UPDATE: Amazon has announced an Echo Dot with Clock speaker, which will cost $60 and feature an LED display. This face-off may change as a result.
Many consumers still think of smart speakers as luxury technology, but the 3rd-Gen Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini prove them wrong. Sure, they're compact and packed with all the functionality of Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant for controlling your smart devices, playing music and assisting you with daily tasks. But at the mirror price of $49 each, both the Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are also affordable.
Which budget smart speaker should you choose? We pitted the Amazon Echo Dot (with the best Alexa skills) and the Google Home Mini (with the best Google Assistant skills) against each other in seven categories. Amazon's speaker came out on top — but Google's has the edge in one key area.
Both the Echo Dot and the Home Mini sport compact, puck-like designs with rounded edges and mesh fabric on the outside. Both have three color options: the Echo Dot comes in Charcoal (black), Heather Gray and Sandstone (white), while the Home Mini comes in Charcoal, Chalk (white) and Coral (red).
The Echo Dot has a ringed LED that lights up blue when Alexa is listening to you, or red when the device is muted. That ring of light is so bright it's hard to miss, even from far away. There are two physical volume buttons on the Echo Dot, as well as a button that mutes the microphone and a button that activates Alexa.
The Home Mini has physical volume controls, as well as a single button that turns the device on and off. Small LED lights indicate when Google Assistant is listening to you, but they're pretty difficult to see in all but the darkest settings.
Winner: Echo Dot. Both speakers are attractive and compact, but the Echo show has a more visible indicator and an easy way to mute the microphone without turning off the device.
MORE: Best Amazon Alexa Skills
Neither of these devices is large enough to replace a high-quality Bluetooth speaker such as the Fugoo Style S or the V-Moda Remix, and you wouldn't want to blast either at a party or a barbecue. But the Echo Dot and Home Mini can both play softer music while you work, and blast Alexa's voice loud enough that you'll hear it from across a room.
Overall, we found the Echo Dot to have a much clearer, cleaner sound than the Home Mini. Plus, you can use Alexa's equalizer to adjust the bass, treble and mid-tones.
There's one place the Home Mini has the advantage, however — vocals. We found the Mini's vocals more forward and defined than they were on the Dot, where they were a bit muddy.
Winner: Echo Dot. The Echo Dot has a far superior sound quality, and Alexa's equalizer feature can help you iron out the kinks.
Smart Home Performance
The Echo Dot and Home Mini can both control your smart-home devices via Alexa and Google Assistant. But neither contains a smart-home hub, so you'll still need something like the Echo Plus or Samsung's SmartThings, to set up devices that aren't Wi-Fi enabled.
At this point, it's very difficult to find a smart device that doesn't work with Alexa. While Google Assistant integration is increasing, a number of the best smart devices, such as LG's premium TVs and the Ecobee4 thermostat, still only work with Alexa.
Although it’s not too difficult to add a smart device to your Alexa or Google Assistant network, it's a little more difficult with Google. The Alexa app automatically scans for new devices. By contrast, to connect a device to your Google Home, you have to select the device's manufacturer within the app and follow set-up instructions that vary in complexity by brand.
Winner: Echo Dot. Alexa has more smart devices (though Google's array is growing) and is slightly easier to use.
Alexa and Google assistant are pretty similar in the day-to-day tasks they can do. While both assistants are much better than their competitors such as Siri, Cortana and Bixby, Google Assistant slightly edged out Alexa in our last showdown.
Google Assistant was, unsurprisingly, much better at giving directions; it can pull data directly from Google Maps, while Alexa floundered at basic questions of time and distance, and couldn't help with public transportation. We also found that Google Assistant was better at voice recognition in general.
MORE: Best Amazon Alexa Skills - Top 50 Cool and Useful Things ...
Alexa came out on top in two categories: general knowledge and communications. Even though Google Assistant has access to, well, Google, we found that Alexa still gave more accurate answers, often providing context and citing sources. And you can call friends with both the Echo Dot and the Home Mini, but doing it with Google Home requires a bit more configuration.
However, the two assistants were tied (and head-and-shoulders over Siri) in most categories, including ordering food, online shopping and music.
It's also worth considering the number of third-party skills. Alexa has more than 50,000 third-party skills, including games, useful apps, podcasts and more, as of September. While it's not clear exactly how many Commands there are for Google Home, there were only around 2,000 as of January. That said, both assistants can handle the basic tasks (calling an Uber, ordering a pizza, setting alarms and reminders, streaming music) that most people need.
Winner: Google Home Mini. Though the voice assistants are pretty evenly matched, Google Assistant has a slight edge.
Both speakers do a good job of picking up your voice. In general, they understood us when we talked in a low library-volume voice, and in a slightly louder voice if music was playing. While we had to raise our voices a bit more for the Echo Dot on that latter test because it plays louder music, we didn't find a significant difference between the microphones' sensitivity.
When it comes to music streaming, Alexa offers a few more options. Alexa supports Amazon's music service, Deezer and Spotify, as well as radio services Gimme, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Pandora Premium, SiriusXM and TuneIn. Google Home supports YouTube Music and Google Play Music, as well as Pandora, Deezer and Spotify — Gimme, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM and TuneIn are absent.
The Echo Dot contains a 3.5mm audio jack, which makes it very easy to pair with another speaker. The Home Mini lacks a jack, so you'll need to use Bluetooth to connect it to a third-party device. However, Google's speaker can also stream any audio through Chromecast-enabled devices and TVs running Android TV. Alexa's Chromecast-like feature, Alexa Cast, currently only works with Amazon Music.
Winner: Draw. Get the speaker that has the streaming service you use. The Echo Dot has the edge if you want to connect to a Bluetooth speaker, while the Home Mini has the edge if you want to stream to Chromecast devices or an Android TV.
Both the Home Mini and the Echo Dot are $49.
However, the Home Mini is better when you buy in bulk. Google offers a two-pack for $78, averaging out to $39 per unit, and a three-pack for $114 ($38 per unit). You can also save $10 if you buy it bundled with a Chromecast, $49 if you buy it with Google Wi-Fi, and $20 if you buy it with the Nest Thermostat E (one of our top-rated smart thermostats).
As of this writing, Amazon bundles the Echo Dot with Amazon's new smart plug for $10 off, and $20 off if you buy it bundled with the Fire TV Stick.
It's also worth noting that both of these devices are often discounted — so keep an eye on Amazon and Google for sales.
Winner: Draw. Both devices are $49, and come with a variety of deals and bundles.
Overall Winner: Amazon Echo Dot
The Echo Dot is our top pick. Amazon's speaker offers superior audio quality, a superior design and (slightly) better smart-home integration. Google packs in a better voice assistant, but only by a hair.
Echo Dot vs. Google Home Mini Scorecard
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Amazon Echo Dot||Google Home Mini|
|Design||X||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|Audio||X||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|Smart Home Performance||X||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|Voice Assistant||Row 4 - Cell 1||X|
But that doesn't mean that the Google Home Mini isn't also a great purchase. Both speakers have a variety of unique features, and your decision may come down to which smart speaker will work better with hardware you already have, which ones comes bundled with a device you want, or which assistant better handles your needs. In most cases, though, we think the answer will be the Amazon Echo Dot.
Credit: Tom's Guide