Earlier this year, Google merged its Home and Nest brands under a unified Nest banner. First, it evolved its smart display's identity from the Google Home Hub to the Google Nest Hub Max. And now it's named the second-generation Google Home Mini the Nest Mini instead.
The Nest Mini packs all the best Google Assistant commands, meaning it acts as a voice remote for your smart lights, smart locks and other smart home gadgets. It has a dedicated machine-learning chip, too, allowing the device to improve its responses and be a better home assistant.
The new Nest Mini also boasts bolder sound and some minor aesthetic enhancements. We put it to the test to see if it's truly an improvement over the original, and if it's a worthy competitor to the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock on our list of the best cheap smart home devices.
Google Nest Mini: Design
You'd be hard pressed to tell the Nest Mini apart from the Google Home Mini. The second-generation device is a replica of its predecessor, with the same dimensions and signature curved sides. The 1.65-inch-tall speaker retains the central four-dot LED setup beneath the fabric-swathed exterior.
Also embedded beneath the cloth cover are a few touch-screen controls, which let you play and pause music and launch Google Assistant. You can tap on either side of the Nest Mini to adjust the volume to your liking. Like the Home Mini and Echo Dot, a physical switch on the back of the Nest Mini lets you deactivate the microphone.
The Nest Mini comes in fun new colors. In addition to the basic, modern-looking light-grey fabric and white basic combination called Chalk, the Nest Mini has Charcoal gray, Coral orange and Sky-blue variants. The bases on the Charcoal, Coral and Sky Nest Minis are colored to match the fabric, lending a more uniform look to the device.
I’m a big fan of the Coral version I reviewed. Without looking tacky, it added a bright pop of color to my otherwise black-and-white kitchen area. I presume the Sky Nest Mini would provide a similar effect.
But I'm less impressed with the hook on the bottom of the speaker. Maybe some will find a use for the notch by hanging the Nest Mini on their wall, perhaps by a front door. I move around and prefer the flexibility of keeping it on a counter. The compact Nest Mini doesn't take up much space anyway.
A small, but neat side note about the Nest Mini’s design is that its fabric is made of 100% recycled materials. In fact, Google says a half-liter plastic bottle creates enough fabric to cover at least two Nest Mini devices. This is a part of Google's effort to improve its sustainable practices and create products with more recycled plastics.
Google Nest Mini audio
In our review of the Home Mini, we concluded it sounded better than the third-generation Echo Dot. The Nest Mini widens its edge over Amazon's small smart speaker and delivers on Google’s promise of improved sound.
While it's not obviously louder, the Nest Mini is bolder. I couldn't hear audio clearly between closed doors within my apartment, but I found that music sounded great when I listened from my living room. For its size, the Nest Mini sounds awesome.
I like to hear classic rock when I cook, and I like it even more when it comes through the Nest Mini. In Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," Tom Hamilton's bass riff felt heavy and sounded great. Joe Perry's acoustics were powerful and level, while Steven Tyler's clear vocals transported me back to my first Aerosmith concert at an outdoor Long Island amphitheater.
MORE: Best Smart Speakers
Listening to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" supplied a similar outcome. The bass drum boomed through the song's signature rumble. With its custom 40-millimeter driver and new 15-watt power adapter, the Nest Mini prioritizes the power of its bass frequencies. Not everyone cares for bass-heavy tracks, but if you do, you’ll certainly be fulfilled by how the Nest Mini treats lower sound levels.
Another minor but useful update to the Nest Mini is its ability to be grouped with other Google speakers in your home for a synchronous soundtrack. This was a shortcoming of the Home Mini, so I plan to take advantage of the Nest Mini's multiroom audio often.
Google Nest Mini smart home features and privacy
While I usually employ a smart Sonos speaker (like the Sonos One or Sonos Move) for my nightly cooking dance parties, the Google Nest Mini suffices. Thanks to its added mic, it can pick up my "Hey Google" commands over conflicting hums from my TV, sizzles of my frying pan and noisy conversations between my roommates.
And if you'd rather that it didn't listen in on anything happening, you can simply switch off the microphones. More smart home companies are adding similar privacy options so that your device is only waiting for commands or ready to record at your discretion.
But having the three-mic setup turned on lets you take advantage of all the features of Google Assistant. As with any Google Assistant-enabled speaker, you can ask the Nest Mini all sorts of questions and use it as a way to control your connected smart home gadgets or Chromecast entertainment devices.
You can also set up Voice Match so the speaker knows who's inquiring and provide personalized responses. The dedicated machine-learning chip will help with smart assistant improvements, too. The Nest Mini packs 1 TeraOPS of processing power, letting it learn how to be a better assistant from within the device.
The Nest Mini adopts some of Google Assistant’s new home-centric features as well. You can use the Nest Mini as an intercom with other Google-brand speakers in your home to broadcast messages. The Nest Mini also supports hands-free phone calls with Google Duo, which I was quick to use for getting in touch with my mom about upcoming family vacation plans. I didn't test out the new home alarm feature, but it's good to know that the Nest Mini can serve as a security accessory if necessary.
The Nest Mini smart home speaker is a commendable follow-up to the Home Mini. Without changing the price or general appearance, Google made significant interior upgrades that make the Nest Mini better than its predecessor. The added microphone, twice as strong bass and in-house learning chip make it what a second-generation device should be: a true progression.
If you own a Home Mini, there's no need to run out and replace it. But if you're growing or starting your smart home, the Nest Mini is a perfect $49 starting point. And it makes an excellent holiday gift, too.