Even for $30 and out of curiosity I can’t buy Home Mini smart speaker

iNexussbeeneDec 8, 2017Gadgets24120

When Apple unveiled the HomePod this past June at WWDC 2017, I didn’t give it too much of my attention. As a design piece, it looked like something I’d be happy to put in my living room. As a product, I just wasn’t interested. Smart speakers in general have seemed like little more than a novelty to me, and I’ve resisted buying one... until now. Last week I welcomed a Google Home Mini into my life to see if it could change my mind. Here’s what I found.

© Author’s opinion: Michael Steeber.
© Source: 9to5Mac

Even for $30 I can’t buy Home Mini smart speakerSince the release of the first Amazon Echo and Google Home products, I’ve been watching from the sidelines as online friends and colleagues have one by one embraced smart speakers. While I use Siri (an intelligent personal assistant) from time to time on my iPhone and Apple Watch, the idea of a separate device to accomplish the same tasks seemed redundant.

During this year’s Black Friday sales, Google slashed the price of the Home Mini to just $29. Even that wasn’t enough to tempt me, or so I thought.

After a lot of positive encouragement from colleagues and Twitter followers, I decided to give it a try – as an experiment. Could Google Home change my outlook?

Active Internet user’s opinion:

Google Home user here, I can offer my experience with it after a year of use.

Some people might find a smart speaker redundant when they already have a phone, but I’ve found that it’s really nice for the little things I do often, that don’t actually require looking at a display:

– I can ask it to set timers when I’m cooking, without getting my phone out or risking it getting dirty in the kitchen.
– I can easily ask it about the weather and my commute, while I get ready in the morning.
– When reading a book, I can ask it any question that might come up, like “How fast is 60 knots in miles per hour?”
– Soon, I’ll be able to communicate with my car using Google Assistant, to ask about its charge level or pre-heat it.

And the most useful thing I’ve found is smart home control. Sure, I can use apps on my phone, but when I have guests over, it’s MUCH easier to just tell them “You can talk to the Google Home to play music, turn on the lights, change the temperature, etc.” It means I can have all the features of a smart home while still making it accessible to guests.

It’s important to note up front that the Home Mini and HomePod are two fundamentally different products. The HomePod is first and foremost a speaker, not an assistant – a closer competitor to the Google Home Max. The Home Mini on the other hand is more of an extension of Google Assistant with a speaker added. I don’t consider myself an audiophile, so I’m willing to look past the Google Home Mini’s speaker and evaluate its utility as a smart appliance.

Setting up the Home Mini was quick and fun. The Google Home app has polished animations that guide you through the setup process. Google makes no effort to hide just how much data will be collected about you as you use the Home Mini – and rightly so. Bringing an always-on, always-listening device into your home is still a big commitment for some people, and it’s best that Google is upfront about what is being collected right away.

My first two days using Google Home were fun, reminiscent of my first days using Siri when the iPhone 4s was released. Google Assistant is full of fun “party tricks” and Easter eggs that you can find with a brief search online. My favorite were the speaker’s built-in trivia games.

Active Internet user’s opinion:

I was in the exact same boat as the writer. I bought a Google Home Mini over Thanksgiving because at $29 (with a $25 Walmart credit), it was a no brainer. I didn’t think I’d want one (privacy issues being the main driver, but also usefulness). My conclusion is somewhat different from the authors though.

After a week with the mini, I’ve purchased a few smart outlets and now have a couple of lights controlled by the mini. I’ve also dusted off the Chromecast and am using the mini to play content on my main TV with voice activation. I already had a Google Music account, so being able to pull up any music thru that service with voice is a big plus. I also listen to a good bit of talk radio on Tune In, and that has integration with Google Home as well. I’m even contemplating picking up a full size Google Home for the house to provide more coverage (and better audio quality).

So I think the value in Google Home (or Alexa or the Homepod when/if it’s ever released) depends upon how many Home enabled services and devices you have. The more you have, the more value you’ll see in it being your voice activated hub.

The problem for Apple is that it is woefully lacking in these options. We won’t know for sure until the Homepod ships, but I doubt that Homepod will have half the devices/services integrations that Home or Alexa has out the gate. It’s going to take Apple time to get vendors on board and provide services/devices that are HomeKit/HomePod enabled, and it can’t even get started until HomePod actually ships.

