Google Home goes Mini, and to the Max

Google Home goes Mini, and to the Max

Squashing the rumors, Google introduced a smaller version of the Google Home at its #MadeByGoogle event, and also included a surprise Google Home Max smart speaker.

Shrinking the Google Home

The new Google Home Mini is a shorter version of the Google Home smart speaker that went on sale in late 2016 and features a custom-designed fabric cover—yes, Google mentioned they even created a custom yarn for it. The four-color ring of LED lights is replaced by four white LEDs in a line, that shine through the fabric cover. The top surface of Google Home Mini is touch-sensitive, for activating the Google Assistant, controlling music playback and volume. Because of these integrated controls and the fabric surface, the top of Google Home Mini is not interchangeable like the bases on the Google Home. Google Home Mini features the same two-microphone array to enable Google Assistant understand your voice from wherever you might be in a room, and under any ambient sound conditions. Speaking of sound, even though the Mini is smaller, Google said at its event that people would be “surprised” by how great the sound quality is from such a small device.

Google Home Mini in Chalk

The Mini, officially, is just 3.86” in diameter and only 1.65” tall (Google says it's the size of a donut), is powered via Micro USB, has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and has a specially-engineered 40 mm driver onboard for 360-degree sound. Colors available are named Chalk, Charcoal and Coral…with Coral appearing to be exclusive to the Google Store. The Google Home Mini has a privacy switch on the back, which will turn the four LEDs amber, just like on Google Home. (Note that it is a physical ‘on/off’ switch, unlike the push-button on Google Home.)

Otherwise, the Google Assistant features all of its versatile abilities that it has become known for, with Google announcing some additional customizable “routines” that appear to feature multiple actions such as setting your wake-up alarm, arming a security system (probably Nest) and turning off your lights. Few details were released about how to enable and customize these routines, but they will most likely arrive thru a Google Home app update. Google Home Mini plays all the music that already works with Google Home, has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for streaming, and can wirelessly connect to Chromecast devices and sync with other Google Home devices for whole-home audio.

Google Home Mini is available for pre-order today in the official Google Store, and will be available in retail stores on Thursday, October 19. Google said that the Mini will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US at launch.

As a bonus, those purchasing the new Google Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL smartphone will get a Google Home Mini for free—Chalk color only. The offer is for a limited time (Oct 4-19), in the U.S. only and the Pixel 2 must be purchased from the official Google Store.

And, turning it up to the Max

Google Home Max in Charcoal

It was slightly less-rumored, but Google’s answer to Sonos and the Apple HomePod is going to officially arrive in December: The Google Home Max. A larger smart speaker that Google says is 20 times more powerful than the Google Home, with the same two-microphone array that can evidently still hear you when your music is “blasting”. (Yes, their line.) The Max can be positioned vertically or horizontally, has dimensions of 13.2” x 7.4” x 6.0”, weighs nearly 12 pounds, and has both USB-C and 3.5 mm audio input ports onboard. The same line of four white and amber LEDs also live under the acoustically-transparent fabric that wraps around the front of the Google Home Max, with a microphone mute switch on the back for privacy. And, similar to Google Home Mini, the top of Max is touch-sensitive for Google Assistant, volume and playback control.

But let’s be clear here, Google Home Max is all about the sound. The Max has two 4.5” high-excursion (+/- 11 mm movement) dual voice-coil woofers and two 0.7” custom tweeters in a rigid housing. Google announced a special feature for Google Home Max called Smart Sound, which will automatically optimize the listening experience based on the location where Max is placed. Smart Sound will identify the room acoustics and nearby objects, most likely based on some sort of “sonar” technology combined with Google’s AI smarts. The technology will also enhance the listening experience based on the content that you’re listening to, although Google stopped short of completely explaining how it works. And, by placing two Google Home Max speakers in a room, they will automatically pair with each other to create a wide stereo image.

With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming, plus an audio aux-in jack, you can listen to virtually anything on Google Home Max, with services like Spotify and Pandora built-in. Google Home Max will come with a free 12-month subscription to YouTube Red, which includes Google Music. Also, when listening to music, you’ll be able to ask the Google Assistant “What song is this?”. Google also showed a video featuring Diplo, a major international DJ and producer, which seemed to show off new music control features such as “OK Google, play that song that goes like this…” All of the features that Google has been adding to its namesake Assistant are now making a lot more sense now, since Google has an entire ecosystem of devices for music playback across the home. Plus, once properly setup, Google can recognize user’s voices for personalization, which now extends to music playlists.

And, as expected, Google Home Max will connect and sync with Chromecast and other Google Home devices. This will add the Max to the already easy-to-setup whole-home audio experience that Google has been building. And, it goes without saying that the Google Assistant is fully baked into the this new and powerful Google smart speaker, giving you all of the Assistant’s talents in getting answers to things, weather, news reports and smart home control.

Google Home Max will be available in December for $399, only in the US at launch. You can be added to an email list right now on the Google Store to be notified when it goes on sale. The Max will be available in Chalk and Charcoal colors, that match with the colors of the new Google Home Mini.

Who will win?

So now the battle lines have been officially drawn for smart speakers in the premium audio category. It’s going to be Apple’s HomePod vs Sonos One vs Google Home Max. The Max is actually, and surprisingly, the highest-priced of all of them, with the HomePod just behind at $349 and the brand-new Alexa-enabled Sonos One smart speaker at only $199. Sonos has (so far) unrivaled sound quality and a fiercely-loyal customer base, and will ship over a month sooner than Apple and Google’s offerings. And Sonos will be agnostic, working with Alexa at launch and adding the Google Assistant in early 2018. Siri, of course, is proprietary to Apple and isn’t likely to appear on any third-party devices…ever. Even though Amazon itself just introduced a new, better-sounding Echo at just $99, I’m not sure it qualifies as “premium audio” so that’s why I’m leaving it out here.

Other smart speakers that are platform-agnostic are also launching shortly. So, for consumers, it will be all about sound quality, included streaming services and the overall experience. We should know who’s winning this high-end smart speaker war sometime in early 2018.

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