In 2016, Google unveiled its first smart speaker, Google Home ($ 99 at Walmart) . A year later, its puck-sized sibling was the Google Home Mini ($ 29 at Walmart) . Small but powerful, this speaker came with all smart Google Home but at an affordable $ 49.
With Google and Nest back under the same roof, the second generation of the Google Home Mini is called the Google Nest Mini. At first glance, it looks just like its predecessor, but a handful of new features still make the $ 49 Nest Mini an even better value.
The Nest Mini looks a lot like the Google Home Mini, and it is intentional. Google didn't seem keen on fixing what wasn't broken, and you get an almost identical aesthetic placement of the Nest Mini around your home. There are four colors that replace Home Mini's teal, which was called aqua, for a darker, gray-blue hue called sky. The coral, charcoal and chalk colors remain.
On the outside of the speaker you will find the same sound switch as before. But there is now a DC jack instead of Micro-USB powered by the Home Mini, so don't assume your old Home Mini power cables will work alternately with the Nest Mini.
Google's team spent hours testing audio transparency in dozens of fabrics to create a more environmentally friendly cover for the Nest Mini. The speaker top cover is made of 100% recycled plastic, and the outer casing is made of 35% recycled plastic. Google told me that a half-liter plastic bottle makes enough fabric to cover a little more than two speakers. It's a small design detail that can tip the scales to an environmentally conscious consumer trying to decide between the Nest Mini and an Echo Dot ($ 50 on Amazon) .
You also get a wall bracket on the back of this new smart speaker, something that Google said was inspired by all the different ways users place, mount and attach smart speakers to surfaces in their homes. Ironically, the company that created the perfect way to mount your smart speaker as a wall clock is not the company with a clock display on its smart speaker. That title goes to Amazon and the new.
While the Nest Mini looks almost identical to the Google Home Mini, there are many updates inside.
The Google Home Mini has two microphones to recognize your voice in the room. The Nest Mini has three to improve that field detection. In my testing, the third microphone increased the range where the assistant could hear me, and it did especially well when I heard about music played from other speakers nearby. Of course, much of it will depend on your home's acoustics and layout.
The microphones also use a new feature that Google calls ultrasonic detection. The speaker gives out small inaudible chirps, which bounce off objects in the environment, reflect back to the microphones and tell the unit if anyone is nearby. This turns on when music is playing, but you can deselect it if you want in the home app. There is also the option to call your home speakers from the home app if your mobile device has Google Duo installed.
When ultrasonic detection is enabled, two LEDs will glow as you hover your mouse over the Nest Mini to show where the volume adjustment points are on each side of the speaker. It's a thought-provoking addition considering I've always had trouble finding the touch controls on the Google Home Mini. Touch controls for playing and pausing music are on the top.
The Google team also designed the speaker inside the Nest Mini, making it larger and just a little heavier with more space around the components to create a more bass sound.
Inside the Nest Mini is a machine learning chip with up to a TeraOPS processor power. This chip helps the speaker learn which commands are often repeated so that it can respond to them without needing the cloud at all. Let's say you turn on your kitchen lights or ask to play a specific song every day of the week at the same time. The Nest Mini learns these steps, stores this data locally, and processes these commands without sending any information to Google's servers.
This is part of Google's drive toward what the company calls "environmental computing," the idea that your Google-powered smart home can begin to anticipate your needs. Environmental calculation reduces how often you need to talk to your smart speaker for information, making your assistant a more behind the scenes, seamless part of your home.
One of my favorite updates to the Nest Mini is the surrounding IQ. When listening to news, podcasts or other audio streaming where people talk (it doesn't work with music), the Nest Mini can adjust for ambient noise in the background, like an exhaust fan in the kitchen.