Back in October at Google’s Hardware event, one of the new pieces of hardware was a discrete, modest, but very meaningful update to the cheapest in-home device in Google’s lineup: the Google Home Mini. That device is single-handedly responsible for the ingress of the Google Assistant into countless homes due to its diminutive size and price.
Though it was discounted almost immediately and included in bundles all over the place, the original Google Home Mini speaker is and always has been a sub-par piece of tech in my opinion. I understand you can’t get everything you want for the crazy-low price that the Home Mini has been known for, but it was so flawed on so many levels that I’ve never really loved it outside of it being an easy way for people to leverage the Google Assistant.
With the new Nest Mini, Google has solved almost every gripe I had with the original, and the price is still crazy low. With the same MSRP of $49, you get a speaker that will likely be on sale in one way or another from here on out and improves on the original in every single way. Let’s take a look at those improvements and I’ll hopefully make the case as to why you should buy this new model every time over the old one.
Better Cloth on Top
Most people probably couldn’t pick out the difference between the old and new speakers at just a glance. They are strikingly similar and that’s a good thing. There was really nothing wrong with the look of the original, so Google is good to not fix what wasn’t broken. But that cloth on top is way more than an aesthetic touch: it has functionality.
More specifically, it allows for certain functions to happen through it. Letting audio through in a clean and clear way is a small part of that function, but the larger part is acting as a surface that can let light and audio through while retaining the ability to accept touch inputs. Google really messed this up last time and had to fully disable the touch functionality of the top/center portion of the Google Home Mini to be sure it wasn’t accidentally spying on users.
This time around, Google fixed the problem and the Nest Mini has no issue keeping the top touch area in play and functional. Users can take advantage of this area to play/pause music, snooze alarms, and stop Google Assistant from rambling on at times. Additionally, there is an ultrasonic sensor that can detect your hand as it approaches when there is audio playing from the speaker. When it does pick up on your approach, the side volume touch sensors illuminate and let you know exactly where they are. No more guessing.
Under the Hood
Under that cloth is the main thing we’re all here for: the speaker. One of my chief complaints with the original Google Home Mini was the poor quality of the speaker. Sure, it was fine for the Google Assistant’s voice, but it wasn’t really useful for anything else. Having speakers around the house you’d rather not listen to music on isn’t exactly the position I’d imagine Google wanted this device to be in.
Thankfully, they’ve fixed this issue on the second generation of the miniature speaker. While not a Google Home Max, the speaker on the Nest Mini is light years better than the original. You can hear bass lines, the treble is crisp, and spoken words sound nice and full. In a few room around my house, I’ve replace the dedicated speakers in those rooms with a Nest Mini and haven’t looked back. Of all the things addressed in the new Mini, this is by far my favorite thing.
Honeslty, both version of the Mini get a bit of a knock here, but I prefer the new version just a bit. The original Home Mini used a micro USB port for power, so that meant another micro USB power supply around when I needed one. Since its release, though, our household is basically off the micro USB train, so that ‘feature’ isn’t really that helpful any longer.
The new Nest Mini opts for a barrel adapter, and while it is proprietary, it is the same barrel as other, newer Google Home products. The Home Hub and Hub Max both operate off the same power as well as the Nest Wifi and Nest Wifi Point. If you are going to put in a barrel charger, it’s at least helpful to use the same one on all the hardware in the line.
Clearly, I think the correct move for Google would be USB Type C, but I’m sure there’s a tad more cost involved. I just think in a world where most things can be powered via the same connector, we should move in that direction whenever possible. Plus, it would give me an emergency charger in a few rooms when I really need one. Alas, that’s just not the case this time around.
Buy the New One
Especially at the end of the year with the holidays rapidly approaching, it becomes tough to make decisions on new vs. old hardware. After all, if you can save some money and get a comparable device, shouldn’t that always be the choice? For this one, I just don’t think so. At MSRP, these devices technically cost the same $49. On the current sales trend, they are $25 and $35 respectively, and I can tell you in either scenario you need to buy the Nest Mini every time.
With a far better sound, a much-improved UI (with the corrected and improved touch interface), and the addition of the wall mount slot, this speaker is better than its predecessor in every single way. If $10-$15 is all that separates them, there’s no reality where it is worth the downgrade. Over the course of the handful of years you are likely to use this device, you’ll get a far better experience from the new version and that little bit of money saved won’t matter in the end. Unless you find the original for under $15 or you never plan on using it for any audio, I’m telling you to opt for the Nest Mini every day. You won’t regret it.