One thing unique about Google Assistant is the ability to engage in two-way dialogues. For example, you can first ask it “Who is the president of US?”, then “How old is he” and it will tell you Donald Trump’s age. Super convenient!

On top of that, Google Assistant can control your smart home devices, from Chromecast to smart bulbs. In the Google Home app, you can set routines such that a single command via the Google Home Mini will turn on/off all your smart devices.

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Till date, Google Assistant supports close to 200 brands of smart home products, so there is a good chance your smart home devices will work with the Google Home Mini. Sadly, Xiaomi’s super affordable smart home gadgets are not supported.

I tested it out with my Samsung SmartThings Outlet. Once I got it properly connected and set up in the Google Home app, it works really well. With the command “Turn on/off bedroom outlet”, I can stop charging my laptop that is plugged into the outlet.

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One reason the Home Mini took so long to come is that Google tried to localize it. They made Singapore English a supported language, added news from Channel News Asia and included a few Singapore jokes, some of which are really bad.

But that does not make up for the fact that of the four commonly spoken languages in Singapore, the Home Mini only recognizes English. Mixing in a couple of Mandarin, Malay or Tamil words into an English sentence does not work.

This greatly restricts what you are able to do with the Google Home Mini. At the moment, you can only request the Home Mini to play songs and videos with English titles – completely useless for a person like me, whose music playlist is 99% Chinese.

Google partnered with some local companies to bring their services to their voice assistant, but there are only a handful of them at the moment and not all of them work very well. Listen to the audio below, you will get what I mean.


Wireless Speaker – Quality So So Only

As a wireless speaker, the Google Home Mini is alright for S$59 (still acceptable for S$79), but not great. It gets pretty loud and is quite well balanced, but the bass isn’t deep and the overall sound quality is just average. Not very immersive.

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Playing music off your phone onto the Google Home Mini is a little different from regular wireless speakers. It uses WiFi instead of Bluetooth, so you connect your phone to it in the Google Home app by turning on “Cast screen / audio”.

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For me, the biggest advantage of using WiFi over Bluetooth is the stability; on good WiFi, you will not experience abrupt interruptions/disconnection you often get with Bluetooth speakers.

However, if your WiFi isn’t stable, your audio will get cut off a lot more frequently and you might even get disconnected from the Google Home Mini completely.

You can command the Google Home Mini to stream music using Google Assistant, but it supports only a couple of music streaming services, including Spotify. Apple Music subscribers are out of luck. If only there was YouTube Music in Singapore…

Alternatively, you can listen to radio on Google Home Mini by giving the command “tune in to _____FM”.

If you are planning to get the Google Home Mini as a speaker, this might be the biggest deal breaker: It doesn’t have a battery, which means it has to be plugged in to the wall at all times. The Google Home Mini is not a portable speaker.


Conclusion – Not What I Expected From Google

In its current state, the Google Home Mini just isn’t very good as a smart speaker in Singapore. Google’s attempt to make it more localized feels half-hearted and not very well thought out, limiting what you can do with the device.

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Until Google add support for the other official languages of Singapore and also more music streaming services (or better, bring YouTube Music to Singapore), I will not recommend the Google Home Mini to anyone living in Singapore.

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