Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 Review

Xiaomi is known for making affordable products that look and feel good, and the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is no exception. Despite only costing S$29.90, it looks better than most speakers in its price range. Should you get one?

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Design – Clean & Premium

With a metal frame all around the sides and very smooth matte plastic on the front and back, you will have a hard time guessing that this Bluetooth speaker can be yours at just under S$30.

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There are only 3 buttons on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2: the power and volume buttons, all located on the top of the speaker. The power button also doubles as a play/pause button.

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On the bottom of the speaker, you will find a pair of rubber strips that do a decent job at providing grip so your speaker doesn’t slide around or off a table. On the back, you will find the Micro USB charging port, as well as an AUX-in port.

The width of the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is only as long as the height of a Redmi 5, so is easily pocketable. Overall, I really like how simple yet classy the device looks. My only complain would be its matte white plastic, which gets dirty really easily.


Pairing & Controls – Easy to Use

You can turn on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 by holding on the power button. The notification LED, hidden behind the speaker grill, will flash red and blue, indicating ready to pair. Now, pair it on your phone like any other Bluetooth speaker.

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Once paired and connected, the notification light will turn solid blue and you will hear a long beep. To disconnect from the current device and play from another device, double tap the power button. To turn the speaker off, hold the power button.

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Alternatively, you can connect the speaker to your music device via a 3.5mm audio cable. It still requires the speaker to be powered on, but this might save your device some battery.

Whether you are using an iOS and some Android devices, the volume buttons on the Basic 2 can control your phone’s volume directly. Ironically, it is unable to control MIUI’s volume slider directly and uses a separate volume setting instead.

Holding the volume down buttons minimizes the volume instantly, while holding the volume up button will bring it up to max gradually. Nice touch. I do wish there was a way to skip or go to previous track using the speaker though.


Sound Quality – Very Good for Its Price

The Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is loud enough to fill a large room with music. Despite only having speaker grills on the front, audio is still very audible from the back – just a little less shiok.

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The sound it produces is also pretty good, with great balance and relatively good level of details. Bass is also respectable for a portable speaker. You can find something better if you pay more, but for a S$30 Bluetooth speaker, I am very satisfied.

Compared to the original Mi Bluetooth Speaker from years ago, the Basic 2’s produces sounds that is richer and more natural. Bass is noticeably deeper and vocals sound warmer and clearer.

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Battery Life – Exceeding Expectations

Xiaomi claims that the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is capable of up to 10hrs of battery life. From my testing, under varying volume levels (between 40-100%), I was able to achieve over 12hrs of continuous music playback via Bluetooth. Sweet!

When the battery has about 5-10 minutes of charge remaining, the device will constantly beep to inform you about it. One thing annoying is that it does it even while you are charging and still using it. (Not sure if it is safe to do so though…)

To conserve battery, the Basic 2 will automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity, even if it is connected to your device.


Microphone – There is One Built In?!!!

The Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is a great way to listen to phone calls. But wouldn’t it be great if you can talk into the speaker directly? That was what the designers at Xiaomi thought, so they included a microphone in the Basic 2.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to record any audio with it due to the lack of support for Bluetooth microphone recording on Android and iOS. But testing it with my home phone, the microphone on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is of decent quality.


Conclusion – Worth Every Penny!

Like most of Xiaomi’s device, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 offers excellent build quality and performance at a very affordable pricing. It looks modern, sounds pretty good and has excellent battery life. At under S$30, what more can we ask for?

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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.