Amazon Echo 2vs Google Home Mini
voice assistants haven’t been around for very long but Amazon has already launched a second version of its popular Echo device, while Google is following up its Home unit in a smaller,cheaper package. We’re comparing these two new devices even though, technically,the Google Home Mini (above left) is more of a rival to Amazon’s Echo Dot.
The original Amazon Echo launched in the US back in 2014, so it’s not surprising that Amazon is retiring this grand-daddy of the smart speaker and replacing it with anew incarnation. It’s calling it the All-New Amazon Echo (2nd Generation) – presumably to make it easy to find on the website if you’re guessing its name –but for the purposes of this review, we’recalling it the Echo 2.
In a smart home, saying “Alexa, good night” will prompt Echo 2 to turn off the lights, lock the door and turn off the TV.
Echo 2 design and features
In most respects, the Echo 2 is much the same device as its predecessor.You control it with your voice and it will play music, control smart-home devices and act as a computerized personal assistant.
Ask it a question and Alexa –the name given to the artificial intelligence that communicates with you–will do her best to answer.
The design of the new Echo 2 has been softened, so it looks less like a nearly adopter’s toy and more like something you might buy from HabitatorIkea. It’s also more compact than its predecessor –89mm shorter, in fact –which means it fits more neatly on a shelf or kitchen counter.
The three fabric-clad models –Charcoal (black), Sandstone (white) and Heather Grey –are priced at £89 in the UK, while the Oak, Silver and Walnut finishes are more expensive at £99.Unlike Google Home,you can’t change these fabrics at a later date,so make sure you’re happy with your choice before handing over your cash.
The overall effect is a device that blends into its surroundings much more successfully than before.
We mostly approve of the Echo 2’s other design tweaks, though our one minor moan is that it’s lost the twisty top from the original, which you could use to manually adjust the volume.You now have to make do with the ‘+’ and ‘-’ buttons for volume control, which are arranged in the same way as on the Echo Dot but have a less responsive feel to them.
On the positive side,the Echo 2 has added a 3.5mm headphone jack next to the power input, so you can plug in an external speaker if you want better sound quality –just as you can with the Dot.
Depending on which finish you get, the Echo 2 works out £50 or £60 cheaper than the original Echo when it was first launched.
If you’re lucky enough to own a big house and want to fill it with Amazon’s digital butlers, the Echo 2 is also available in a two-pack for£155 (saving £23) and a three-pack for £220 (saving £47).
Google Home Mini design and features
Unlike its full-sized big brother,the pebble-shaped Google Home Mini doesn’t let you swap its colours and is only available in three varieties –Chalk, Charcoal and Coral–but the textured fabric that wraps around the top of the speaker looks great and certainly makes it a much classier looking unit than the utilitarian Echo Dot.
The Google Home Mini is significantly smaller and cheaper than the Google Home,and is designed to broaden the product range rather than replace its predecessor model.
The original Google Home costs £119 so,at£49, the Mini is a far-more affordable way to introduce yourself to the world of Google Assistant powered smart speakers, though if you’d prefer to go down the Amazon route, the Echo Dot is available for an only slightly more expensive£50.
Despite its smaller size, the Mini does almost everything its larger sibling can, hooking into your home network and drawing on Google’s server based AI to answer questions, play music and control other devices.
It has touch controls to the right and left, which let you change the volume; and four pin-prick LEDs that light up to indicate the volume and activity.
Around the base,you’ll find a single MicroUSB port for powering the Home Mini and as witch to mute the microphone. That’s it for external features. On the inside,there’s a 360-degree speaker and a pair of far-field microphones to help it pick up your voice from across the room.
Just like the larger Home model, the Mini has dual-band Wi-Fi with MIMO (multiple input, multiple-output) and Bluetooth, so you can connect your phone to it directly if you want to use it to play music.
What it lacks –compared with the Echo 2 and Dot –is a 3.5mm output jack, so you can’t hook it up to your hi-fi and use it as a voice-powered streamer.
However,once again, this is somewhat compensated for by its compatibility with Google Cast, which youcan use to send audio both to the speaker itself and from the speaker to any Cast compatible audio equipment.
Google Home Mini performance
Thes maller size of the Google Home Mini means its doesn’t sound as good as the full Home and Amazon Echo speakers.
It’s fine for listening to talk radio shows,podcasts and the like, but music sounds thin and lacks body. It’s hardly surprising that there’s no bass because it’s so small, but it could still sound richer. The sensitivity of its microphones is a little on the disappointing side,certainly compared with the Echo Dot.
We found we were having to repeat ourselves more frequently than with Amazon’s devices.
However,if you own and run other Google hardware, and you’ve ever used the speech recognition on your Android smartphone,you’ll know exactly how impressive Google’s technology is, once you’ve started communicating with it.
The fact that it works beautifully with other Google products gives it an edge over Amazon’s Alexa alternatives. We particularly like the way you can command your Chrome-cast to play movies and control playback; find directions and have them sent directly to Google Maps on your phone; and even locate that phone if it’s been mislaid.
That’s only a small sample of the Google Home Mini’s capabilities and these,like Alexa’s Skills, will continue to be added to in the future.
For example,there’s already support for Spotify and a range of smart-home gear, including British Gas’ Hive smart thermostat, Nest, Philips Hue,Samsung Smart Things and more.
Google Home Mini works beautifully with other Google products, giving it an edge over Amazon’s Alexa alternatives.
single command –a bit like running a batch file on your PC. For instance, in a home equipped with various web-connected devices, saying “Alexa,good night”will prompt Echo 2 to turn off the lights, lock the door and turn off the TV .
Another feature, which has been available in the US for some time but was only recently introduced in the UK, is Drop In, which lets you make calls between Echo devices and apps.
An invaluable tool for rounding up the kids at dinner time or communicating your imminent arrival home while you’re en-route, its call quality,even over the internet, is superb. Alexa is as good as ever at picking up voice commands and swiftly answering questions with mostly sensible responses.
Amazon’s assistant may not have the might of Google at her beck and call, but she’s just as adept as Google Assistant at providing in-depth answers to even the most pointless questions.
The key to the Echo 2’s appeal is that it offers much the same experience as the original, but at a better price.
If you’re heavily invested in Amazon’s suite of services, the Echo 2 is a great choice, but if your Google account is filled to the brim with movies, TV shows and podcasts, Google’s alternative will offer greater rewards.
On its own, though, we don’t think the Google Mini is as good as Amazon’s Echo 2 or the Echo Dot because Alexa’s system is more mature and has more capabilities. It also offers wider support among third-party speaker manufacturers.
If you’ve been hesitant in the past about plonking an always-listening device in your home,the Echo 2 is proof that these devices do indeed have a future, and they keep getting better and better.