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Google Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Which shrunken smart speaker is right for you?

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Only have a limited budget to make your home smart? Then you’ll want the best mini speaker on offer…

So you’ve decided: you want a smart speaker so a voice assistant can organise your day, play your music, update you on the weather and, most importantly of all, tell you jokes.

There’s one problem: you don’t want to spend very much money.

Surprisingly, that’s not a deal-breaker. You can get both Google Assistant and Alexa in a mini version of the full-sized Echo or Google Home devices for less than £50 each – and frequently even less than that.

Which is better? Here’s everything you need to know, now updated for the new, shiny 2018 Echo Dot.

Google Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Design

Before I compare the two, I should point out that this is a fairly pointless metric. Both are designed to be small enough to tuck away and are definitely not ostentatious.

With the first and second generations of Echo Dots, this was pretty open and shut. While the original Echo Dot is like someone cut the top off the original Amazon Echo, making it like a hockey puck put on weight, the Google Home Mini is a far more attractive proposition. A little bit smaller, more rounded and generally better looking, the Google Home Mini also has a more attractive way of showing it’s listening, where four lights appear through the mesh fabric on top. It’s a bit more understated than the Echo Dot, where a blue ring lights up around the edge of the device.

But Amazon listened, and the 2018 Dot looks a whole lot nicer. It's still like somebody cut the top off an Amazon Echo, but this time it's the second generation. In other words, you get a smooth plastic top and a curved fabric side.

It probably still goes to Google, purely because it's a bit smaller and easier to hide away. But it's no longer clear cut, and the new plumper Dot has advantages I'll get into in the next section.

Winner: Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Sound quality

Whatever generation of Echo Dot you're talking about, it wins on a technicality. A huge technicality, but a technicality nonetheless: they have audio-out jacks, allowing them to connect to any speaker.

That said, with the new Echo Dot, Amazon has won it anyway. While the first was tinny and weak, the new version is booming and incredibly impressive for a speaker its size. It punches above its weight and comfortably matches similarly-priced dumb speakers. That's pretty good going.

Google Home Mini, meanwhile is perfectly fine for voices, but if you try pumping music out, you’ll quickly find it isn't fit for purpose. For reasons I can’t even begin to understand, Google decided to save the couple of quid it would have cost to match match Amazon and include a 3.5mm aux jack on the back. Yes, you can get it to stream music to a Chromecast Audio device, if you like, but that requires buying a Chromecast Audio on top of the Home Mini, and it’s only for music.

Winner: Echo Dot

Google Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Voice recognition and smarts

This is where Google Mini regains the upper hand. In terms of voice recognition, I can only speak for myself, but I found Google far better at picking out specific phrases. This can make all the difference when you’re asking to hear an obscure album, or want answers to a tricky question.

Speaking of tricky questions, it’s pretty obvious that Google Assistant is significantly smarter than Alexa too. This is pretty obvious after only a little use, with Alexa frequently apologising for not knowing how to answer a question, but it’s actually more alarming than that, with the Echo occasionally providing wrong answers by truncating response.

Case in point. Ask them both how many hairs a cat has, and this is the response:

Google Home Mini: “On the website catsinfo.com, they say there are approximately 60,000 hairs per square inch on the back of a cat, and approximately 100,000 per square inch on its underside.”

Amazon Echo Dot: “A cat has 60,000 hairs.”

Hmmmm.

Winner: Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Price

Both the Google Home Mini and Echo Dot retail for £50, but in truth that price is rarely enforced, with both frequently on offer. Shop around, and you can often find either for as little as £35.

That may not be true for the 2018 Echo Dot, but give it time.

However you cut it, there’s nothing between them.

Winner: Draw

Google Home Mini vs Echo Dot: Verdict

So on paper, it’s 3-2 to the Google Home Mini, and yet my personal pick is the Amazon Echo Dot. Why? Because of the loopy decision by Google not to include a 3.5mm line-out connector on the Home Mini, you’re stuck with really ropey sound. You may not care if you just want it to answer questions to your whims, but if you want to listen to any music at all, then the Echo Dot wins by default.

This is a shame, because in every other respect the Google Home Mini is the clear winner. Maybe next time Google will learn this lesson and put all the connectors in the right place. For now, it was the Echo Dot before, and it's even more so now the 2018 version has made a quality product even better.

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