Nest Mini is like the Goldilocks of smart home speakers. It's just the right size. It's just the right price. It has just the right audio fidelity. It also has the right virtual assistant.
Despite these facts, there's little on the outside to differentiate it from the first generation Google Home Mini. The same gorgeous fabric clads the exterior and comes in two striking new colors, hiding the capacitive sensors and LEDs underneath. Unlike the original, however, the capacitive button hidden with the LEDs in the middle actually works properly.
You may recall the drama surrounding the original Mini's release, where the fabric was erroneously activating the center button, causing the Mini to listen to every word said in a room. The button was disabled because of that but said problem no longer exists on the Nest Mini. This example paves a clear path to the list of fixes that Google has made in this second-generation product.
While it's not part of the fix, a genius new hidden component automatically illuminates the buttons as you reach for their function. It's the same ultrasonic sensor found in the Nest Hub Max, and it makes the product feel like it was built with humans in mind.
It's still got a physical switch on the back to turn off the microphone; an important piece of the puzzle for Google, who has made several promises lately regarding its user data handling practices. This turns the LEDs up top an amber color and lets you know the unit is not listening at all, delivering peace of mind for a product that oftentimes finds itself in bedrooms or other private places in your home.
Google even built in a handy new mounting hole on the bottom for placing the Nest Mini on your wall via a single screw. It's a feature many wanted from the original Mini and was made available via several after-market accessories but is now built-in to the Nest Mini. It's still got the grippy rubber bottom to keep it from sliding off tables too, which is a solid choice.
But one change is definitely questionable and can even be considered frustrating: the power cable. The original Mini shipped with a microUSB port for powering the device. A questionable decision in 2017 when many phones had already been using USB Type-C for quite some time, particularly Google's own phones.
This time around, microUSB has been replaced not for USB Type-C but for a proprietary round connector. That means you get to keep track of one more nuisance connector that won't work for any other product on the market and, probably most negatively, creates more e-waste when it comes time to get rid of the Nest Mini years down the road.
That feels a bit contradictory given that the top fabric is made 100% from recycled plastic bottles, and the fact that Google took the time during the announcement to specifically highlight that it uses sustainable energy to manufacturer its products.
It also means you're going to have to buy a new adapter if it ever gets lost instead of being able to reuse an old phone charging cable too. It's really just a bad decision all around.
Improvements in the most important area: sound quality
Nest Mini also includes hardware improvements in the one key area where the Google Home Mini faltered; the bass. If you've ever listened to music on the original Google Home Mini, you've likely noticed that the sound is very unbalanced. Mids are too pronounced, making the audio sound rather flat, and there's almost no bass present at all. Nest Mini completely fixes that, and while you won't be rattling the windows with heart-thumping bass, music finally won't be missing this key element, either.
Given that whole-home audio was a key selling point to the original Google Home Mini, it makes perfect sense that Google focused more on the sound quality this time around. It's not just the bass that has seen a marked improvement though, it's the fidelity and range of sound that are drastic improvements here. Listen to the same song on both speakers one after the other and you'll notice a huge difference.
Specific elements of songs just aren't audible at all on the original Mini. Imagine a full band playing live music on your mini. You might have a drummer, bass player, lead guitarist, secondary guitarist, keyboardist, maybe some other percussion instruments and, of course, the lead singer. Music playback on the original Mini is akin to removing at least ⅓ of the members of this band and, while the overall song sounds familiar, it's just not all there.
Nest Mini fixes that and successfully delivers a wide enough audio range to be able to hear and appreciate all of these elements, albeit not quite as high fidelity as if you were sitting in a concert hall with said band.
When it comes to Google-branded smart speakers in the home, this one has the best balance. The original Google Home was too bass-heavy. The Home Mini and Home Hub didn't have enough bass. Google's 2019 speakers and displays have rectified these issues and deliver a far better audio experience than ever before, and that makes them a far better whole-home audio system than in the past.
Google improved the microphones on the Nest Mini when compared to the Google Home Mini, and even added a third far-field mic for better voice recognition. This means it can hear better no matter what direction a voice command comes from, and it can also hear better while environmental noise is jumbling up your voice commands, too.
Shared features across the Google Nest Home lineup
On the software front, there's almost no difference between the Nest Mini and the Google Home Mini. Google's parental control and quality of life features are all here and work as expected. Do Not Disturb can be enabled during scheduled times to keep the peace and keep media from being accidentally played while you're trying to sleep. Downtime can also be scheduled to prevent nagging questions from being asked or accidental commands triggering in the middle of the night.
Digital Wellbeing can also be used to enforce content restrictions on media playback or how Google Assistant answers questions asked of it. While these aren't super granular parental controls, they do offer a way to restrict music marked as explicit on any connected services (such as YouTube Music or Spotify).
You'll also find search restrictions can be put in place for individual speakers throughout the home, with options to limit Assistant responses to basic subjects like weather. There's also a way to block third party Assistant actions that aren't designated as Family Friendly, but there are no granular controls here and you'll just have to trust that Google's definition of "family-friendly" matches yours.
The importance of good speaker quality in a whole-home audio solution cannot be understated. While it was an easy recommendation before because of the incredible ease of setup and use, Google's whole-home audio solution just got significantly better thanks to the improved audio quality on this speaker. At $50 per room, it's dead simple to tack a few on a wall or an end table and play your favorite tunes at the press of a single button on your phone.
Bluetooth audio capabilities from the first-generation speaker have made a reappearance too, meaning you can stream audio to the Nest Mini via your phone's Bluetooth radio with ease, just as you would with any other Bluetooth speaker. There's no battery inside the Nest Mini though, unfortunately, which means you can't take it everywhere with you.
The easy choice
Aside from the silly decision to use a proprietary power cable instead of a USB Type-C one, the Nest Mini is everything we wanted from the first generation product. It's got brilliant sound quality, perfect size and price, the same ease of use that you would expect from a Google Nest product, and it even comes in some snazzy new colors to match your decor. Pick up a few for the house and enjoy simple whole-home audio with the convenience of Google Assistant everywhere you go. You won't regret it.