By day three, the novelty had started to wear thin. I don’t use a lot of other Google products on a regular basis, so many of Google Home’s features aren’t of much value to me. I don’t have a Chromecast or Google Play Music, and haven’t yet switched any appliances over to HomeKit compatible options. Simple tasks like checking the weather are easy to accomplish on my phone, and more satisfying there, too. I’m a visual person, and given the choice between hearing information and seeing it, I’ll almost always choose looking at a screen. There’s an added level of trust when I can verify the information I’m receiving, and with a speaker I have to assume that what I’m hearing is accurate.

Living with Google Home, I can imagine the future utility of HomePod. My workflow is mostly Apple-centric, and the integration of services like Apple Music, Siri, and HomeKit would prove much more useful than Google’s offerings. I’m also curious to see how HomePod handles various use conditions like background noise, multiple voices, and complex commands. Google Home Mini held up surprisingly well, able to hear me across the house, and recently adding the ability to accept multiple commands.

Looking at the My Activity section in the Google Home app reveals that I’ve only asked my speaker three questions in the last two days, two of which were test commands. It’s fallen off my radar quickly, and I’m glad I picked it up at a discounted price. The problem isn’t the speaker itself, it’s my workflow. Using a voice assistant still doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s a conscious process, and I have to constantly remind myself to come up with a reason to use it over my phone.

Active Internet user’s opinion:

Over the past few weeks I’ve discovered even more reasons to use the original Home I bought used in February that to be truthful got scant use in the early days and the 2 mini’s purchased this past month. Besides the typical fact search or reminder I learned I can place calls over them, so now I can call my daughter while cooking breakfast by just asking Google to call her. It helps too that I found how to show my real number instead of “unknown” so she’ll answer. LOL.

I’ve also discovered I can “broadcast” to all three home devices from my phone, which turned out helpful when grilling on the far patio this weekend and needing my wife to bring something from the kitchen. The original home is also a pretty decent-sounding music streamer (the mini not so much), and voice controlling it is certainly convenient. I also use it to turn off the living room lights and TV when we’ve gone to bed and the kids forgot to. Kids upstairs turn the air down way too low? No problem, I can check the temp from the Home Mini and turn it up or down all by voice without searching for my phone, unlocking it and then opening an app.

I’ll sometimes use the bedroom unit to check the time at night (my wife hates light in the bedroom so no clocks!) or to adjust the air, and telling Google “start my day” in the morning tells me of any appointments for the day, bills that are on my calendar, and any reminders that I set for myself. News updates too if I want them, which I usually don’t. So yeah, I’ve found my Google Home’s worthwhile. My wife who originally thought the whole smart-speaker thing to be silly is now a believer too. When a hotflash hits she loves the ease of telling Google to turn the air down without having to get up and head to the hallway thermostat. Multi-voice support is great.

A touch under $150 total for all three was a small cost for the convenience. If you have a connected home it’s actually a no-brainer IMO.

I’m keeping my mind open for HomePod because I want to find a place for it in my home. I’m looking to Apple to make the first truly compelling smart speaker experience that can change the minds of skeptics like myself. Until then, my Google Home Mini will be sitting here, waiting for a command that never comes.

4.1
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Total: 13 comments
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  1. Sarah Gillmor
    7
    10
    Sarah GillmorJournalist
    2017-12-11, 9:45AM
    The last version of Youtube on Echo Show was a browser loading Youtube.com and it did not block ads from playing or displaying. At this point this is Google trying to use a popular service to undermine and bully a competitor. There latest claim lays all that out on the table, they didn't hide behind supposed violations of terms of service but complained that Amazon wont sell their devices and services.
    +5
  2. Andrew Hard
    2
    4
    2017-12-10, 6:09PM
    Amazon forked Android and made it into their own proprietary FireOS. They had Amazon Prime video locked up and only available on it for years before supporting finally supporting true Android. The development work of making a client that would work on Android was obviously already done because they had a FireOS (Android fork) client. They purposely withheld it for years and continue to withhold Chromecast support even though their entire OS is a derivative of a lot of Google's hard work.

    At the time Chromecast was pulled from Amazon's site, it was the number one selling streaming device for several months running (which made Amazon a lot of money). They pulled their second anti-consumer move when they closed the door on all the Google hardware to push their derivative boxes which were based on the OS that Google built and they forked (meaning they wouldn't even have the hardware alternative to peddle if they weren't already leaning heavily on Google's efforts).

