Mini smart speakers
Small enough to sit on the coffee table or be tucked away on the kitchen bench, these tiny speakers bring Google and Amazon's talkative smart assistants to life. Rather than reaching for your smartphone, you can simply talk to these speakers to ask questions or get things done. They only respond after you say "OK Google" or "Alexa", with a microphone mute button for when you want to ensure they're not listening. They can answer questions from "How many grams in an ounce of butter?" to "Where is the nearest supermarket?", but Google has a head start in Australia and is more likely to know when the supermarket closes. Both speakers let you dictate shopping lists but they can't order shopping online yet. You can tap into some local services, like ordering a pizza or hailing an Uber. You can also set timers, add to your to-do list, check your calendar appointments and much more. These speakers also let you control smart home gear, like smart light bulbs, as well as tap into streaming music services including internet radio and podcasts. Apple fans might look to the $499 Siri-powered HomePod but unfortunately there isn't a more affordable HomePod Mini.
AMAZON ECHO DOT $79
With a tiny eight-centimetre footprint and standing only three centimetres tall, the Echo Dot is easy to tuck out of the way – as long as it can see your Wi-Fi network and has access to a power point. You find volume buttons on top but, similar to the Home Mini, if your hands are full you can simply ask Alexa to adjust the volume or stop the music. The Echo Dot is fine for spoken word content but music sounds very harsh and tinny, especially in bass-heavy songs.
GOOGLE HOME MINI $79
The Home Mini is a fraction taller and wider than the Echo Dot, but in return it offers much better sound quality. It still doesn't cut it as a living room music speaker, but it might make the grade for background music in the kitchen or bathroom. The Home Mini also looks more elegant, with touch-sensitive controls under the cloth cover which is available in a range of colours. You can buy coloured wraparound shells for the Echo Dot, but they don't cover the top.
VERDICT When it comes to sound quality neither tiny speaker is going to rock your world but if you'll regularly listen to music then the Google Home Mini is the clear winner, unless you're prepared to connect the Amazon Echo Dot to an external speaker. When it comes to answering questions Google Assistant is a bit smarter than Amazon's Alexa, but Echo speakers will become more useful once Australians can use them to shop online.
CHECK THIS OUT If you care about sound quality then Amazon and Google both offer larger smart speakers – you can even tell your tiny speaker in the kitchen to play music through the better speaker in the dining room. All Amazon Echo speakers have a line-out and Bluetooth for connecting to an external speaker – letting you give your existing sound system a smart overhaul. Google speakers can't do this; instead you'd need to buy a $59 Chromecast Audio adaptor to upgrade old speakers.
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