Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot (3rd-gen) full review
Amazon and Google lead the smart speaker market, and with their entry-level Echo and Home devices significantly reduced for Black Friday they offer a tempting way to take your first step into this exciting product category. But do you buy Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot? We outline the differences.
Where to buy
Amazon and Google have discounted their smart speakers for Black Friday 2018, and the savings have already begun. (See more Black Friday deals.)
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Design & Build
Both these mini smart speakers feature a small puc-like design, and are covered in soft fabric. The Echo Dot is now more rounded than previously (now in its third generation), but Google Home Mini is certainly the more pebble-like of the two (we're still waiting for version two).
There are controls on top of each device, though for the Echo Dot these are in the shape of clearly defined buttons while the Home Mini has a touch-sensitive surface.
At launch you were able to wake the Google Home Mini with a tap, but this feature has since been revoked for privacy reasons. You can still control volume by tapping either side of the device (or by asking Google Assistant to adjust the volume), and four LEDs shine bright from below the fabric cover to let you know Google Assistant is listening.
Echo Dot now has a new light ring on its top that performs this same function, and from certain angles is easier to see than the Home Mini's LEDs.
The Google Home Mini is available in Chalk, Charcoal and colourful Coral and Aqua, while Amazon's Echo Dot comes in three shades of grey - Sandstone, Heather and Charcoal. That might sound bland, but this new edition is significantly better looking than previously.
An obvious difference between the two is found in the ports and connections. While the Mini has a Micro-USB port and thus can be powered away from the mains using a power bank or battery base, the Amazon Echo Dot must be mains-powered.
However, in its favour is a dedicated AUX port, which is missing from the Google Home Mini. This allows you to hook it up to a separate speaker for improved sound quality using an audio cable. This is also possible with the Google Home Mini, but only using Bluetooth (which, incidentally, is also supported on the Echo Dot).
Google Home Mini has always led the way on sound quality with its louder, fuller range, but this new Echo Dot brings the Amazon device up to par.
You'll be surprised by how loud is the sound from such tiny devices, and it also sounds good at these low prices.
Both Dot and Mini can perform better when paired with additional Dots and Minis. The Echo Dot 3 has the slight edge here because it is able to form a stereo pair in addition to supporting the multi-room audio of the Google Home Mini. The difference is that multi-room audio blasts out the same mono signal across multiple speakers, while in a stereo pair you get a slightly different sound from each.
You are able to adjust the treble and bass on both devices.
Alexa vs Google Assistant
In our opinion, what's more important than the pricing, design, ports and connections and even sound quality is what each device can do. After all, these are not ordinary cheap Bluetooth speakers, but smart speakers with intelligent voice assistants at their core.
In our opinion, Google Assistant is the better of the two. It supports more natural conversation (and in the US now continued conversation without you having to say "Okay Google" each time), while Alexa needs you to structure your questions much more carefully.
To be fair, Amazon's "Alexa" wake word rolls off the tongue much more naturally than "Okay Google" or "Hey Google", which becomes a tongue-twister over time. Right now it's impossible to change the wake word on either device.
With the power of Google Search behind it the Home Mini is more adept at search queries, and far more competent at answering the most random of questions when Alexa often cannot help. But with shopping giant Amazon behind the Echo Dot, it majors on retail queries.
And with so many Google web services to tie into there is a huge amount of data that can be drawn upon when asking it to tell you about your day ahead or set calendar appointments and reminders.
Something Google Assistant can do that Alexa can't is make free phone calls over Wi-Fi to anyone in your Google Contacts. Echo Dot allows you to make free calls only to other Amazon Echo users or those with the Alexa app installed.
Both will give you a news and weather briefing, which you can configure via the Alexa / Home app. They are also both great at playing music on request, whether from Spotify or their respective Amazon Music/Google Play Music services.
On each you can also set up routines, whereby you say a single phrase and they action various commands. These can include things like playing music, but also controlling smart home kit - and this is the key area in which Echo has the lead.
While more and more smart home devices now support Google Assistant, many more support Amazon Echo. This is because it has by far the commanding market share, which is largely down to its earlier release and multiple discounts offered by Amazon over the years. Indeed, which of the two you choose may depend entirely on what is supported by your existing smart home kit - it's not cheap to replace.
For the Echo much of this integration is made possible through add-on 'Skills' (in essence developer-created apps), and its huge popularity means the Skills store is brimming with new features you can add - not all of them related to smart home products. We're in two minds about this: many are very gimmicky, and some are useful. But we don't like the idea of needing to add a Skill to get some of these features.
You can use IFTTT with both devices, but this is more useful on the Home Mini where there isn’t any ‘app store’ of skills to enable as with Alexa. Some of the time you can control devices directly with no set up but otherwise it’s something you’ll have to set up yourself using IFTTT, which can be a bit of a hassle.
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd-gen): Specs
- Dimensions: 43 x 99 x 99 mm
- Dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth (A2DP)
- 3.5mm output
Google Home Mini: Specs
- Google Assistant
- 40mm driver, 360 sound
- Far field voice recognition with off switch
- Touch controls
- Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
- Android and iOS compatible
- Chromecast and Chromecast Audio built-in