Are you a fan of regular, biggie, smalls, or screen? That’s the question you’ll want to ask yourself now that there’s a Google Home, Home Mini, Home Max, and Home Hub. All feature the Google Assistant voice assistant and allow you to make phone calls, so what it really comes down to is sound and whether you prefer a screen. Here’s what you need to know when deciding which Google Home device is for you.
If you were to write an ode to Google Home, you might compare it to an air freshener or Grecian urn partially collapsed. It’s got a squat body and slanted top. The Mini is a bit like a squashed muffin, while the Max is rounded rectangle. At 3.86 inches in diameter and 1.65 inches high, the Google Home Mini is about the size of a doughnut. In the middle is the original Home, 3.79 inches in diameter and 5.62 inches tall. The Home Max measures in at 13.2 inches by 7.4 inches by 6.0 inches. The Google Home Hub is rectangular, a little over 4.5 inches tall, and it has a seven-inch touchscreen display.
Concerned about color? The top of the Home is white, but it has a swappable base that comes in a variety of colors: copper and carbon for the metal version and coral, mango, marine, violet, and slate (reddish-pink, orange, greenish-blue, and purple) for the fabric. The Mini and Max are partly white with the fabric covering available in a light gray (chalk) or carbon (darker gray). The Mini also comes in coral.
All the speakers have touch control. You can turn the microphone off via a switch, so they can’t eavesdrop on your conversation. You can also play or pause music, change the volume, or activate Assistant. LED lights show up when the devices are listening or thinking.
The Hub has a pull-down screen that gives you access to and control over your smart home devices. On the Hub, you can watch video tutorials, while a regular Home, Home Mini, or Home Max will read you the instructions.
All of the Google Home devices have the same Google Assistant inside, so here’s there’s no reason to opt for one over the other. It’s great at answering trivia-like questions, like, “Who won the World Series in 1976?” Theoretically, Assistant is supposed to be conversational and answer follow-up questions, but when we asked, “Who won the next year?” she replied that she couldn’t help with that yet. (For the record, browser Google says it’s the Cincinnati Reds, followed by the New York Yankees in 1977.) Sometimes it will just read the top Google result, and that’s not always helpful when the answer is nuanced, like when you want to know where the hottest place on Earth is.
In addition to answering questions, Assistant can also tell you the weather or your schedule, give traffic information, and control smart-home devices. Since its debut, Google Home has become more useful in the last category, gaining the ability to control more than 1,000 smart-home devices. It obviously works with Nest, another Alphabet company, as well as Philips Hue, August smart locks, and so on.
If you give it permission, Google Home can also recognize your voice via what the company calls Voice Match, so it will call your contacts instead of your significant other’s. Handy if you both have a contact called “Mom.”
You will also be able to take advantage of skills or tasks that let you make the most of Assistant. From the Google Home app, you tap the menu button and hit explore, and you will see offerings from the Food Network, Netflix, Sports Facts, and more. You don’t need to enable these skills to use them, but for something like Uber, you have to link your account.
Google is hoping the Home will be able to capture kids’ imaginations with content from Disney, classic and original stories, and games like musical chairs. You will also be able to use Family Link to create accounts for children and tweens. It can help you set parental controls and monitor what the kiddos are up to like a conscientious big brother.
The Google Home Hub can do everything the trio of speakers can do, but it can also show you results on the screen. In addition, you can display your pictures, watch YouTube, watch movies and TV, control your smart home with touchscreen controls, and see who’s at your front door if you have a video doorbell. If you’re looking to get the most out of Google Assistant, you’ll probably want to go with the Hub.
Google Home devices work with Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, and iHeart Radio. In addition to streaming music, you can also listen to podcasts. Though the Mini sounds decent for its size and its 40-millimeter driver produces 360-degree sound, it also can wirelessly connect to any speaker with Chromecast built in. You can use it independently, but your music won’t sound the same as it does coming out of a typical Bluetooth speaker, for example.
For the original Google Home, DT’s Senior Editor Caleb Denison said it sounds like the Amazon Echo Tap as opposed to the full-size Echo speaker. Google’s Home over-juices the bass, he said, and sounds compressed and a bit dirty when you turn it up too loud. Still, he thinks it gets the job done if you just want to sing along to something while doing the dishes.
The Google Home Hub has two far-field microphones and a full range speaker, and multi-room audio capabilities. It sounds decent, but if music is your number one concern, you’ll probably want to go with the Max.
To make up for the lack of stellar sound in these devices, Google went all out with its Home Max. The sound is the real selling point. Google wants you to buy it instead of the Sonos Play:5 or the Apple HomePod, which is supposed to have room-reading tech similar to Sonos. The Home Max has 4.5-inch high-excursions drivers, so it does bass and loud volume better than the Home. Two tweeters cover the high frequencies, and the speaker is controlled by advanced digital signal processing (DSP). Using Smart Sound, the speaker analyzes the environment and adjusts the sound curve to match the room. Based on thousands of room presets, the speaker will calibrate to a room with carpeted floors and plush pillows differently than one with hardwood floors and office furniture. Smart Sound will also take into account things like the time of day and what you are listening to. Music will be softer in the mornings, for example.
Google would probably love for you to buy all of its speakers and sprinkle them throughout your home. In fact, you can assign speakers to specific rooms, making it a bit easier for you to control multiple devices. But which one (or ones) you buy is obviously dictated by budget and placement. The Home Mini seems like a good choice for a child’s room, while you might want the original Home’s bigger sound for the living area, and the musically inclined Home Max for a game room or basement. The Home Hub is also great for central locations in the Home, like your kitchen or living room.
In any case, you can now choose whether you want your Assistant to answer you in a female or male voice, which is a nice change from the norm. You can check out our full review of the Google Home here, Google Home Mini here, Google Home Max here, and Google Home Hub here to see our detailed analysis of each of these devices.