This little boy hears everything. The small, smart speaker from Google appeared in our test lab. After there were problems with the touch control, everything should work well again. We take a closer look at the smart everyday helperand ask: What about privacy?
Google came a little late with its smart speaker on the market, only since August last year, there are Google Home and Google Home Mini to buy in Europe, the Amazon Echo launched in October 2016 with us. So it is not surprising that Amazon with its assistant Alexa is still the market leader and the intelligent assistant is now being installed in more and more external devices. The Amazon Echo Dot that was launched last year, now the Google Home Mini has arrived. The small speaker costs 59 dollars, while Google calls for the full-blown Google Home 149 dollars. In itself, the two can do the same, in the US, Google even offers the Google Home Max for $ 399, with two low and two tweeters, which is also about a smart room correction to adjust the sound to its location. Google Home Max has not yet been announced for Europe.
The compact, smart speaker Google Home Mini can be operated by touch commands over the surface and is configured with the smartphone and the Google Home app. In our test we feel the voice recognition on the tooth, look at how it looks with the data protection and also with the sound quality. For example, Amazon’s Echo Dot could not fully convince us of the two points.
Google offers its Home Mini in three color options, all available at the same price, but not everywhere: The Coral version is available exclusively on the Google Store. On the other hand, the black version and the version called “chalk” in white and gray are available for sale. The bottom is gummed, so the Google Home Mini has a secure stand even on slightly sloping documents. The case is clean and very robust. There is no sign of light pressure and no creaking noises can be heard. The design is minimalist and blends into modern homes as well as traditionally furnished.
The Google Home Mini is significantly larger than Amazon’s Echo Dot: an inch higher and 1.5 inches farther in diameter. In addition, 10 grams more weight on the scales as in Amazon’s small speaker. Like the Echo Dot, the Google Home Mini also has a light signature that shows the status, but it hides beneath the surface and only becomes visible at power up. Amazon’s loudspeaker looks a bit more technical and not so high-quality, the Google Home Mini is clearly the trendier device for the designer apartment, while the Amazon Echo Dot is more likely to appeal to techies.
The Google Home Mini has a micro USB port to connect the charger to. Thus, the physical connections have already been dealt with, there is not a 3.5mm jack. With the WLAN, the small speaker connects via 802.11 b / g / n / ac, so it is all current standards supported and even 5-GHz networks can be used. Bluetooth 4.1 is used to connect the device to other audio devices or even to the first pairing with the smartphone. Google integrates Chromecast and Chromecast audio technology, so you can easily play content on the Google Home Mini with compatible apps in Android using the stream icon.
Incidentally, the Google Home Mini does not include a battery, so it always needs to be powered by the AC adapter.
The Google Home Mini is a speaker that basically needs to listen in on the built-in microphones to fulfill its core functionality: responding to questions from the user and completing tasks for them. However, a recording and transmission of the data to Google’s server should take place only if one says a certain code-word.
The Google Home app on your smartphone or tablet plays a key role in setup and configuration, as the Google Home Mini does not have a screen. In this setup, the Google Home app transmits Google Account information to the speaker so they can use the information stored there. By the way, you can query what Google knows about you on the internet, and that is a very interesting feature. Here you can also delete entries and there are links to the privacy settings of the Google Account. However, if certain aspects of the data transfer to Google have been turned off, Google Home Mini will ask you to enable it during setup, otherwise you will not be able to use the smart assistant function. This includes the web and app activities, such as Internet searches with Google or routes in Google Maps. Device information such as contacts, calendars, etc. must also be stored on Google to manage contacts and appointments. Of course, the transmission and storage of audio data must also be approved. Anyone who has previously trimmed his Google Account on data economy and does not want to enable the settings, gets the Google Home Mini only a Bluetooth speaker without smart features.
Privacy on the Google Home Mini. Wait a minute, was not there a little scandal? True, in October, testers noticed that Google’s Home Mini Speaker suddenly started responding to TV language, even though the codeword “OK Google” had not been said. This was due to the fact that the Home Mini can also be operated via touch fields on the top of the device and the touch sensor for activating the voice recording was defective here. To date, Google has found no solution, instead the activation of voice control by touch is still disabled. After all, Google has deleted all accidentally recorded audio data. Incidentally, the microphones can be disabled via a hardware switch, which also turns the LEDs on the top of the Google Home Mini orange and a confirmation by voice.
