Google is continuing the rebrand of its Home products, bringing its Wi-Fi hub and smart speakers under the Nest umbrella. One of the latest devices to undergo this treatment is the new Nest Mini, an upgraded version of the Google Home Mini. Find out what's new in this full review.
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The Google Home Mini was undoubtedly a hit for the Mountain View giant. Originally launched at $50 in 2017, it offered an affordable solution for those looking to dip their toes into the world of smart speakers with digital voice assistants. It also looked more attractive, in my opinion, in the home than any of Amazon's Echo devices. Google made a big deal about getting these into as many homes as possible. At the IFA 2018, they were handing them out for free. There have also been giveaways for Spotify Premium customers in the United States.
One of the new features of the Nest Mini is that it now comes with a hole cut out of the base that allows you to hang it on a wall without the need for any additional brackets or accessories. You'll still have a power chord hanging down from the speaker itself, of course, but it shows Google's commitment to creating smart hardware that can blend in with the aesthetics of your home.
Google has increased the sustainability of its entry-level smart speaker and covered the top with a new fabric sourced from recycled plastic bottles. There's also an ultrasonic sensor embedded underneath now, allowing you to adjust the volume via two LEDs on each side of the speaker when you get near to it.
The speaker hardware itself has also received an upgrade. There's still just a 40mm driver in the Nest Mini, as was in the old version, but this time it is custom made to boost the bass frequencies. Google says the Nest Mini delivers twice as much bass as the old Home Mini. You can also now group two Nest Minis together to get a bigger, stereo sound. There's also a third microphone now, which is mainly intended to provide hotword recognition for Google Assistant, plus some extra computing power thanks to a new machine learning chip with up to one TeraOPS of processing power. The physical kill switch for the mics is still there. They couldn't have gotten away with removing that!
There are small changes to the power supply too. The MicroUSB socket has been replaced by a coaxial power connector. The power supply itself is now a 15 Watt plug. The Nest Mini comes in four colors: Chalk, Charcoal, Sky and Coral. In non-Google language, that's white, black, light blue and a kind of reddy orange to you and me.
The ability to hang the Nest Mini on a wall also has advantages for the sound. Bass frequencies resonate through the wall itself, which means you'll be able to enjoy deeper sound than if it was sat on a light table, for example. I'm still not convinced it looks good on the wall, but it does sound better. Whether or not you want to make this compromise of sound over style, is up to you. The new fabric that covers the top of the speaker looks feels identical to the old, less ecofriendly one.
In terms of sound quality, there has definitely been an improvement. Bass is richer and deeper, especially when you place the speaker on a solid surface or mount it on the wall. Double the bass might be pushing it, but it's an improvement over the Google Home Mini. The new ultrasonic sensor for adjusting the volume works well too. This is not a huge upgrade on the original but it's useful to have, especially if someone who does not have access to your phone or does not have their voice registered (like a guest in your home) just wants to quickly adjust the volume. If you do mount the Nest Mini to a wall you'll want to change the orientation of the volume up and down in the Google Home app. You can also once again tap the middle of the speaker to play and pause audio, something Google removed from the Home Mini post-launch after it caused Assistant to listen a little too intrusively.
In terms of performance when using Google Assistant which, let's face it, is the main reason someone would buy this new Nest Mini, I struggled to notice any change. I never really had any problems with my Google Home Mini, but my time with the Nest Mini felt identical in terms of using Google Assistant than in the past. Questions asked to Assistant are now processed on the device, rather than on Google's servers. This is meant to be faster and more secure. That extra computing power is certainly not noticeable at first, but perhaps it improves over time as the machine learning gets more experienced. I'd be surprised if it made a massive leap forward though.
The question of whether or not it is worth buying one of these is a difficult one for me to answer. If you already own a Google Home Mini, you could get (slightly) better sound, on-device AI for Google Assistant and the ability to hang your speaker on a wall by upgrading.
However, I personally don't use my Google Home Mini for listening to music. It's just too small and any real music lover is going to have higher standards than this for consuming their favorite sounds. As a pure smart speaker for Google Assistant, then, the Nest Mini is far from a noticeable upgrade. This could change over time, and if you really don't want to be speaking to Google's servers you could be tempted, but right now you are unlikely to see any large improvements.
It's also worth remembering that Google loves to discount or even give these things away. With Black Friday and the Christmas holidays around the corner, my guess is that you will be able to get a Nest Mini for much less than $50 before the end of the year. If you are torn between this and the Amazon Echo Dot, I much prefer Google's product.