Tech review: Google Nest Mini offers better sound at same affordable price

The Nest Mini looks identical to the previous version - like a large round pebble.
The Nest Mini looks identical to the previous version - like a large round pebble.PHOTO: GOOGLE

I have lost count of the number of Google Home Mini smart speakers that have passed through my hands - gifts that have subsequently been re-gifted to others.

Priced at $79 and often sold for less, the Home Mini is comfortably in impulse buy territory. And while its audio quality is middling at best, I find its built-in Google Assistant voice assistant handy for controlling my smart home devices.

For the sequel, dubbed Nest Mini in line with Google's Nest smart home branding, the tech firm has made a few small but useful tweaks while maintaining the same attractive price.

For starters, the Nest Mini sounds better than its predecessor. Google says its bass is twice as strong as the Home Mini.

The difference is significant in my testing. It has a fuller sound while its predecessor feels two-dimensional. The Nest Mini also has less distortion at higher volumes.

On the flip side, the treble frequencies sounded more prominent in the Home Mini, though this could also be attributed to its lack of bass.

The Nest Mini looks identical to the previous version - like a large round pebble. It is covered by a fabric (only chalk and charcoal colours in Singapore) that is said to be made completely from recycled plastic bottles.

Because it looks the same as its predecessor, it is easy to accommodate both versions of the speaker in the home. In addition, the Nest Mini has a mounting hole at the bottom that lets users suspend it from a hook on the wall, but you will have to find your own solution to affix the power cord to the wall. I also did not like that it uses a barrel-shaped power connector instead of a standard interface like USB-C.

When playing audio, its LEDs at the top light up to indicate the location of its touch-capacitive controls. During my testing, this feature, which uses ultrasound technology to detect the presence of my hand, worked only intermittently. Often, the LEDs would light up only when I was almost touching the speaker.

 
 
 
 

Unique to the Nest Mini is a dedicated machine learning chip that can be used to learn frequently used commands and process them on the speaker instead of sending them to Google's data centres. But this functionality is currently available only in the United States.

The Nest Mini is more adept at picking out my voice command from afar, thanks to its three far-field microphones, up from two in the previous version. As usual, these microphones can be muted via a physical switch for privacy.

Of course, the best thing about a smart speaker is the voice assistant, which Google has been refining over the years.

If you have not been keeping track, the Google Assistant can now group multiple Google Cast speakers together to play the same music throughout the home. The Assistant can also transfer a currently-playing song to another smart speaker in the home, so that your music follows you from one room to another. These improvements are available for both the Nest Mini and the Home Mini.

There are no compelling reasons for owners of the Home Mini to upgrade. But they might find it useful to add a Nest Mini to, say, their kitchen - especially when it inevitably becomes discounted.

FOR

Better bass than previous model

Affordable smart speaker

Can be wall mounted

AGAINST

Custom power connector

Ultrasound detection feature works intermittently

SPECS

Price: $79

Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Weight: 181g

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4/5

Performance: 4/5

Value for money: 4.5/5

Overall: 4/5