Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Which bitesize smart speaker is best?

The affordable smart speakers face off

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini
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For a long time, the only affordable way to get into the smart speaker game was to lean on Alexa and buy an Echo Dot. The little device turned out to be Amazon's Trojan horse into the smart home, and continues to lead smart speaker sales years after its initial release.

But anything popular is bound to be replicated, which is where Google's Home Mini came into play. The company's adorable, pebble-shaped miniature of the bigger Home smart speaker, which is already a formidable foe for the larger Amazon Echo, now means the companies are battling it out on more than one frontier. If you're choosing between Alexa and Google Home, the Dot and Mini still represent the most cost effective choice.

Verdict: Amazon Echo Dot review | Google Home Mini review

Neither are going to suit everyone's needs, but both can give deliver news, contact friends and family, and control a wide range of other smart home kit. So, which one should you hand over your cash for? Let's find out.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Design

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

The Echo Dot got a much-needed refresh in 2018, and while it used to be fairly utilitarian in design, you can't help but wonder if the latest model took some inspiration from the Home Mini. It's still a small puck with easy-to-access buttons on the top that can mute the device, raise/lower the volume and activate Alexa's recognition abilities, but now it's slightly bigger and has a fabric, mesh outer edge. It also continues to feature the now-iconic turquoise hue that lights up in a ring around the speaker.

It comes in white, gray and charcoal (ie black) and is meant to to its best job of blending into the room, as you won't be thinking about it most of the time - which is why Amazon has made the third-gen Dot a little easier on the eye.

Get talking: The best Amazon Alexa skills

The Home Mini, as well, manages to create this homely look. Google's kept the fabric design throughout the Home range, 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 four colours: black, blue, grey and the more eye-catching coral, shown here.

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, these are 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 the Google Assistant is activated or not, but maybe you prefer it that way.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Which bitesize smart speaker is best?

(Left, Amazon Echo third generation; right, Google Home Mini)

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 features under that fabric, which makes it look like a decoration rather than a tech product. It looks better than the Echo Dot, especially in its new mint green color. Unfortunately, this also has some downsides. It's not as simple to use as the Echo Dot, having you tap the sides to adjust the volume.

Kit up: Google Assistant compatible devices

So, which is best? Well, with the new Echo Dot generation, separating the two is actually pretty difficult. Both are fabric-filled, attractive speakers that you can place in pretty much any room in the home. We'd still say that Amazon's design works better than Google's, but there are more important differences that we'll detail below.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Voice and sound

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Which bitesize smart speaker is best?

Amazon and Google's smart speakers are always getting better at recognizing our voices. We've nary had a problem with the Echo Dot hearing us, even when we're speaking during a song or using Alexa's new whisper mode. It's mostly the same with the Google Home Mini, but the further away you get the less accurate it's going to be. Also, we've seen phantom activations with the Home Mini, where Google Assistant will think we said "Hey Google" or "OK Google".

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 is still a little more rigid than Assistant, largely because of the way using skills works. Assistant used to have the advantage with follow-up conversations, but Alexa has caught up with its own continuous conversation feature. It's also added more advanced voice features like whisper mode and newsreader mode. These are smaller things, but they make for a better overall experience. However, there are still moments on Alexa where some skills require language to be a little too exact, which can be frustrating.

Hook up: The best Alexa compatible devices

But almost equally frustrating is the Google Home Mini's lack of 3.5mm jack — something the Echo Dot does have. This means the Dot 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 (now discontinued) 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.

The Home Mini used to fare better than the Echo Dot when it comes to sound, but not anymore. The new third-generation Echo Dot is much improved in the sound department. While it doesn't get as loud as the Home Mini, it does sound better at those louder volumes. The Home Mini in our testing would distort a bit at high volume, while the Echo Dot maintained more quality. Both pack a considerable punch for their size, though, as we say, the Echo Dot can just plug into a better (and non connected) audio system if needed. The pair aren't going to replace your home audio system any time soon, nor rival their full-sized siblings.

Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo Dot

All in all, Google's contextual understand gives it a small nod over Amazon, particularly if you're interested in AI butler controls. However, Alexa is catching up and is becoming much more helpful. 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 with your needs.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Features

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: The affordable smart speaker brouhaha

When smart speakers work, we love them, and over the course of 2018 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, 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 one gets, the other seems to get before long. For example, Alexa can now make calls to landlines and mobiles with your own phone number, just like you could previously with the Home Mini.

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 has meant developers have made more effort to 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, the 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.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Which bitesize smart speaker is best?

Now that Alexa and Google Assistant have Routines, both devices feel more personal, letting you use conversational commands like "goodnight" 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 has also pushed out Brief Mode to make Alexa less chatty when you just want it to perform a simple, everyday task.

How to: Set up Alexa Routines | Set up Google Assistant Routines

It's worth noting here that you may simply prefer saying "Alexa"as a command – you can also set it to 'Amazon', 'Echo' or 'Computer' – rather than the slightly annoying "Hey Google" or "OK, Google" wake phrases. Internet rumors do say that custom wake words are coming to Google Assistant and we very much hope that's true, but Google has told us directly that it doesn't think there's enough demand for it.

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 close the gap – don't forget people are already used to having it on their Android phone, which is another advantage.

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Price

The Echo Dot and Home Mini are $49.99, however both Amazon and Google routinely roll out different promotions to get you to buy in to either the Home Mini or the Echo Dot.

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 tends to have more ongoing deals, making the Echo Dot a little more enticing for those on a budget.

Google Home Mini
Google Home Mini

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Final verdict

Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Which bitesize smart speaker is best?

The smart speaker battle is constantly evolving, and as each company serves up new features, there's a volley from the competition. It feels like there's a back-and-forth between Amazon and Google right now, and that makes the choice hard for consumers. If you're into HomeKit, it's worth noting that there's no mini equivalent yet from Apple – it's HomePod or nothing.

As we've noted above, Google's contextual powers make Assistant a slightly 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 or extend the assistants around your home, so have a look what works with Google Assistant first.

Functionally, we think the Echo Dot is still 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. Amazon is also catching up to Google in advanced voice capabilities like special voices and whisper mode. The new design and improved sound also means the Google Home Mini feel a little dated.

TAGGED    smart speakers

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