For the longest 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 now there's another horse in this race. Google has the Home Mini, an adorable, pebble-shaped miniature of it's bigger Home smart speaker, which is already a formidable foe for the larger Amazon Echo.
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 plop down that money for? Let's find out.
Amazon Echo Dot v Google Home Mini: Design
The Echo Dot is 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 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.
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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 colors: black, grey and the more eye-catching coral, which is basically pinkish.
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 also meant 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 down sides. 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 of 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: Interactions and sound performance
Amazon and Google's smart speakers are always getting better at recognizing our voices. We've nary had a problem with the Echo Dot recognizing our voices, 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.
Also frustrating? Google Home Mini doesn't have a headphone jack, which means to connect it to external speakers you'll need to pony up for a Chromecast so you can cast your audio to it.
Now, Home Mini does fare better than the Echo Dot. 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 difficult to upgrade the sound because you need to also have a Chromecast, whereas the Echo Dot can just plug into a better 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.
On the whole, Google's contextual advantage and better base sound make it a winner over the Echo Dot. However, 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, but what's weird is that they don't do an awful lot yet. They can give you some information, control some smart home tech and, yes, play music - but that's about it.
On the music front, the Home Mini wins. As stated earlier, it just sounds better than the Echo Dot. On the other two fronts, things are much closer though. Like in smart home control.
Currently, Alexa can control a lot more stuff in your home than Google Assistant can. A lot of this is down to Alexa being around longer and being more popular, which means developers are sure to make sure their smart home products work with it.
Support for Google Assistant is growing, and many of the big players are already there, like Philips Hue, Nest and more. Plus, Home Mini has the benefit of Google's ecosystem. You can take advantage of Chromecast to put your content up on TVs and enhancing your sound with speakers. You can't do that with the Echo Dot.
The other advantage for Assistant is that it feels more personal. You don't have to turn to that aforementioned rigidity, instead saying things like "good night" to initiate an end-of-night sequence for all your smart home products. That's cool, and it feels more magical than Alexa's version, which is a more robotic "Turn off all the lights."
To be fair, that'll soon be fixed as Amazon is rolling out a feature called Alexa Routines that'll allow just that. You'll get more contextual smart home voice options, so you can say "good morning" to get things going or "the lights are too bright" to dim them a bit. That API is rolling out to developers now, but it shouldn't take too long for that to filter out to users. Also, thanks to a recent update, the Echo Dot can now make calls to landlines and mobiles with your own phone number - just like you can with the Home Mini.
The Echo Dot, from a feature perspective, is more well rounded than what Google is offering. Sure, Google Assistant is still better at contextual commands and can take advantage of Google's services, like Calendar and Chromecast, but Echo Dot works with more smart home products and is achieving parity on some of the cool things Home Mini can do.
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, in celebration of the Sonos skill for Alexa, Sonos customers will get money off an Echo Dot, which is a whopping 50% discount. But if you buy one of Google's new Pixel 2 smartphone, you'll get a free Home Mini with your purchase. Amazon also discounts the Echo Dot every once in a while for Prime members, and even offers multi-packs once in a couple of months.
It's not difficult to buy into either of these ecosystems, but right now Amazon has more 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, as each company announces new features there's a volley from the competition. There 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.
Google's contextual powers make Assistant a little more smart than Alexa, especially if you're entrenched in the Google ecosystem. These devices, ultimately, are a way for you to buy into these ecosystems. This is Google's most affordable option, as Amazon has the likes of Sonos and other Alexa-enabled devices to get you in. And of course, Apple has its HomePod on the way - though both of those options aren't as affordable.
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 and near parity in terms of feature sets.