Rarely does a consumer product setup process complete successfully the first time and rarely is it straightforward. Google scores on both counts with its smart speaker.
Last October, when Google launched the "mini" member of its Home smart speaker family, retail partner Walmart unveiled a companion promotion: buy up to two units at $49 each, and after activating each unit and linking it to your Google Express online shopping account (as well as linking that account to your Walmart account), you'll receive a $25-off coupon code, good for a purchase at Walmart.
We buy a lot of birdseed at Walmart (although, as it turned out, online prices weren't nearly as good as in-store), so I took the plunge on two (had I waited for Black Friday, I could have scored even better Home Mini deals … but I digress … ). One, in "charcoal," was factory-reset and re-packaged post-activation, and then sent to my uncle for Christmas:
The other, in "chalk," is (as you may have already guessed) destined for a near-future teardown and subsequent sharing with all of you:
Before dissecting the Home Mini, however, let's first see how to set it up … since I need to do so in order to snag that $25 activation coupon, after all:
The unit comes with a microUSB-based power adapter, but my testing confirmed that any old microUSB cable, when paired to a USB standalone charger or computer port of sufficient current output, would also work.
Initial pairing (to my 128GB Google Pixel smartphone, in this particular case, although both Android and iOS are supported, in conjunction with the cross-platform Google Home app) can occur over both Bluetooth and ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection options (where as you'll see, the Home Mini is interestingly initially identified as a Chromecast device). The following screenshot sequence is pretty self-explanatory (and some of the screens are unsurprisingly reminiscent of those I saw when setting up my Google OnHub router and mesh satellites); I'll only note that in a few of the images, I added grey boxes to obscure personally identifying details:
Sorry Google Play, I prefer third-party Pandora …
Blah blah blah … (although come to think of it, maybe I should read that fine print after all … )
And finally, the promised coupon …
So how does the Home Mini sound? Quite good, actually; not as beefy as my Amazon Echo, but certainly less tinny than the more directly competitive Echo Dot (an example of which I also plan to tear down soon). Alternatively, I should note, the Echo Dot supports connections to beefier external speakers via both analog and Bluetooth outputs. The Home Mini, absent a 3.5mm (or alternative) analog audio connector, at least finally now also offers Bluetooth streaming support (a feature added the very same day I wrote this piece, ironically), which still leaves it one-up on the woeful Apple HomePod.
I've set up lots of gear over the years. Rarely does the process complete successfully the first time (or even first few times) I attempt it, regardless of how simple (or not) it's intended to be. And rarely is it as straightforward as it's been with my last few Google-branded widgets. Well-deserved kudos to the folks in Mountain View, CA (and elsewhere; I'm not sure exactly which Google facility was behind this particular hardware-plus-software design).
Is it (more than) a bit disconcerting that, since Google already knows so much about me, my home Wi-Fi network credentials, credit cards, billing and shipping addresses, voice characteristics and other personal details are automatically configured after I enter my Google account username and password? Sure, but at the same time it also makes for an incredibly easy setup experience (full disclosure: my uncle struggled a bit more than I did, which I chalk up to his Android-based but still somewhat non-standard Blackberry handheld). I'm not quite sure where I land on the pros-vs-cons spectrum, but I bet you have some thoughts. Sound off in the comments!
—Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company's online newsletter.