For a long time, the only affordable way to get into the smart home game was to lean onto Alexa and buy an Echo Dot. The little device turned out to be Amazon's Trojan horse into the smart home game, leading smart speaker sales in the process.
But since October 2017, there's been another horse in this race. Google now has the Home Mini, an adorable, pebble-shaped miniature of the bigger Home smart speaker, which is already a formidable foe for the larger Amazon Echo. More importantly, both Amazon and Google are taking any opportunity to do deals and discounts and bundle in the speakers with other tech.
Neither are going to suit everyone's needs, but they both can give you the information you need, contact friends and family and be a handy assistant in the kitchen. So which one should you hand over your cash for? Let's find out.
Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Design
The Echo Dot is pretty utilitarian in design. It's a small puck with easy-to-access buttons on the top that can mute the device, raise and lower the volume and activate Alexa's recognition abilities. It's also got a now-iconic bluish-green hue that lights up in a ring around the device.
It comes in white and black and is meant to slot into your rooms, perhaps tucked behind something and be forgotten about. Amazon wants this to simply blend into your life like other appliances. It's like your Blu-Ray player, cable box or Roku. If you really don't like how it looks, you can pick up a fabric or leather case for the Echo Dot to give it some personality.
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The Home Mini, on the other hand, looks a lot more… homely. Google's super into fabric right now, and the top half of this device is covered in it. The bottom half is plastic, but the entire thing looks like a big ol' pebble. It's a little adorable and comes in three colours: black, grey and the more eye-catching coral.
Unlike the Echo Dot, the Home Mini's lights, which let you know your smart assistant is working, are up at the top. Like the larger Home, they are basically four dots that flash. Unlike the larger Home, they're not placed on a slanted top, they're directly on top of the Home Mini. This makes it a little harder to see whether Google Assistant is activated or not, but maybe you prefer it that way.
The Home Mini is designed to blend into your existing decor, but it also looks good enough that it doesn't have to. Most of that is down to the Home Mini hiding all of its buttons and features under that fabric, which makes it look like a decoration and not a tech product. This, unfortunately, has some downsides. It's not as simple to use as the Echo Dot, which you can look at and see buttons on. In fact, the touch pad on the top of the Home Mini no longer works because of a glitch that activated some units to constantly listen.
So while the Google Home Mini is the better looking device of the two, and is the one that you wouldn't be even slightly embarrassed about in your home, its design feels more like form over function. On the flip side, Amazon has gone for function over form. One looks better, one works better.
Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Voice and sound
Amazon and Google's smart speakers are always getting better at recognising our voices. We've nary had a problem with the Echo Dot recognising us, even when we're speaking during a song. Same goes with Google Home Mini, but in both cases, the further away you get the less accurate they're going to be.
Google has always made a big deal of its Assistant's ability to understand context. You can ask it a question, then follow-up with another question on that same topic without repeating what you're talking about. This mostly works well, though there are sometimes instances where it just flat-out fails.
Alexa can do some contextual actions, but it's not quite up to the level of Google Assistant yet – though it's likely both of these things will get better and better as time goes on. Alexa is also a little more rigid than Assistant because of the lack of context. There are still moments when some skills require language to be a little too exact to do anything, which can be frustrating.
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Also frustrating? The Google Home Mini doesn't have a 3.5mm jack like the Echo Dot, which can be quickly wired up to existing speaker set ups – real handy. Until recently this meant that to connect it to external speakers you needed to pony up for a Chromecast Audio to cast music. Now though Google has added the ability to connect the Home to other speakers via Bluetooth without the need for any extra accessories. That's fine if you have speakers with Bluetooth.
Now, the Home Mini does fare better than the Echo Dot when it comes to sound. In a side-by-side comparison between the two, we found the Echo Dot was much tinnier and distorted at higher volumes. So while the Home Mini does pack quite a punch for its size, it's a little more limited when it comes to upgrading the sound, whereas the Echo Dot can just plug into a better (and non connected) audio system if needed. It's also not going to replace your home audio system any time soon, nor rival the full-sized Google Home.