    Is pulling Youtube playing hardball and anti-consumer? Yes, but it's not like Amazon hasn't asked for it in this case.
    +11
    1. iLawyer
      4
      7
      iLawyerJournalist
      2017-12-11, 9:42AM
      Google Pixel devices don't support Miracast so what's your point. Google has been known to throw their scumbag weight around.

      Miracast is a feature (one that is also heavily taxing and inefficient) requiring royalty payments - you can choose not to support it. Amazon is refusing to sell Google's products while not allowing Amazon Prime Video to stream on Chromecast - clearly out of spite and to get people to buy Amazon Fire TV sticks for that. If it feels it is facing unfair competition, they are fully within their rights to fight it.

      You don't ever see Amazon issue a statement about working with Google to get YouTube or putting Amazon Prime Video on Chromecast now, do you?
      +3
  3. Nicolle Steehle
    1
    4
    Nicolle SteehleJournalist
    2017-12-9, 6:08PM
    I've heard everyone and their dog raving about how this is the next big thing since the smartphone and the tablet, but I just don't see the point of it. I already have something that's smarter and more functional than a smart speaker in my pocket and on my wrist - why do I need one that's stuck at home while I'm at work all day? With everyone already owning a modern smartphone and/or tablet and/or computer and/or watch with Siri/Google Now/Cortana, smart speakers are just a redundant solution in search of a problem.
    +7
  4. Chris Maccenroy
    5
    10
    Chris MaccenroyJournalist
    2017-12-9, 4:32PM
    I use it as a home intercom, i am glad there is $30 version... I got 10 of them for $300. In the shower "Hey Google play some Depeche Mode". If you think something is useless it will most likely be the case for you. If you think outside the box you will find many uses for it.

    In the kitchen it's a cookbook, a timer, a radio, a newspaper, a shopping list, an intercom, an encyclopedia, an agenda a hands free phone and all this without a need to use your hands or your eyes. And you don't need to remember to charge it either or worry about battery level. If you think of this as a Bluetooth speaker, you have really missed the point of the capability and future possibilities for the product. This is to a speaker what today's mobile phones are to those first mobile phones. We have smart phones and now smart speakers.

    I have both Apple and Android tablets, but use Google accounts on both types of devices. But for many uses of these smart speakers do not really need a Google account. At $30 you should pick one up just to try it, if you really hate it return it. That's how I started.
    +5
  5. Dave Smartier
    6
    10
    Dave SmartierJournalist
    2017-12-9, 11:19AM
    The reverse in fact.

    I bought Google Home last year and returned it. With a phone always near me, I couldn't find even a single reason to keep Home.

    A year later, Google's made phenomenal progress. I got the Mini with my Pixel 2 and it was eye opening. With individual voice recognition, I can play my Playlists on my Home (I bought it after seeing how useful the Mini was) and my wife can play her music on her mini. For music in the kitchen, the Mini is perfectly okay. To answer quick questions while my kids are studying it's actually easier that reaching for the phone and asking it.

    I had bought 2 smart plugs a few months ago. Hooked one up and it worked. But it was cumbersome. Open the app, and tap on the plug to turn the lights on and off. Much faster to just do it manually. Now with Home, I can just say turn on the living room lights and both lights turn on. I was away for a week and turned on lights and turned them off in various rooms. As though someone was walking around the house. I have since bought a smart toogle switches that I connected to my porch lights and garage lights. I can now have them turned on and off remotely. Given even more an impression that someone is at home.

    +8
    1. Randall Mark
      6
      Randall MarkJournalist
      2017-12-10, 6:12PM
      I guess I was referencing the first time Google pulled YouTube from the Show. This time yes they did make it clear why. Also I don't think anyone can bully Amazon into doing something they don't want. You have to ask why is it that Amazon doesn't sell Chromecast or Google Home products. And then decided if what YouTube is doing is valid or not.