As a user of a smart speaker, you should be aware that personal information is shared with Google and stored there. After all, Google has the opportunity to clearly view and delete them. The Amazon Echo Consumer Center article, of course, similarly applies to the Google Home Mini. Among other things, guests and visitors should always be pointed to the listening speaker, otherwise there might even be legal difficulties.
The small speaker is connected to the Wi-Fi on the first set up via Google Home app, with the login information automatically transmitted. The information on your own Google account will be deposited so that the information stored there on Google’s servers can be linked to their voice commands. The device is quite simple and also fast, Google Home supports the user with the first example comments.
After setup, the smart assistant reacts to “OK Google” or “Hey Google” and a subsequent command. The speech recognition is very accurate, and thanks to the remote field recognition of the microphones works reliably even in larger rooms. When the Home Mini controls a device, it can even automatically turn down the volume as soon as speech commands are given so that the speaker understands it better. By default, the Google Home Mini responds to every user, but you can teach the device to distinguish different users by voice.
Google Home Mini lets you control other devices on the Wi-Fi, such as Chromecasts. You can stream things on the Google Home Mini from your smartphone or tablet, such as a playlist in Spotify or Deezer. Of course, all Google services work seamlessly with the device. For example, you can ask how long it takes to get to a specific location by subway. The answer comes promptly and is also pretty accurate. You can even link questions, such as “How long do I need to take the subway to the Olympia shopping mall?” and as the next question “And how long do I need a car?”, the assistant also provides the appropriate answer.
A disadvantage compared to Amazon Alexa: Currently there are (still) no skills on Google Home, so programmed by external providers access to their systems, which can be installed by the user. For example, you have to do without the Amazon Prime services when using Google Home. Amazon has already formed a brisk community of smaller developers who are constantly making new services available on the device, so Google should follow suit.
Device settings, like the setup, are done on a smartphone or tablet with the Google Home app, which incidentally is also available for Apple devices. So you do not necessarily have to use an Android device. Settings include a guest mode that also allows users outside their own Wi-Fi network to access the Google Home Mini’s control via a PIN. You can also set a confirmation tone for speech recognition or lower the volume and brightness at night.
While Amazon’s Echo Dot clearly shows its controls, the Google Home Mini only shows the mute of the microphones on the case side at first glance. While the Echo Dot is quite easy to control even without instructions right out of the box, the Googles Home Mini first has to find out that you can touch the side surface of the speaker to adjust the volume.
Smart home control
A core function of smart speakers is, of course, to control other smart devices in their own home. Of course, Google’s own Nest series of smart home products works here, but devices like the Philips Hue and manufacturers like Gigaset or Homematic are also supported. A list of partners can be found on this website. Since there are no learnable skills, one relies on the cooperation between Google and its partners and should first inform themselves whether the own smart home components are also compatible with Google Home.
The switching on and off of the devices often works without any problems, with the light and thermostat you can also set times when they should switch on or off. In general, though, Alexa’s swarming intelligence often provides hands-on skills for individual devices that do not work in Google Home control. Advantage Google: Speech recognition is much more flexible in terms of commands, so you can say, for example, “lights” instead of “light” and commands like “turn on the lights” or “turn on the lights” work equally well. In addition, the evaluation of the voice commands is very fast and the commands are promptly implemented.
Emissions & Energy
The housing of the Google Home Mini heats up only slightly, even after prolonged use, it can be easily taken in the hand.
An important detail for a smart speaker like the Google Home Mini … well, the speaker. Bluetooth 4.1 can stream audio to the device, either through the streaming icon that shows the Google Home app in compatible apps and the Chromecast feature, or even through a simple Bluetooth connection. However, to connect, you’ll need the Google Home app again, because that’s the only way to enable pairing mode.
The Home Mini includes a speaker with 40mm driver. The sound is decent, at high volumes, even for a larger room quite sufficient. If you turn up the volume completely, however, the heights are a bit over emphasized in music and there is a shortage of depths. This makes for a somewhat tinny sound with heights uncomfortably amplified for some listeners. Overall, the sound is at the level that one would expect from an equally priced Bluetooth speaker: good for everyday use, but clearly not enough for music enthusiasts.
The Google Home app also includes an equalizer feature for the Google Home Mini, which did not produce an audible difference in our test.