With the launch of the Google Home Mini, there are now two sub-$50 smart speakers competing for dominance in your living room, bedroom and elsewhere around your house. But how does the Mini compare to the Amazon Echo? We put them through a seven-round matchup to find out which is the best budget speaker.
With its hockey-puck-like shape, the Echo Dot is a chief example of function over form. Nothing stands out about its design, but this speaker is a cinch to use. Four buttons on top let you control the volume, turn the mic on and off, and activate Alexa. A ring of LEDs around the top edge makes it easy to see when Amazon's voice assistant is listening.
The cloth-covered, pebble-like Home Mini is aesthetically more pleasing, but not as intuitive to use. Instead of physical volume buttons, for instance, you merely have to tap either side of the device. That's cool, but it's not obvious unless you read the manual. Four LEDs on the top of the Home Mini indicate its status and when the assistant is listening, but you can't see these lights from across the room. Originally, you could tap the top of the Home Mini to activate the Assistant, but Google has disabled that functionality due to malfunctioning units.
Winner: Echo Dot. While it doesn't look as nice as the Home Mini, it's easier to use.
Both the Echo Dot and the Home Mini have a single speaker, but Google put much more thought into its speaker's audio capabilities than did Amazon. When I listened to the same tracks on both devices, the Dot produced thin, reedy vocals with almost no bass.
By comparison, the Home Mini turned out louder, richer and fuller sound. While this device won't replace a larger speaker, it would be just fine if you wanted some background music in your bedroom when you're going to sleep or waking up.
Winner: Home Mini. Its speaker sounds miles better than the Dot's.
Smart Home Features
Google and Amazon are positioning their devices to act as a means to control smart home gadgets, from lights to locks to thermostats. However, Amazon is much further along in this regard; Amazon's smart home page lists nearly 600 devices that will work with Alexa.
By comparison, while Google Home is compatible with an equally wide range of product types, they represent far fewer companies, at about 50.
Winner: Echo Dot. While it's no fault of the Home Mini's hardware, Amazon's service works with far more smart home devices.
We've done a few head-to-head competitions between Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant (check out our 300-question showdown), so we'll just hit the highlights here.
Both Alexa and Google Assistant let you call any number in the U.S. and Canada, a very helpful feature.
The two devices can both recognize individual voices, and provide information tailored to that person, such as their schedule or the time it'll take to commute to work. However, Google Assistant can translate speech into different languages.
However, after that, Alexa is capable of far more, as a result of Amazon opening up its API so that third parties can create Alexa skills to augment the assistant's abilities. There are now more than 24,000 skills, spanning the gamut from humor to productivity to games to fitness. To help you sort through them all, we've cultivated a list of our 50 favorite Alexa skills.
While both can deliver briefings of the day's news, weather and sports scores, only Alexa lets you specify favorite teams and order things off of Amazon (natch).
Winner: Echo Dot.Alexa can do far more than Google Assistant.
Music and Movie Playback
Both Google and Amazon support Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. Amazon has Amazon Music, while Google has Google Play Music and YouTube Music. However, only Amazon lists support for Sirius XM.
The Echo Dot's speaker may be horrible, but Amazon has attempted to ameliorate the situation by letting you pair the Dot via Bluetooth with a second speaker, or by using its 3.5mm audio jack.
The Home Mini has neither of these capabilities, so you can't pair it with other speakers. However, it can be used to stream both music and video to Chromecast-enabled devices, as well as TVs running the Android TV platform. So, you could say, "OK, Google, play YouTube," and that service will pop up on your TV.
Winner: Home Mini. Although it lacks the ability to pair or connect to a Bluetooth speaker, the Mini's integration with Chromecast and Android TV devices gives it the edge.
To test the microphones on the Home Mini and the Echo Dot, I placed them about 15 feet away from me. With no music playing from either device, I could talk in a library-quiet voice, and both devices were able to hear and understand me.
I then played music through each speaker one at a time, and again tested their sensitivity. This time, I had to raise my voice to slightly more than a normal speaking volume in order to be heard.
Winner: Draw. Both performed well, and while I had to raise my voice while music was playing from each speaker, it wasn't unreasonable.
Price and Value
The list price for both the Echo Dot and the Home Mini is $49. However, Amazon is currently discounting the Echo Dot for $45 and often offers other deals for its mini speaker, such as bundling it with other smart home devices.
Winner: Echo Dot. It's $5 less than the Home Mini, and Amazon offers more deals.
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Amazon's Echo Dot may not look like much, but it's got it where it counts. While its speaker is weak, you can pair it easily with better speakers. Most importantly, Alexa can do far more than Google Assistant can, and the Dot is Amazon's least expensive method for getting Alexa into your home.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide, Amazon