Alexa and Google and Smart Homes, Oh My!

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Do I need a Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot? This is the question of the season, if not of the upcoming year. The answer is “Yes.” Well, you might not need one, but there’s a good chance you’d love one. Let’s start with a brief explanation of what these two home tech gadgets are and what they are not. Notice I’m not starting with you should pick one over the other; the difference is pretty negligible at this point. Both devices feature a virtual assistant that can be summoned when connected to the Internet to fetch information, set reminders, launch connected apps and services, and look up information. Both the Echo Dot and Home Mini feature a WiFi and Bluetooth capable speaker that can connect to Internet subscriptions as well other network devices nearby. They both are the smaller versions of existing devices: the Google Home Mini is the little sister of the Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot’s older sibling is, you guessed it, the Amazon Echo. Right now I’m only using the smaller version of both devices and have been thrilled with both, but have a favorite emerging. I have talked to owners of the larger versions of each and when asked what the difference is between big and small, all have reported that the main difference between the small ones and their larger counterparts, is the quality of the speaker. I have to say though, while I am no audiophile by any means, the speakers are quite sufficient for average sized rooms in a typical home environment. That isn’t what makes this class of devices unique though, what does is both the Amazon Echo devices and the Google Home devices continue to grow and improve long after you have brought them home and set them up. What makes them so special is the growing amount of instruction and interaction they can achieve, and the increased information that can be accessed by users as more and more 3rd party products AND services scramble to become a part of this. So while your little hockey puck sized “speaker” may not seem spectacular to you now, the more you push it to its limits and see those limits expanding all the time, you’re likely going to fall more and more in love… and wish you bought 3 times more than you did when they were on sale for $30 this season.

Now, briefly, what they are not: despite their size and appearance, they are not portable. There’s no battery. This makes me crazy! Clearly, the intention is for us not to drag them from room to room – and both Amazon and Google are guilty of this intentional “oversight” of not including a rechargeable battery. This is also our first clue that these devices were never intended to be just speakers. If you unplug your Home Mini or Echo Dot and move it to another outlet, then it has to reconnect to your network and any content you were enjoying when you yanked the plug, will need to be started again. Both do come with long cords and you can move it out of the way most times without unplugging, but it only took me about 2 weeks before I searched and found a 3rd party rechargeable battery that integrates well into the design of the Echo Dot and I LOVE it. I haven’t seen the same for the Home Mini and frankly, its design doesn’t lend itself to that option as readily.

If I had to choose one and only one at this very moment, I would choose the Amazon Echo Dot. I like its current feature set more, but I expect Google to meet, if not exceed, those capabilities over time. I found the Amazon Echo Dot slightly more intuitive to setup, use, and integrate additional services and devices when I set mine up and when I watched others set up theirs. The microphone can be muted on both brands. Strangely, the Echo Dot can read and write to my Google Calendar but so far Home Mini cannot. If notifications are enabled on the Echo Dot, a green ring will light on the device letting you know your Amazon package has been delivered… and then promptly announce what it was if you ask, or if anyone else does, for that matter. I instantly turned off notifications when it announced the Christmas present that was delivered for my husband, as he sat at the kitchen table nearby.

Whether you choose Amazon or Google, what makes these smaller versions so wildly popular is the price point. While the MSRP for each is around $50, they have been featured this holiday season for around $30 online and in stores. What is amazing to me is even at $50 MSRP, this is a steal technologically speaking. We are really benefiting from industry giants trying to establish dominance in the marketplace in my opinion. Go forth and reap the rewards!

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By | 2018-04-16T11:57:13+00:00 December 11th, 2017|Categories: Consumer Tech, Home Networking|Tags: , , , , , |

About the Author:

I have been writing professionally since the 90s and I love consumer tech. What better opportunity to combine these two passions than right here? My special take on consumer tech is this: I've been a broke college student with an ailing computer, the mother of a bazillion children all with tech "needs" and on a shoestring budget and for more than a decade the owner of a small business. Noticing a theme? Good. My passion is making what you have work the way you need it to and finding cost-effective solutions in technology to make your life easier. More convenient. More effective. It's all about quality of life, my friend :) We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Let's make them count.
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