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.

Samsung Connect Home WiFi Mesh Review

Suffering from slow WiFi? One likely reason for this is that you are too far from your wireless router. There are many solutions to solve range issue like this, but a popular one that you may have heard of recently is WiFi mesh.

In this article, we will be taking a look at the Samsung Connect Home, a WiFi mesh that doubles as a smart home hub. How does it perform? What else can it do? Should you get one? Without further ado, let’s begin with the review.


Setup – Quick & Easy

The Samsung Connect Home can be purchased at S$198 per piece, but to use it as a WiFi mesh, you will need at least 2 of them. Factoring the cost of a few smart home accessories that work with it, expect to spend over S$500.

In each box you will find the device itself, a power adapter, an Ethernet cable, as well as some paperwork. Before you can begin setting it up, download the Samsung SmartThings app from the Play Store or App Store and login or create an account.

Once done, start by setting up the main hub first. Power it with the power adapter and connect the Ethernet port labeled “IN” to your router with the included Ethernet cable.

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In the app, you should receive a prompt telling you that it has detected a device. If you do not receive it, you can add the device manually by tapping on “Add device” and then selecting your Samsung Connect Home’s name from the list.

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The app will now connect and setup the device, which takes just a few seconds. At the 70% mark, you will be asked to name the network and set the password. Tap on next and after another few seconds, the setup will be complete.

On a previous version of the app, I kept getting an error at 29% for over an hour. Only after repeating numerous times and calling the customer hotline did it set up successfully, miraculously.

Now, you can move on to the second Connect Home device.

For the second device, you only need to power it with the power adapter. Tap on “ADD ANOTHER WI-FI HUB” and the app will search for the second Samsung Connect Home before setting it up. This takes slightly more than a minute.


Design – Sleek & Modern

The housing of the Connect Home is made out of white matte plastic, with rubber grooves on the bottom to prevent sliding. It has a modern vibe, with a clean design and is relatively small and compact. Blends in with any home easily.

There is a green notification light on the front and on the back, you will find the DC jack, as well as two Ethernet ports, one labeled “IN” and the other labeled “OUT”. There is also a reset button on the back, which you can press with a SIM removal pin.

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Overall, I like how simple and unobtrusive the device looks. But one thing I would have like to seen is a hole for a on the bottom of the device, so that we can hang it on a wall.


Performance – Avoid Walls at All Cost!

Your placement of the Samsung Connect Home has to be very strategic. This thing hates walls. One layer of wall in between will still give you pretty good WiFi speeds, but anything more and speeds plunges drastically. Hmm…

Distance is not a problem, at least not with the 8m separation between the Samsung Connect Homes in my current setup. How does the Samsung Connect Home perform? Very well actually, as long as there are no walls between the hubs of course.

Testing the Samsung Connect Home on speedtest.net and speedtest.com.sg results in an error, so I conducted this test with the internet speed test widget on google.

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Test 1:

I checked if there was a difference between my router’s WiFi speed and Samsung Connect Home’s WiFi speed when I am right next to the router. Upload and download speeds were similar, as expected. Latency was not far off.

Test 2:

Next, I carried out the same test but beside the second Samsung Connect Home this time. The router’s WiFi speed dropped immensely, but the speed of the Connect Home’s WiFi network was still very good, at over 100 Mbps for download.

Test 3:

Going deeper into the room where the second Samsung Connect Home is located (refer to “3” in the diagram on top), my router’s WiFi was close to unusable, with speeds under 1 Mbps.

Connecting the second Connect Home’s Ethernet “OUT” port to my laptop, I got speeds that were close to what I got sitting next to my router! Latency is higher, but the fact that we are able to get similar speeds from such a distance is incredible.

Test 4:

I had my laptop on my desk, positioned near the second Samsung Connect Home, but with walls blocking. At this spot, I was getting an average of 30 Mbps for download and upload – usable but not great. Samsung Connect Home really hate walls.

From the 4 tests above, we can see that the Samsung Connect Home does a great job in an ideal condition. But when there are walls between the Connect Homes or between the Connect Home and your device, performance really takes a hit.


Smart Home Accessories

The Samsung Connect Home can act as a hub for Samsung’s SmartThings products as well as some third party products. But for this review, I only have two Samsung SmartThings accessories: the motion sensor and the outlet.

To set up the motion detector, remove the “Remove When Connecting” tab and place it at where you want it to detect motion. According to the user manual, it must be within 4.5m of your Connect Home. Then, add it as a new device in the app.

The motion detector comes with a back plate that allows you to mount it firmly in place to a wall, using screws included in the box. There is a slight delay of about 2s, but it works alright, detecting movements up to about 1m away.

Next, the SmartThings Outlet. There are buttons on the sides, which you can press to toggle on/off. The app had difficulties adding the outlet as a new device, and only managed to do so after I left it alone for a few minutes. Frustrating.

You can on/off the outlet from the app and view the amount of power drawn. That is about all there is to this device. The plug is a very tight – I had difficulties removing my iPhone wall adapter from it and had to use a test pen to pry it off.


App – Great for Beginners and Advanced Users

Anyone can use the SmartThings app to setup the Samsung Connect Home. As long as you follow the steps above, and you are good to go. No need to do anything else for it to work.

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But if you want more control over your Samsung Connect Home, you also get the option to do so on the SmartThings app. You can check which devices are connected to your network and the amount of data being uploaded and downloaded.

You can give certain device higher bandwidth priority, or restrict their usage time from the app. If your kids spend too much time playing games on their phones instead of studying, you can restrict WiFi on their devices during study time.

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If you have guests coming over but do not want them to be on the same network as you, you can create a guest network. You do not have to add a password for the guest network.

Moving on to the SmartThings Hub aspect of the app.

Other than checking the status of the SmartThings devices, you can make them work together with the app. Using the 2 devices I have, I can set it such that a light turns on whenever motion is detected and automatically turn off after 10 minutes.

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If you have more devices that are supported by the SmartThings Hub, you can come up with more ways to automate your home electronics and turn your house into a smart home. Cool!


Conclusion – Worth It?

As this is the first WiFi mesh device I am dealing with, I am not able to tell you how it compares to others. But from my experience with it thus far, I am very satisfied with its performance.

You will want to position the Samsung Connect Homes in a way where they are not obstructed by any wall. Speeds plunges significantly when there are walls in the way and that is my biggest issue with the Samsung Connect Home.

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Setting up the Samsung Connect Home with the SmartThings app was a pain in the ass a month ago, but thankfully, it became super fast and easy after an app update.

As for the SmartThings hub aspect of the device, I am a little skeptical about it. While it works alright and has a sizable ecosystem, many of the supported devices are a little costly. There are much more affordable ways to make your home smart.