If you saw the recently introduced Nest Mini and thought it was an older Google Home Mini, you’d be forgiven. There doesn’t appear to be many if any differences on the outside of the two devices. Inside, however, are some upgrades that make the Nest Mini a much better smart speaker than its lookalike predecessor.
I’ve been using the new $49 Nest Mini for about a week now, having taken home a review unit from the Made By Google hardware event held last Tuesday in New York City. And long story short: It’s better all around than the product it replaces. All of those hidden changes inside are the reason why.
First and foremost is the sound quality. Google says the Nest Mini offers twice the bass of the Home Mini. I can’t say that I’ve measured that claim but I can say that there’s more “thump” from the newer speaker. The overall sound quality and loudness are improved as well based on my testing of various music genres. My family and I both preferred the Nest Mini audio and richness over the comparable Amazon Echo Dot.
Google thoughtfully included a screw hole on the back of the new Nest Mini to hang it on a wall. When I hung my review unit up, I noticed even more of an audio quality boost, likely because the sound was bouncing off the wall back to me.
Part of this sound improvement could also be due to a more powerful amplifier inside the Nest Mini but I can’t be sure about that until I see a teardown comparison between the old and new models. However, it’s worth noting that the Nest Mini requires more power: Instead of the traditional USB cable and power brick used by the old Home Mini, the Nest Mini comes with a 15W plug.
The higher power input isn’t just used for better sound though: There are a few more sensors and chips inside Google’s latest smart speaker.
One is an ultrasonic sensor used to “see” when your hand is near the device. When you get close to touching the Nest Mini, small LED lights on either side appear, indicating where to tap for changing the volume. That’s super helpful because on the old Home Mini, I often couldn’t tell where the touch-enabled sides of the round device were.
The other addition is an embedded machine learning chip which allows Google to bring more natural language processing down to the device itself. That means fewer voice commands will be passed back and forth to Google’s servers as well as faster response times for your commands. Unfortunately, I don’t yet see any speed improvements when controlling my smart home devices from the Nest Mini. I suspect that’s because device makers haven’t yet started to take advantage of the local control SDKs for Google Home, announced back in May.
However, I did notice improvements in how accurate the Nest Mini is at recognizing my commands. Google added a third microphone to the Nest Mini; one more than the Home Mini. Nest Mini will also automatically adjust its response volume based on sound levels in the room, making it easier to hear the digital assistant.
Like its predecessor, the Nest Mini has a physical mute button, acts as a Chromecast receiver and supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. The Bluetooth radio gets a boost to Bluetooth 5.0 as compared to version 4.1 on the prior model. There’s no upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 inside but that’s not surprising as the new Nest Wi-Fi mesh products, also introduced last week, don’t support Wi-Fi 6 either.
Overall, I’d pick the $49 Nest Mini over the $49 Google Home Mini in a heartbeat if I were shopping right now, even if the latter device gets a price cut, which I suspect we’ll see soon. You gain improved sound, wall mounting, better LED indicators and the promise of the upgraded Google Assistant with on-device processing over time. It’s a no brainer in my mind if you want to fill a small to medium-sized room with sound and smarts on the cheap and you’re happy with Google’s smart home ecosystem.