Google's contextual advantage and better base sound give it an advantage over Amazon, particularly if you're more interested in smart home and AI butler controls, and the new Bluetooth connectivity really helps too. It all depends on which speakers you already have and how you want to listen to connected music. So if you're looking to upgrade to better sound because you've invested in some good sound equipment already and want something that works with a 3.5mm jack, the Echo Dot may line up better for your needs.
Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Features
When smart speakers work, we love them, and over the past six months they've shown they can do a lot more than you might think – even these budget devices. So not only can they give you information, control some smart home tech and, yes, play music, but now they can also make calls, set routines, broadcast around the house and more.
And when it comes to comparing them, things are much closer here – any feature that the Echo Dot, the Home Mini gets months or even weeks later and vice versa.
Currently, Alexa can control more stuff in your home than Google Assistant can. A lot of this is down to Alexa being around longer and being more popular in sales, which means developers ensure their smart home products work with it.
Support for Google Assistant is growing, though, and many of the big players are already there, like Philips Hue and Nest. Plus, Home Mini has the benefit of Google's ecosystem. You can take advantage of Chromecast to put your content up on TVs and enhance your sound with speakers. Speaking of Nest, if you have any of this kit in your house, go for Google as more integrations are being announced all the time.
Now that Routines are rolling out for both Alexa and Google Assistant (depending on where you live), both devices feel more personal with conversational commands like "good night" and "bedtime" to initiate an evening sequence around the home rather than "turn off all the lights". Not only is this cool, it just feels more natural. Amazon is also pushing out Brief Mode to make Alexa less chatty when you just want it to perform a simple, everyday task.
It's worth noting here that you may simply prefer saying 'Alexa' as a command – you can also set it to 'Amazon' or 'Computer' – rather than the slightly annoying 'Hey, Google' or 'OK, Google' wake phrases. Internet rumours do say that custom wake words are coming to Google Assistant and we very much hope that's true – perhaps we'll see them at Google's I/O conference in May.
Also, thanks to a recent update, Alexa can now make calls to landlines and mobiles with your own phone number, just like you can with the Home Mini.
Overall we'd say that the Echo Dot, from a feature perspective, is more well rounded than what Google is offering right now. Sure, Google Assistant is still better at contextual commands and can take advantage of Google's services, like Calendar and Chromecast, but the Echo Dot works with more smart home products and is achieving parity on some of the cool things Home Mini can do.
For the future, though, we fully expect Google Assistant to take over – don't forget Assistant is also on millions of Android phones, another big advantage.
Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Price
At first blush, both the Echo Dot and Home Mini are $49.99. However, both Amazon and Google have begun launching a bunch of different promotions to get you to buy in to either the Home Mini or the Echo Dot over the other.
For instance, Amazon has deals when you buy more than one Echo Dot and Google has been bundling the Home Mini with some Nest products like its smart thermostat, when it's not giving them away free from donut trucks. It doesn't cost much to buy into either of these ecosystems, but right now Amazon has more ongoing deals, making the Echo Dot a little more enticing for those on a budget.
Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Final verdict
The smart speaker battle is constantly evolving, and as each company announces new features there's a volley from the competition. It feels like there's a back-and-forth between Amazon and Google that's making a choice harder for consumers while also bringing better and better experiences. If you're into HomeKit, it's worth noting that there's no equivalent yet from Apple – it's HomePod or nothing.
Google's contextual powers make Assistant a little smarter than Alexa, which is especially helpful if you and your family/flatmates are entrenched in the Google/Nest ecosystem. These devices, ultimately, are a way for you to buy into these systems, so have a look what works with Google Assistant first.
Functionally, we think the Echo Dot might still be a better purchase for a lot of people right now thanks to its wider support for smart home products, that 3.5mm jack and near parity in terms of feature sets.
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