The portability and water resistance rating are a nice touch.
Ever since Google launched the Google Home speaker last year more and more companies have been working towards launching their own smart speakers powered by Google's digital assistant, and this year has seen a few companies announce devices that seek to fill the market with more options. Mobvoi's TicHome Mini is one of those options, providing consumers with a Google Assistant-powered smart speaker in a portable package. What you'll be getting here is about what you'd expect to get from a smart speaker that is meant to compete with the Google Home Mini – Google Assistant is integrated, it has hard buttons for interaction with powering on the device and muting the speaker/mic, as well as volume controls, and even lights on top to let you know things are working. We've spent the last week or so with the TicHome Mini to check out what it's like and how it stacks up, so let's take a closer look at it and what it's all about.
This isn't a smartphone, so the specs aren't going to be very extensive, but they're still there and deserve to be covered so you know what you're getting. As this is a speaker that is modeling after the Google Home Mini, there's no display, so all interaction will be happening between the buttons on top and your voice. It's powered by 2,600mAh battery, which Mobvoi boasts will last you about six hours on a full charge. We'll get into battery life later, though. For connectivity, it supports Bluetooth 4.2, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and it's dual-band so it'll connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.
The TicHome Mini uses a dual-mic array, meaning it has two mics with which it uses to pick up your voice, which from my personal experience seemed to work pretty well. The mics are located on either side of the power/mute button that sit at the bottom section of the unit. This uses a 3W speaker, so you can certainly use it for audio for things like songs if you want, but you shouldn't expect it to deliver the best quality sound. That said, it's still decent enough to work. The speaker has four LED lights on top that are used to let you know responses or questions have been heard. They also light up when powering on and powering down the speaker, and they indicate the level of the battery that's left on the speaker. The speaker charges with micro USB, has an IPX6 rating which means it's safe from splashes and such but can't be submerged in water. The TicHome Mini comes in four different colors – Black, White, Teal, and Pink, each with its own unique colored leather strap that can be used for hanging the device instead of setting it on a table top.
In The Box
There's not a lot in the box here, which is just fine because you really don't need a lot to use this device. You'll find the speaker itself, a quick start guide (though ours being a review unit, came with a completely blank quick start guide oddly enough – this shouldn't be something that consumers need to worry about), and you'll get the micro USB charging cable.
Hardware & Design
Mobvoi has a pretty modest design here for the TicHome Mini, looking more like the Google Home than the Google Home Mini speaker, as the model we received features the matte white color. The base of the speaker is a white plastic with a soft-touch feel to it, and it also has a rubber pad on the bottom to help prevent it from slipping across whatever surface you have it sitting on. Towards the top of the base there's a silver ring that goes around the edge which feels like it's made of metal, and the top uses a similar feeling soft-touch plastic that you'll find on the base, with little indents for each of the action buttons, which control the power and muting the mics, volume up, volume down, and a button for pausing playback of audio, which is the top button.
The top surface feels nice to the touch and the buttons are easy to press, the LED lights are a good size and are also easily visible when they light up. On the top of the speaker, or the back if you have it sitting flat, you'll find the micro USB charging port, and the strap which sits just above the charging port. The cool thing about this strap is that it's actually removable. This was a nice design touch for those that choose to have the speaker sitting flat on a surface like a shelf or side table, as the strap hanging out from the back in this scenario would seem kind of like an eye-sore, though that is personal preference and it might not bother others. While the leather strap used is tastefully designed, and it's definitely a useful thing to have if you want to hang the speaker, it was good attention to detail on Mobvoi's part to allow it to be removed.
The TicHome Mini uses a 3W speaker, and to be quite honest it's actually not too bad. It is obvious that the speaker quality is not the main emphasis of this device, but it gets plenty loud if you're turning up the volume for music playback or just to hear it more easily for other interactions. Being loud is not the only important factor for a speaker though, as you want audio to be crisp and clear too. This is where the TicHome Mini drops off just a little bit. While it is mostly clear audio at mid and lower volumes, as soon as you crank the sound up it becomes very evident that the speaker is not the best on the market, as audio quality gets more and more muffled and it almost sounds like you might blow the speaker out. This might present a problem for some people if they're looking for a dual-purpose device that is not only a smart speaker but also a speaker for good audio, and unfortunately, that's not really what you're getting with the TicHome Mini. If you're not going to be turning it up all the way or even most of the way and you aren't too concerned about having the best audio available, this will serve you just fine. Sound does fill the room pretty well so you can talk to it from far away and still hear it, and that's the most important thing. Overall, the speaker quality is ok and will be perfect for some.
As mentioned before, Mobvoi boasts about six hours of battery life on a single charge, and from my experience, this is mostly accurate. It's also important to note here that this is a standby time. So if you're actually using the speaker the battery life is going to be somewhat less than this. For me, I was able to get about four to five hours of average use out of it, and a good few hours of continuous music playback, so depending on what you're using it for, your mileage will vary. The downside is that it can be easy to forget about the speaker when it's just sitting there doing nothing and if you leave it on, it'll definitely die before the end of the day.
