Best Home Assistant (Under $50): Google Home Mini vs. Echo Dot
Smart speakers have been the talk of Silicon Valley for most of the past two years. Millions of people are buying smart home assistants.
However, when people buy smart speakers, they often can’t figure out what to use them for. (Studies show people typically just use them for timers, music, and weather. And 65% of Alexa users haven’t even enabled a skill).
Smart speakers are an impulse purchase and a way for people to make their house look cool.
Because consumers aren’t using smart speakers frequently and most struggle to find value, the market has become a race to the bottom, and sound quality is barely a consideration.
Amazon recognized this reality and created Echo Dot for $50 to supplement its original Echo. Then, to compete with Amazon, Google released Home Mini as their affordable option.
Now, two smart speakers control the market. Neither assistant has ideal sound quality, but the people have spoken, and they’re okay with that.
I’m a believer in this too.
If you’re looking to enhance home intelligence, go for an affordable device and hook it up to your favorite speakers. The sound quality from Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Plus and Google Home is nothing special.
What do these affordable smart speakers from Amazon and Google get right?
- They’re only $50 (both are occasionally discounted to $30).
- They can control most smart home devices such as Nest thermostat, Ecobee, Hue lights, Harmony Hub, security cameras, switches, and some speakers.
- You can check the weather, make calls, and set timers, reminders, and alarms.
- The voice recognition is unbelievable. They have omnidirectional mics; they can pick up your voice from any direction. It picks up my voice from two rooms away. Even when the music is loud, they do a great job. It blows Siri out of the water. Siri can’t hear, “Hey, Siri” unless you’re talking directly into your phone.
- If you have multiple devices close to each other, only one will talk back. Whichever device hears you best will be the one to perform the command.
- Smart assistants learn new skills and gain new capabilities all the time. Tech products typically degrade over time, but these don’t.
But both speakers have their issues:
- They don’t play nice with Apple products. You can set up the assistant with iPhone or iPad, but neither the Amazon or Google can play Apple Music or write in your Apple notes or calendar.
- You have to remember the name of the specific skill command when you want to use it, and it can be hard to recall them all. You can’t just naturally say things as you’d say them to a person. These devices aren’t smart enough to figure out what you’re talking about.
- They’re completely useless without WiFi and need to be plugged in at all times.
For $50, it’s hard to resist. They’re a must-have if you own any smart home devices. But which one should you buy?
Let’s find the best home assistant by comparing Amazon Echo Dot vs. Google Home Mini.
If you don’t want to read the detailed breakdown of each, skip to the bottom where I outline which is best for particular needs.
#2 – Best standalone device.
Home Mini (B)
- Google’s Knowledge Graph. Google has had a search engine for 20 years and answers queries better than anyone. It’s their specialty. Going forward, this will give Google a significant advantage over Amazon. For example, anything that brings up an answer box in a Google search can be answered through Google Home. If I ask, “What stadium do the Boston Red Sox play at?” Google tells me Fenway Park, but Alexa is confused. When Alexa doesn’t know an answer, it refers to Bing.
- Google Home Mini comes in three colors (light gray, dark gray, and coral red). It has a pleasant minimalistic design. It’s meant to blend in with your house. I could do without Google’s pretentiousness when they say they “went through 157 different shades of gray before finding the perfect one.” But overall, it’s a better-looking device than Dot.
- There are no physical buttons other than the mute switch on the back. For the volume, you use gestures, which works well.
- You can control your TV if you have a Chromecast. Google Home Mini is a must-have for Chromecast owners. Saying “Hey Google, play Breaking Bad on Netflix” will pull up Breaking Bad at the scene you last left off. It’s slick.
- Google’s voice sounds more authentic and non-robotic when compared to Siri and Alexa. You also get the choice of a male voice too.
- The speaker is surprisingly high-quality (for what it is). The sound quality is at least twice as sharp as Dot’s. The smart assistant’s voice is much louder and richer too. (While Home Mini’s speaker is better than Dot’s smartphone speakers, it’s still not good. It has no bass, and the highs sound empty).
- Google’s not perfect, but compared to Alexa, it’s much better with follow-up questions and understands substituting proper nouns with pronouns.
- Google Home can identify up to six voices with Voice Match. Also, it pulls up information based on each person’s calendars and preferences. That’s convenient if you have family members or roommates with different music accounts. When I ask “Hey Google, play Spotify.” it plays MY music, and when a roommate does the same thing, it plays his music.
- Google can handle multiple commands at once. For example, Google understands when you ask it to turn off the lights and play the music in the same sentence. My favorite is being able to add multiple items to a shopping list. With Google, you can say “Hey Google, add butter and milk and eggs and hot sauce to my shopping list” and each item will appear on a separate line.
- Google’s app and smart home setup are better than Amazon’s. It’s easier to set up each room and tell it which smart products are in each room.
- The wake command is “O.K. Google” or “Hey Google.” “O.K. Google” is too wordy and takes too long, but even “Hey Google” is longer than I’d like. Amazon’s wake word is “Alexa.” Short, sweet and a real person’s name!
- It doesn’t feel like Google is building a voice platform for third parties to build on as well as Alexa. It seems like they’re keeping things mostly closed-off so they can retain control. Although, Google gets the basics right with Hue lights and music services.