      By the way, Amazon doesn't sell those products because Google wouldn't allow Amazon Prime Video on their devices with agreeable business terms. Amazon wants you to run their apps, allow people to buy/rent movies/music inside their app, and not take a huge cut off the top. That's why Amazon Prime Video is on specific devices like Nvidia ShieldTV and not all of AndroidTV, because Nvidia cut a separate side deal with them.
      +2
      1. Mill Camius
        5
        2017-12-10, 9:19PM
        There's a difference between not selling a competitors product in your store vs purposely targeting and degrading a competitors product to promote your own. Walmart could choose to stop selling Chromecast and promote another product and would be no different from Amazon. Yes, the scale of those companies means not being sold there is probably not good for your product. But thats how retail works. Google is taking a service that is supposed to have a public API and purposefuly degrading a competitors use of it despite complying with the terms of use. That is an unfair business practice and potential abuse of a monopoly position...
        +4
  6. Roger Wabbit
    5
    2017-12-8, 9:45PM
    Exactly how I felt, until I bought an Echo about 1-1/2 years ago just for the hell-of-it to try. Don't knock it until you've done the same. (Return it if you don't like it!) It's far more convenient in many cases to use a smart speaker than to fumble for a smartphone or tablet. Perhaps half of the population doesn't even have a pocket in which to keep their smartphone with them constantly around the home/office either.

    My wife was skeptical, too, and is not anywhere as technologically savvy as I, but she loves the Echos (yes, we own several now). Smart speakers might be even more beloved by the technologically challenged, because they're so easy to use. Mostly I use smart speakers to tune in Internet radio stations, but also for playing a few music requests, weather reports and a bit of device control - and I can easily command it to turn off at a specific time.

    +2
  7. Gregory French
    3
    6
    Gregory FrenchJournalist
    2017-12-8, 8:25PM
    I work in Professional audio and have access to thousands of dollars of audiophile quality speakers here in our acoustics lab. I'm intrigued by what Apple are doing with computational audio. The HomePod promises to be truly groundbreaking. It would be very sad if the audio quality of HomePod is ignored by the tech media and instead they focus on HomePod as just another 'voice assistant' - these are the articles I see almost every day.

    There are many Bluetooth and AirPlay speakers and HomePod should be compared to them all and judged primarily for it's bang for the buck in audio quality and frictionless setup and use as a speaker. What Siri can and can't do is almost irrelevant. For example, how will it compare to far more expensive speakers by B&O and Devialet?

    Judging HomePod only by the usefulness of Siri is almost meaningless. By functional metrics Apple is sure to lose the battle of the personal assistants because they refuse to play dirty with user privacy. Apple seem to appreciate that everyday users will find great sound quality more enriching than a geeky experience with a voice assistant.
    +5
  8. Tommy Miles
    2
    5
    Tommy MilesJournalist
    2017-12-8, 4:09PM
    Strongly disagree that the Mini is for Android. Not sure why you even say this as it simply is just not true. My wife takes a photo on her iPhone and without touching an additional button will later walk into our family room and ask for fine details in photos with her voice and our TV turns itself on, input sets itself and the photo in 4k appears on the largest screen in our house. Setting this up could not be easier. Just buy, plug in, log in and it just works. Google figures out on the back-end how to make everything work together using your Google account.

    We also have a 4k Google Chromecast. My wife already used Google Photos. I have a HUGE family as in 8 kids and my kids interact with the Google Homes all the time with their iPhones. I do have a couple of kids that chose Android and their interaction is no different than the iPhone kids.
    +7
  9. iNexussbeene
    1
    5
    Author: iNexussbeene
    2017-12-8, 11:27AM
    And my opinion this way: you can even call people on land lines or smartphones with the Google Home mini as well. No need to pick up your smartphone to call someone. Plus you can get Google Home to go through a recipe step by step totally hands free. Also playing YouTube videos or movies, or Netflix is really convenient and easier than selecting a video or movie from your phone.
    +10
    1. Mister Portman
      4
      2017-12-8, 4:00PM
      The Google Home Mini being $29 + $10 gift card during Black Friday had me interested enough to buy one. I got the Amazon Echo Dot ages ago and it has its limitations with Alexa often saying "idk" to queries. I found the Google Assistant to be a tad bit better anyways. A Siri speaker doesn't interest me because I have her on my laptop, phone, and iPad. She is also not so great either, so spending a significant amount of bucks on the new HomePod is not even a thing to me. I wouldn't even buy a HomePod Mini since it would cost like $80-$100.
      +3
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