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Google’s Nest Mini is a great-sounding upgrade over the Home Mini

The main thing you need to know about the new Google Nest Mini is that it sounds far better than the original Home Mini that came out in 2017. That alone makes it a worthy successor, especially since it sells for the same $50 price. It offers a richer sound that’s immediately noticeable whether you’re listening to music or podcasts, with some much-needed emphasis on the lows and mids. Granted, it’s nowhere close to being a threat to more expensive options, like Apple’s HomePod or a Sonos One, or even the medium-sized Google Home. But the gap in sound quality isn’t as wide as it used to be. Plus, you can now easily mount the Nest Mini onto your wall.

What about the third-generation Echo Dot, Amazon’s low-cost smart speaker that also sounds impressive? It still has a few perks over the Nest Mini. There’s the obvious one: it’s the most affordable option for people who frequently use and rely on Amazon’s services. If you’re using the Echo Dot on a table, its side-firing speakers hit harder than the Nest Mini’s upward-firing speaker. Both the Echo Dot and Nest Mini support Bluetooth pairing for your phone, tablet, or computer, and each can also connect to a larger Bluetooth speaker, if you want better sound. But, only the Echo Dot has a 3.5mm jack that allows for a wired connection.

One of the unique perks with the Nest Mini is its ability to hang on your wall without any additional accessories. This is where Google’s speaker tips the scale in its favor. On the wall, the Nest Mini’s sound fills much more space than the Echo Dot, and its improved mids and bass use the surface to resonate, giving it a deeper sound compared to when it’s set flat. If you buy the Nest Mini, I highly suggest that you mount it.

In terms of sound quality, I prefer the Nest Mini’s warm, gentle delivery, which only presents itself when it’s hanging on the wall. When I listen to music, I’m not usually listening to lyrics, but the instrumentation, and this is where Google’s speaker leaps ahead of the Echo Dot. It separates low, medium, and high frequencies with much more grace, and overall, it provides the clarity I crave, whereas Amazon’s speaker can sound condensed and a little muffled at times. The Echo Dot makes deep voices sound more powerful, though, so there’s that if you listen to podcasts, or a lot of voice-driven tunes.

The Nest Mini still has the circular, fabric-covered design that made the Home Mini stand out. It comes in several colors: black, white, coral (sort of a mix of pink and orange), and sky (a new shade of blue that slightly differs from the Home Mini’s mint color option). Google has sourced this fabric from recycled plastic bottles, which is very cool for a product that Google will probably move millions of, though it doesn’t feel or look any different than before. It’s worth noting that Google switched the power plug from Micro USB to a barrel plug, and it uses a bigger 15W plug, so your old wall socket mount that fit the Home Mini and its smaller plug won’t be compatible with this new speaker.

One of this speaker’s few new features is an ultrasonic sensor embedded underneath the fabric. It detects when you’re near, then shows you where to tap to raise or lower the volume by lighting two LEDs, one on each side of the speaker. This is a low-stakes change that definitely should have been in the first-generation speaker, but it’s nice to have now. Note that if you mount the Nest Mini to your wall, you’ll need to change the orientation of these capacitive controls in the Google Home app.

Also, you can now tap the middle of the Nest Mini to play or pause your audio. If this sounds familiar, the Home Mini originally launched with this feature until Google stripped it out due to an error that made the Google Assistant continuously record. I’m glad that Google figured this one out, too, but it doesn’t really impact my usage much since I’m usually controlling the speaker with my phone or with my voice. Speaking of voice, the physical microphone kill switch, an essential feature in any smart speaker or display, is still here.

The Nest Mini offers the same voice functionality as the Home Mini, and all of Google’s other smart speakers. To wake it, you have to say “Hey Google” or “OK Google” aloud, and the strip of LEDs in the middle of the Nest Mini indicates that you have its attention. Google added a third microphone to this device to hear you better, and in my studio apartment, it never failed to hear me calling out to it.

There are a few features that Google spoke of at its hardware event that aim to improve your experience with the device over time. The Nest Mini apparently works on an improved model of the Assistant, allowing it to eventually handle some of your frequently requested queries on-device instead of pinging servers. The goal of this is to speed up how fast the Nest Mini can execute commands. I couldn’t perceive a difference during my time with it, but if it improves over time, that’s nothing but a good thing.

Google also claims that the Nest Mini can automatically tune itself to your environment, tweaking volume and other settings like the Apple HomePod and Google Home Max are able to do. Perhaps due to the small size of this speaker, and that it’s nowhere near as powerful as the aforementioned devices, I couldn’t tell when the Nest Mini ever made these smart adjustments, or if it ever did. I don’t think Google is lying, but in my home, this new feature didn’t make a difference to me.

The Google Nest Mini’s sound impresses, and the few minor tweaks Google made to the interface are for the better. Beyond that, this speaker seems to mark a shift in Google’s strategy. Instead of having a small, medium, and a large speaker available, each priced according to their size and capability, the new Nest Mini effectively is the new small and medium option. It doesn’t sound quite as good as the medium-sized Google Home, but it’s cheaper, easier to use, it can hang on your wall, and it sounds good enough that you’ll actually want to use it to listen to music. It does just enough that’s better and slightly different from Amazon’s Echo Dot to make it worth the price. Though, if Google’s strategy with the Home Mini taught us anything, it’s that a deal or a giveaway offer is probably right around the corner, so you might want to wait a tic before dropping a Ulysses S. Grant on one.

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