I never understood why anyone would want a smart speaker, Echo Dot or Google Home Device. It’s basically giving a big tech company an ear into your home. But it has always been puzzling to me as to why they sell and especially here in Zimbabwe. There are better things to spend money on if you want a bit of cool bit of tech or a toy. And your phone can pretty much do the same through Google’s Assistant or Siri. So being the glutton for punishment that I am and (for a day) having more money than sense. I decided to buy a Google Home Mini to see what this is all about.
I need adult supervision
The story really begins when I had more time than I really should be allowed. I was actually looking for a laptop stand and took a trip to a nearby fleamarket to find one. At this point, I should admit that I have an aversion to the bigger stores when it comes to certain things. If it’s a device or tool that has a relatively low degree of complexity I’d rather take my chances haggling with an independent trader than suffer a gut punch when I hear the non-negotiable price at an established store.
Ok, so I get the laptop stand and then I get this itch… As I alluded to earlier I shouldn’t be allowed outside unsupervised. I saw a Google Home Mini and it was US$40.00 and I thought, hey why not. I am either going to waste my money or this thing is going to change my mind about these silly devices.
Sidenote I ended buying a pair of earphones too, I was out of control at this point and beginning to feel that pang of regret of buying something I really shouldn’t have. So I get home and unpack everything and set up.
Getting set up
The first thing I have to say is kudos to Google on the design of the Home Mini. It’s not an eyesore and you can pretty much place it anywhere and it won’t look out of place. The one I got is in grey which kinda matches my laptop.
Getting it set up was like it looks also a breeze, All you need to do is:
- Plug in the Google Home Mini
- Download the Google Home app on your device (The app is available on the Apple App Store as well)
- When the installation is complete, open it and tap “Set up device” then “New Device” and follow the in-app steps.
If you have an Android Device and you have already done Voice Matching then you can just use the information on your device with the Google Home Mini or any other Google Home device.
You can also connect your Spotify and Netflix accounts to the Home Mini as well as any smart home devices you might have.
A bluetooth speaker with a personality
What I found is that timing is everything. I know it sounds weird but setting a reminder is (as I quickly learned) a conversation based on what you say. Saying things in small chunks will make it a hell of a lot easier. If not then there will be conflict and you will have to start the reminder or the command over again and you’d be forgiven for thinking the speakers giving you some sass. But once I got the hang of it and remembered to say “Hey Google” instead of expecting the thing to know that I was talking to it. All was well…
I also figured out that you didn’t have to scour YouTube to look for a tutorial on how to pair the device as a Bluetooth speaker. All you need to do is tell it to pair Bluetooth. This is useful if you have like I do, a device that doesn’t have a version of Android that is required to run the Google Home app.
And the sound it churns out isn’t too bad. It has decent low-end which I wasn’t expecting but I haven’t had an occasion to push the volume all the way up.
Is it actually useful though?
So… the funny thing is that I thought I would never use the Google Home Mini much. But after getting my Spotify set up in the Google Home app I have pretty much abandoned by headphones. The command I give it more than any others is:
“Hey Google, Play Music on Spotify“
As you would expect it picks up where you left off and the music also transitions to your headphones if you plug them into the host device. This might be because you can’t play music on two devices concurrently using one Spotify account. That may not be too useful for you but there are other things that I have become part of my routine with the Google Home Mini.
One of the things that I have been using my Home Mini for is getting up to date with things as soon as I wake up. You can set a routine in the Google Home app for things like reading you the headlines of the news, weather among others.
And for members of the fitness mafia, you can also schedule specific times in the day where you can get a quick workout in. You can also pair your Google Home Mini with a Fitbit and it will provide you with fitness tips and ideas. Depending on what your day looks like the Google home will make sure you know what you need when you need it.
I also often make calls through the Home Mini and get in a chapter of an audiobook before going to bed.
Planning and scheduling
This is a feature that I have used nearly as often asking my Home Mini to play music on Spotify. I mean you can still do the same on your phone through Siri or Google Assistant. But I, like most people these days, am usually multitasking and the Home Mini has come in really handy when trying to do something on my phone and needing to schedule a call or reminder.
Finding your lost phone
I usually never know where my phone is at most times and I don’t know how many hours I have spent in my life looking for it. With the Home Mini, which is always where I expect it to be. I can just tell it to find my phone and it will be beginning ringing where ever it is. This feature is useful if you live alone and don’t have anyone to ask to call your device so you can locate it.
I know a lot of stubborn people (as I am myself) and even if they are wrong they will continue to argue the point. And in this era where we are on Zoom and WhatsApp calls landing that all-important “gotcha” is delayed when you actually have to type something out on a device you are using. My Home Mini has been invaluable when it comes to looking something up quickly and saying back out loud.
My favourite thing in the world now is asking the Google Home Mini something and then letting it dish out the facts to bring order to proceedings.
The Home Mini is a Bluetooth speaker after all and as I mentioned earlier it makes pairing a lot easier than a conventional speaker. If I want it to play the audio from my Samsung Galaxy Tab A which is no longer eligible for updates and by extension isn’t able to get the Home app. All I need to do is shout across the room and ask the thing to start pairing.
You can also use it to control your Chromecast and any other TVs with Chromecast built-in. It doesn’t totally get rid of the remote completely but it reduces the need to get in and out of a blanket in this frigid winter. There is one feature that I haven’t tried out but I will very soon and that is Multi-room. Which allows you to synchronise the audio of all Chromecast capable devices in your home.
What about privacy?
You can turn off the mic, there is a switch at the base of the device. Whether the mic of really really off is a story for another day. Additionally, you can also choose not to let google save your audio on its servers.
- Go to your Google Account.
- On the left navigation panel, click Data & personalization.
- In the Activity controls panel, click Web & App Activity.
- Check or uncheck the box next to “Include audio recordings” to turn the setting on or off.
If you haven’t done this for your Android device and you want to find your recordings. Follow the first two steps above and in the Activity controls panel, click Web & App Activity
On this page, you can:
- View a list of your past activity. Items with the audio icon include a recording.
- Play the recording. Click Details next to the audio icon, then View recording.
If you want to delete your recordings you can so on the same page.
Verdict: I am going to get another one
If you couldn’t already tell my opinion on these home devices has thawed. I know they aren’t for everyone but I am going to get one, maybe two more tops. The biggest reason is that I want to see what a network of them can actually do and embarrassingly I want to start making random announcements through them in my house at odd hours.