If you’re exploring the miniaturized smart speaker market right now, the chances are that you’re either looking at Amazon’s Echo Dot or Google’s rival, the Home Mini as your next pocket-sized voice assistant.
But what are the major differences between these two entry-level smart speakers and does one offer significantly more advantages over the other?
In this guide, we’ve taken a look at both devices to see who packs the biggest punch for the smallest shelf-space.
Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot – A Natural Rivalry
Ever since Amazon’s smart home assistant Alexa hit the online shelves (and eventually those in our homes), it’s been obvious that the day of the voice activated smart home controller had gone mainstream.
It was little surprise therefore that Amazon would look to capitalize on this success with the release of subsequent Alexa-enabled devices which would be ever more powerful, feature-rich, and in the case of the Echo Dot, more compact.
It’s equally unsurprising that where one tech-giant leads, another is always bound to follow and that’s exactly what subsequently happened with the big-name brands such as Google, Apple, as well as the major audio brands following suit with their own versions looking to replicate the functionality (and success) of Alexa.
In the mainstream however, it’s arguably Google that are continuing to give Amazon a run for their money, leveraging their scale and algorithm to make a Google-powered smart assistant alternative that’s both affordable and powerful.
Compact Smart Speaker 101
When it comes to smart voice assistants and smart speaker systems, there are two considerations which almost always hold true:
- Smaller size equals less functionality, reduced audio-output capability, and generally lower price
- Larger size equals more features, more power, and usually a higher price tag
In order to gain mass-market uptake therefore, the goal for all smart speaker manufacturers is always to minimize the size and cost of devices while maintaining (or improving) on the feature-set and functionality.
The latest versions of compact smart speaker systems such as the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini look to strike the balance between these factors at a price-point which is affordable for most people while still delivering the kind of smart home control and assistant features you’d generally expect from larger devices.
An increase in audio quality is always a nice bonus too and with each subsequent iteration of the mini smart speaker offerings from Amazon and Google, this continues to improve.
With all of that being said, while compact smart speakers offer a great gateway into the world of smart voice controllers for many people, if you’re looking for a smart voice controller that can take it to the next level (offering smart hub functionality for example) and still hold its own against a dedicated wireless audio speaker, then the bigger brothers of the compact smart speakers are where you want to be looking.
Mini smart speakers are however, perfectly suited as ‘satellite’ devices around a central main voice controller, providing the ability to extend the voice control range of your smart home ecosystem to the far-flung reaches of your home and working in tandem with the rest of your smart devices and any other smart speakers in your setup.
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon’s entry-level smart speaker is also their smallest and as with other devices in the family, includes the company’s cloud based Alexa smart voice controller as the intelligence within the unit itself.
The latest generation of the Echo Dot has improved on the somewhat utilitarian design of it’s predecessor without losing any of the things which made it such a success the first time around.
The current generation of the Dot is slightly larger than the older model although this increase is negligible given the improvements to both the overall aesthetic of the device and the tweaks to functionality.
Available in charcoal, gray, and white, the third generation Echo Dot features a mesh-fabric exterior edge but still includes the synonymous blue and turquoise lights to let you know Alexa is either listening or responding.
Easy-access buttons on the top of the device make it well suited to tucking out of the way on a shelf or somewhere that’s inconspicuous yet easy to reach if you need to mute the device or switch it off.
Of the two smart assistants on-board the Dot and Home Mini, Amazon’s Alexa has been around longer which has given the brand somewhat of a head-start in the functionality department.
What this looks like upfront is an immense range of compatible smart home devices that now work with Alexa right out of the box and this is a big deal if you’re looking to build a comprehensive smart home with voice control and minimal setup hassles.
The Echo Dot offers a great deal of the assistant-based functionality of the larger and pricier devices which means you’re going to be able to get your weather and headline updates, control music with your voice, and connect to your smart home devices for control with this compact unit.
What you don’t get compared to more sophisticated devices such as the Echo Plus however is some of those higher-end features which can make a significant difference to your smart home experience through the inclusion of an in-built smart hub to orchestrate multiple devices and of course the benefit of improved audio output.
If you’re going for a compact smart speaker, then the chances are that sound quality isn’t at the top of your list of priorities, with larger devices or those from third party device makers like Sonos with Alexa built-in providing a superior experience.
With that being said, the quality of audio in the mini smart speaker offering is getting better by the day and you could definitely do worse than the latest Dot if you’re looking for a half-decent bedroom music streaming solution or for catching the news headlines while eating breakfast.
Audio output is of course only half of the equation though with the other major consideration being the ability of the device to actually hear and understand you when you speak to it.
On this front, the Echo Dot leads the field with the latest version of the device providing the ability to hear you at a whisper as well as over most background sounds and even when music is playing.
A marked difference between Amazon and Google’s voice controller offerings is often attributed to the slightly rigid speech interface of the former.
There have been definite improvements in this area in the most recent Echo Dot device and it definitely makes for a more natural (and less irritating) experience when you’re asking Alexa to get something done.
Google Home Mini
The smaller sibling to the Google Home smart speaker system, the Home Mini has been designed with a sympathetic aesthetic in mind without sacrificing the smart power of Google in the process.
Effectively identical in diameter to the Dot but ever so slightly shorter, Google’s Home Mini device is equally (if not somewhat more) suited to blending into a wide range of home environments.
Visually, the upper half of the Google Home Mini utilizes a material finish while the lower portion is plastic with a combination of four colors in total.
The light offering is slightly different to the trademark ‘blue ring’ favored by the Alexa devices and instead, the Home Mini communicates in light via four dots which shine through the top of the fabric mesh covering to let you know if it’s processing – slightly trickier to see than the Dot but this may be an advantage if the light is an annoyance.
While Amazon definitely had a head start when it came to cross-device compatibility (a benefit of being first to market), Google have made up a ton of ground and you’ll be hard pushed to find a major smart home device brand that isn’t compatible with Google Assistant these days.
Another major benefit of going Google over Amazon is that devices such as the Home Mini will sync up effortlessly with other systems in the Google ecosystem meaning you can utilize Chromecast for enhanced audio and visual when connected to a TV or speaker system and any Google-owned Nest products in your inventory are going to work flawlessly alongside the device.
One of the strings to Google’s bow in the smart assistant war is that they have the power of the search giant’s data behind them and this comes in particularly handy when it comes to voice recognition and the ability of the Home Mini to understand the context of speech when you ask the on-board Google Assistant a question.
While this feature makes the Home Mini better at understanding than Alexa, it still falls slightly behind the Dot when it comes to hearing, with accuracy dropping off when you ask a question or give a command from further away.
In terms of audio output quality, the Home Mini handles itself well at most volumes and while it’s able to go louder than the Dot, the quality of the audio output does diminish slightly compared its rival at higher volume levels.
Arguably the biggest drawback of the current Google Home Mini is the lack of a 3.5mm audio ouput jack (which the Dot has) which means you can’t physically connect the device to a compatible external speaker system.