Google, the leader in the mobile operating system, is still trying hard to crack the smart speaker market. According to Canalys, Google fell behind Alibaba and Baidu in the global smart speaker market this year. Canalys further notes that market leader Amazon shipped 10.4 million smart speakers, while Google shipped only 3.5 million units. Despite a strong brand reputation and superior AI technology in Google Assistant, the company is struggling to make a mark. The top brass at Google, have found a solution, to ship more devices. The first step is rebranding its smart speakers with Nest and second is offering better sound output. The device coming off this new strategy is the Google Nest Mini.
Google Nest Mini is part of Google Home Mini rebrand, which came out in 2017. The Nest Mini looks identical to its predecessor, but Google has improved the speakers in a big way. The Home Mini arrived as a competitor to Amazon Echo Dot lineup, but it fizzled away without putting up much fight. The thing that failed the Home Mini was its sound output and Google has fixed just that with its second generation smart home speaker. So, the question now is whether Google has bridged the gap in sound quality. Second, is the Google-branded smart speaker a better choice over best-selling Amazon Echo range? Let’s find out.
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Google Nest Mini price in India
Let’s start with the obvious deterrent to smart home devices – price. Google Nest Mini is available via Flipkart for Rs 4,499. It is expensive in comparison to third generation Echo Dot, which is available for Rs 3,499. Unlike Amazon, Google does not offer any smart home starter pack or bundle with its smart speaker. Amazon Echo Dot comes with smart bulb for just Rs 99 extra. I don’t think the price is justified even though Google has improved sound quality on the Nest Mini.
Google Nest Mini: Design and Sound Quality
As mentioned, Google Nest Mini has a design similar to its predecessor. When Google Home Mini launched in 2017, it was one really good looking smart speaker. By not tweaking the design, Google has done the right thing. However, Google has done one really unique thing with the Nest Mini. The device includes a wall mount so you can hang it on your wall without any additional accessories. This not only adds to the overall aesthetics of your home but helps Google deliver better sound as well. I first placed the Nest Mini on a table and the sound was not that great. However, once mounted to the wall, it filled my room better than it did before.
This is the real differentiator between the Nest Mini and Amazon Echo Dot. The Nest Mini has an upward firing speaker while the Amazon Echo Dot has a side-firing speakers. As a result, the Echo Dot sounds much better when placed on a table. The Nest Mini gets better as soon as you mount it on a wall. Honestly, it is a hack Google has played to its advantage. As soon as you mount it on a wall, the Nest Mini is better at separating various sound stages. It also uses the surface to resonate the sound and it feels deeper than when set on a flat surface. I am yet to figure out whether it will go in my house but I will definitely stick it to the wall as a practical solution.
Google Nest Mini, really, comes alive when you start playing music. I have a proper music system at my home but lately I have found myself listening only on my Bose Soundlink Color. This compact and portable speaker has become my choice when listening to music in a closed space. Google Nest Mini, according to me, as good as my Bose, if not better. The delivery of sound is clear and there is very good stage separation between lyrics and instruments. It has much better dynamics than Echo Dot when it comes to playing low, medium or high frequencies. Say I am listening to Chandelier, which is all about Sia’s unique vocal quality and range, I will prefer the Nest Mini over Echo any day. In fact, Nest Mini is several times better than my Echo Spot as well.
The reason is quite simple – Amazon Echo Dot and other entry models are designed for voices. They are best suited for use cases such as listening to a podcast or a news bulletin. The Nest Mini, on the other hand, is perfectly tuned for music. If you play Africa by Toto on Echo Dot, it would sound really good since it is driven by the voice. On Nest Mini, it sounds good but not particularly exciting. But try playing You’ve Got To Have Freedom by Pharoah Sanders, and you will immediately start moving to saxophone. It could do so in such a tiny form factor is a real achievement for Google engineers.
The Nest Mini is a great sounding speaker in this segment but what makes it even greater is the choice of materials. It is covered in a circular fabric, which comes in chalk or charcoal color in India. Google says it has sourced the fabric from plastic bottles, one small step in building ecological products. The speaker uses a barrel plug instead of microUSB seen on its predecessor. I am still not sure why Amazon and Google use proprietary plugs for these devices. There is a microphone switch which gives a sense of relief that Google is not listening to your personal conversation.
Another feature that stood out for me is the gesture-based interface. There is an ultrasonic sensor embedded underneath the fabric. It is contextually aware and understands when you are closer to the device. It then shows the tap area to increase or decrease the volume. Every time you tap on this area, the volume goes down by 10 percent. You can also tap on the middle of the device to play or pause your music. Google got the design right the first time around with Home Mini. With Nest Mini, it is essentially fixing all the known issues.
Google Nest Mini: Smart functionality
The idea is a smart speaker that not only sparks conversation but also looks good. It offers some of the same voice functionality seen on other Google Home or Nest-branded devices. You can say ‘Ok Google’ or ‘Hey Google’ to wake the smart device. It has a strip of LEDs on top to indicate that it is listening to you. The search giant also claims to have added a third microphone to better listen to your commands. There is also an improved Assistant running on the device. It is very quick to listen to the wake word and also faster with its responses. In terms of compatibility, there is a huge suite of smart home devices like tube lights, fans and others.
It worked really well with my Xiaomi Smart Bulb, but the number of smart devices in my home remains limited right now. It also supports a host of services including Netflix, Gaana, Spotify, YouTube Premium and others. The smart speaker also works well with Google Duo, where you can make voice calls to chat with your friends and family. It lacks 3.5mm audio jack, but can be paired as a Bluetooth speaker to a smartphone or tablet or other device. You can also connect multiple Nest Mini devices to form multi-room group playback. However, it is difficult to say if Nest Mini is smarter than Alexa on Amazon Echo Dot. They both have a laundry list of compatible smart home devices. The digital assistants from both the companies are intelligent. If you use Google Assistant a lot on your Android smartphone then Nest Mini will appeal to you.
Google Nest Mini: Should you buy?
The Nest Mini shows Google took note of complaints made by Google Home Mini users. It added better drivers that now result in better sound. I will call it one of the best sounding smart speakers in this segment. It does not sound as good as some other expensive smart speakers that we have tried at BGR India. However, the wall mount option and clever use of resonance results in deep and clear sound. In comparison to Echo Dot, I think Google Nest Mini’s sound is definitely impressive. However, I don’t see much justification for the price since you don’t get any other smart device. If Google and Flipkart bundle a smart electric bulb at this price then I can say that this is of better value.