This could be a problem if you leave it on before you leave the house as you'd come back home to a dead speaker if you're coming home from work or school. The good news is that you can plug it in if you want, you'll just need an AC adapter to plug the micro USB cable into as it doesn't come with one in the box. If you're unsure what the battery life is, the LED lights on top will indicate how much you have left, with each of the four lights representing about a fourth of the total battery life. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that there is any way to manually check this. The battery life is ok here, and since the speaker is portable, meaning you can move it from room to room with ease, this is a small compromise, and as mentioned you can always keep it plugged in if you plan to leave in one spot and still use the speaker while it's plugged in.
This is Google Assistant just like what you'll find on Google Home, so all of the same interaction and features are here, including asking the TicHome Mini to play music which it will do using whatever service you choose (I chose Play Music as this is the service I subscribe to, but it will also work for YouTube Music, Spotify, and Pandora), asking it questions and simple queries, playing audio games like the new Stranger Things game which was launched to promote the second season of the show on Netflix, and you can even use it to order a pizza or an Uber ride so long as you have a payment method set up in the Google Home app.
Naturally, the TicHome Mini can be used to control other smart home devices too as long as those devices support Google Home and Google Assistant. I was able to use this with a smart light bulb from Geeni, asking Google to turn on or turn off the lamp that the bulb was screwed into. This also worked better than when doing the same thing with Google Assistant on the phone, as the mic picks up voices much easier and from further away distances, so if I left my phone upstairs I could still ask Google to initiate the action and the TicHome Mini would get the job done. The speaker will respond to both OK Google and Hey Google commands too, so depending on what you prefer or what just feels easier, you'll be able to initiate conversation and activate Google Assistant. Aside from ordering things, controlling smart home products, and asking questions, Google Assistant allows the TicHome mini to be used for streaming things from Netflix or YouTube, playing podcasts, and asking about upcoming calendar events. It seems that this will work for any events that are logged in your calendar for the upcoming week, so whether you have two events or seven events you can ask the speaker to read them off for you. If games are your thing, you can use it to play trivia games or any number of other games which Google Home will now support, which can be a fun thing to do with multiple people around.
App and Setup
Just like with Google Assistant the app and setup experience is the same here with the TicHome Mini as it is with speakers like the Google Home. You open up the Google Home app on your device after it's been installed, and open the devices tab to see all connected devices and add new ones. Upon connecting the TicHome Mini for the first time the Google Home app will walk you through a series of steps to get everything ready, including training the speaker to recognize your voice which it does by having you say the two activation commands, linking your preferred music streaming service of the four that were mentioned above, adding a payment method if you plan to use the speaker for ordering things, and even setting your device address so it knows where to have things delivered. The setup takes anywhere from just a few minutes to closer to ten depending on what you actually connect, as you can skip steps which cuts down the time. Overall though the process is pretty quick and you'll have the speaker up and running in no time. The app can be used to control and manage things on the speaker too, such as pausing and playing songs that are streaming if you'd prefer to use this method instead of speaking to the TicHome Mini.
Physical controls for volume, pausing playback, muting the mic, and powering on the device
Decent sound quality
Removable leather strap
Can hang or be sat on a desk or tabletop
Comes in four different colors
Does just about everything Google Home can do
Portable, can easily be moved from room to room
Doesn't support calling like Google Home
Costs double the price of the Google Home Mini
Audio quality for music could be better – might not satisfy those who want premium audio
Battery life feels low, leaving you to have to plug it in if you don't want to worry about charging it at least once a day
Hard to tell what the current battery life is
Doesn't use USB Type-C
Smart speakers aren't exactly a large piece of the smart home market right now but that is changing as more and more brands begin to release their own offerings to compete with Google Home and the Amazon Echo, and Mobvoi's TicHome Mini is a decent offering to look out for. At $99 for a unit, it's double the cost of the Google Home Mini and Echo Dot, both which serve the same purpose, but it does have some extras that you can't get with those other options. The portability and the water resistance rating are a nice touch that will add some value to this. Is it enough value to warrant the extra $50? That will vary from person to person, but they are nice features to have as the only way to make something like the Echo Dot portable is by purchasing a separate accessory that is essentially a battery dock for it, whereas the Google Home Mini doesn't currently have any portability options.
Should you buy the TicHome Mini?
If you're in the market for a smart speaker and you want one that can be moved from room to room without having to plug it back into a new wall outlet, and without having to buy an accessory that basically adds a battery to the device, then it's definitely worth considering this speaker. Plus, with the IPX6 rating you can easily use this as a speaker for when you're in the shower and listen to music, if you're into that. Other things like the four available colors are nice too, and if you're really not fond of that leather hanging strap you can easily detach it. When it comes down to it, the TicHome Mini is a nice little smart speaker and short of not being able to make voice calls like Google Home, it offers up just about anything else.Pre-Order The TicHome Mini