The market for devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home is so new that nobody really knows anything, except that smart speakers are fun as hell and they’re probably important to the connected future of everything. Somehow. We’re firmly in the spaghetti-throwing phase of the technology, as companies experiment in public to find out what works.
Barely a week after Amazon unveiled a half-dozen new Echo products, Google has a new smart speaker of its own. It’s called the Google Home Mini, and it’s just like the Google Home, but miniaturized. (I know!) The $49 smart speaker looks like a mesh-wrapped pebble, and comes in three colors: gray, dark gray, and coral.
The Home Mini is Google’s equivalent to the Echo Dot: It has all the same features, only with a worse speaker and a smaller body. That means you can set timers and reminders, check the weather, convert tablespoons to cups, and do all the other things you’d do with a Google Home—except this one you can hide behind a tissue box or scented candle. The other difference is the lights: The Home blinks a diamond of colored lights to indicate it’s listening or thinking, but the Mini has just three white LEDs.
Google swears the Home Mini sounds better than you think, but if you disagree, you can hook it up to any Chromecast-enabled speaker and play music wirelessly.
It’s not a complicated strategy, really. Some people care deeply about sound fidelity, and they can buy a Google Home. Or, more realistically, something other than a smart speaker, since even the best ones sound like junk. Others don’t care so much about music, and just want something small in the bedroom or kitchen to spew questions and shopping list items at. The Home Mini is the device you buy a bunch of and pepper all over your house, just to make sure you’re never fully out of earshot. The Echo Dot’s been a massive success for just that reason, and the Home Mini should appeal as well. Plus it comes in coral. Coral looks good.
At the same time, Google announced the Home Max, a giant speaker it says is 20 times louder than the Google Home. (Which is to say, really, really loud.) It has the same fabric covering, but looks more like a Sonos Play:3 than a Google Home. Google’s using an AI-powered feature it calls Smart Sound, which can automatically tune the speaker’s output for both the room you’re in and the song you’re playing. It works with Google Assistant, too, because of course it does. It’ll be out in December, in gray and black, for $399.
The Max is Google’s HomePod competitor, and Google clearly thinks it can win on the strength of the Google Assistant. Some users will love it, surely, but this is the high-end move. The one you’ll start to see everywhere? That’s the little guy.