- I use G Suite and had issues connecting my account to Home Mini. The app said I had to contact the administrator to get it configured. I couldn’t figure out how to enable it even after following the guide. Google recommends you to use your personal account, but my Google Suite account is one I use as my personal account. It’s not a huge deal, but I had to create a new account to get my Google Home set up. It could’ve been an issue if I was already a Google Music member with G Suite account.
- I like ordering things on Amazon through Alexa, which isn’t possible with Google.
- Because Home Mini is made of a fabric material, I’m worried about it attracting dust. You won’t be able to just wipe it off like an Alexa device.
- Google doesn’t have a 3.5mm out port and doesn’t support Bluetooth out to speakers. The only way to play music on a speaker (like a Sonos) from Home Mini is to send it to Cast-enabled speakers. There aren’t many of these on the market, but you can buy a Chromecast Audio to make any speaker with a line-in port “Cast-enabled.” Those are only $35, so it’s not a bad workaround.
#1 – Best for most people.
Echo Dot (A)
- Alexa is way more compatible than Google. There’s an Alexa app store where Alexa can learn over 15,000 new skills. Developers build on the platform and create skills using the Alexa APIs. It works much better with third-party apps and devices than Google. (Part of the reason is that Amazon had a two-year head start on Google and Amazon still owns 76% of the market).
- Alexa works with lots of different calendars and list providers. (While it can’t write events in Apple’s calendar, it can at least read what you have).
- You can set up “Routines,” and this is Alexa’s way of compensating for not being able to understand multiple commands at once. You create a word or phrase like, “Alexa, Cam’s my favorite online reviewer” and have specific lights turn on, along with other smart tasks, simultaneously.
- Alexa has a feature called “Drop In” which is useful if you have multiple Alexa devices. You can use them as an intercom system and have conversations from different parts of the house. (You can “Drop In” on other people’s Alexa devices too, but I don’t see the point in that).
- Alexa is perfectly integrated with Amazon.com. Three of my favorites things:
- “Alexa, reorder [any previous Amazon order].” I use this to reorder coffee pods for my Keurig.
- “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” Alexa will tell you where the latest packages you’ve ordered from Amazon are.
- Alexa can automatically give you shipping notifications on your Amazon packages without you asking.
- It has a 3.5mm output port and supports Bluetooth output. This means you can add Dot to your favorite speakers via cord or Bluetooth. And speakers, like Sonos, have skills in the Alexa directory. I can say, “Alexa, play AC/DC in the living room” and Spotify plays on the Sonos Playbar in my living room.
- You can control your TV if you have Amazon Fire TV.
- If you own any Alexa device, you can get Amazon Music Unlimited (equivalent to Spotify) for $4/month ($10 for non-Alexa users).
- Alexa doesn’t understand pronouns. For instance, when I ask “Alexa, how old is Tom Brady?” it gives his correct age, but if I come back with, “Alexa, what team does he play for?” it has no memory of the previously-named subject, Tom Brady.
- If you’re going to have a bunch of these set up in your house, they should look attractive and blend in. The good news is these are small; the bad news is they’re ugly. On that note, I wish the white color was completely white, without the black top.
- Alexa can’t do multiple commands at once. Things building a shopping list is hard. With Alexa, you have to say “Alexa, add butter to my shopping list.” and then repeat the process for each item.
- The speaker sounds awful and worse than the audio on most smartphones. But it’s not supposed to sound good. The intended purpose is to hook up Dots to a Bluetooth speaker, or a Sonos, or plug in your external speaker to get the full effect. The speaker on Dot should ONLY be used for when Alexa talks.
- Alexa can learn different voices, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as Google. On Alexa, multi-voice setup takes a long time and doesn’t work well. With Google’s setup, everyone uses their own Google account and downloads the Home app, and it takes a couple of minutes. With Amazon, the user has to be in “Your Household” on Amazon.com (you’re only allowed two adults in the household). This isn’t ideal if you have multiple roommates.
Which one is for you?
Last year, I wrote, “Google Home is the most frustrating device I’ve ever reviewed.”
I saw potential in Google’s future but they weren’t executing on simple things. I was getting error messages with things like playing Spotify music. But the problem that bothered me most was that Google Calendar couldn’t be controlled through Google Home, even though Alexa devices could do this!
Google Home has matured since its inception in late 2016. The significant issues I faced have been resolved, and now both assistants are on a level playing field.
Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot are excellent devices.
Google’s basic smart home integrations from big companies (Nest, Ecobee, Philips, WeMo, IFTTT) work just as well as Alexa, with better setup and configuration. Google’s has superior intelligence, a nicer minimalistic design and a better speaker.
It should be an easy call, but no audio out, Bluetooth out, or Sonos integration on Home Mini is a killer for me.
Who should get Google Home Mini?
- Anyone in the Google ecosystem (even just Chromecast owners).
- Anyone using the small assistants as an add-on piece just for smart home tasks (only the assistant’s voice will be played on the speaker).
- Anyone who is fine with slightly better than smartphone audio quality for their music (Home Mini isn’t good for music but is way better than Dot).
Home Mini is a much better as a standalone option, but that’s not how these are supposed to be used ideally.
Echo Dot is still the king and for the masses. You’ll get more integrations, ability to buy things on Amazon, you can set up customized routines, and you can use your own speakers.
And when Dots are $30 during the holidays and other Amazon events, how do you pass up buying a few?
Hit me up on Twitter (@camsecore). Let’s talk!