You may think of thermostats when you hear the name Nest, but earlier this year Google began slapping the brand on (almost) all of its home products. And so the Google Home Mini is now the Google Nest Mini, and it’s been refreshed for 2019.
The Nest Mini is about the same hockey-puck size as its predecessor, but it’s a real step up in sound. Low bass and midrange tones are much clearer, with a level of separation in frequencies that didn’t exist in the original Home Mini. Music sounds a lot clearer, though podcasts can still sound muddy and washed out.
Given the sound quality of the old Home Mini, there was nowhere to go but up. The Nest Mini still isn’t a room-filling music speaker, but it sounds good enough to pull off a few songs if the need arises, which is more than you could say for the Home Mini. Given the entry-level price of $49, it’s a great way to see if a Google-centric smart home is for you, or a cheap way to extend your smart home into new rooms.
Outwardly, the Nest Mini is very similar to the Home Mini. Google has changed the speaker cover material to a fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, but it looks and feels nearly the same. The Micro USB plug is gone—instead you get a round plug. It’s not a big change, but it means that any Home Mini accessories that used Micro USB plugs won’t work with the Nest Mini.
The big addition is wall mounts, but you won’t need those anyway, because the Nest Mini has a little notch for wall mounting built right into the back of it. I highly recommend taking advantage of it. It uses a wall as added resonance to somewhat transcend its size and provide decent-sounding music and clearer voice responses to your commands.
When Google revealed the Nest Mini, it touted an ability to adjust its sound to its environment, like the Sonos Move (8/10, WIRED Recommends) and other expensive smart speakers. If it’s actually doing this, it’s too subtle for me to notice. But again, it definitely sounds better on the wall.
There’s also a new sensor under the fabric cover that detects when you’re reaching for the Mini. It lights up the volume control buttons on the side of the speaker when it detects your hand nearby. This is great when it works, but like the motion gestures on Google’s new Pixel 4 phones, it’s just not reliable.
Like Google’s other smart speaker devices, you interact with the Nest Mini by saying “Hey Google.” The LEDs in the middle of the puck then light up to let you know it’s listening, and you can give it a command like “Tell me the weather.” Google has added a third microphone to help the Nest Mini hear those commands. I tested it alongside the previous model and it was indeed much better at accurately understanding my voice from afar.
The other big new feature in this update is a dedicated machine learning chip. This allows the Nest Mini to learn your voice better, and speeds up the response time, since in many cases it will be processed locally rather than sent to Google’s servers. You’ll still need a Wi-Fi connection, and all of your voice recordings are still sent to Google. I could not tell when things were processed locally, if they ever were, but there’s a theoretical speed boost when that situation occurs.
One thing Google has not made a lot of noise about is the ability to pair two Nest Minis for a stereo setup. I only had one, so I haven’t been able to test the feature, but Google has long offered stereo pairing on its more expensive Google Home Max speakers. Theoretically you could pair a left and right Nest Mini, creating a richer sound setup.
Other new tricks include the ability to broadcast your voice to other Google speakers throughout your house, call others through Google Duo, and become an alarm through Google’s Nest Aware subscription plan.
Not a Throwaway
One of the nice things about Google’s smart home devices is that they last. If you already own a Google Home Mini, there’s nothing here that screams “upgrade now.” Yes, the sound is better, but if you want to upgrade your sound, you’re better off making a more substantial investment in a quality smart speaker like a JBL Link 20 (8/10 WIRED Recommends or Sonos One.
Google updates its voice assistant across all devices, so the old Home Mini should continue to operate (and improve) well into the future. And when the next Nest Mini arrives in a year or two, this one will probably continue working, too.
On the other hand, if you want to extend your existing Google Assistant–based smart home into new rooms, or you want to try out Google Assistant on the cheap, the new Nest Mini is a great place to start.