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Preview: Google Home Mini – Smart speaker

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In this preview we look at the Google Home Mini with the Dutch-speaking Google Assistant and it appears that not everything works as well as it should.

In May 2016 , Google presented the Home speaker. The smart speaker with Google Assistant then launched in November 2016 in the United States, after which it also appeared on the market in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom a year later. In October 2017, Google presented two more variants of the Google Home. There was the smaller Google Home Mini and the large Google Home Max. In the Netherlands we had to wait a long time for the smart speakers from Google, but from October 24, the Google Home and Google Home Mini will also be in our stores. The Google Home costs 149 euros, while the smaller Google Home Mini is available for 59 euros. Both versions can do exactly the same, only the sound quality of the regular Google Home is better.

 Google promised to bring the Home speakers to the market in our country before the end of the year and they succeeded. Even though they are only now officially for sale, that does not mean that you could not use the smart speakers in our country before. Anyone who bought a Home or Home Mini in Germany or the United Kingdom, or if necessary had it imported from the United States, could immediately use the smart speaker. The Dutch Google Assistant was not available yet, but people who had mastered English or German well could start right away. Now that the Dutch language is also available and the smart speakers are also in the shops in our country, it is time to look at a first impression of the Google Home Mini with Dutch Google Assistant.

What is the Google Home Mini?

The Google Home (Mini) is a so-called smart speaker. This means that you can not only listen to music on it, but also ask questions with the help of Google Assistant. Almost all functions that the Google Assistant has on your smartphone can also be found on the smart speaker. You can also operate a smart home via voice control. You can turn on the lighting via your voice or turn the thermostat a degree warmer.

The Google Home Mini is not completely new to me. I have had the smart speaker at home for several months and because of this I was able to test it extensively with the English-speaking assistant. The Google Home Mini looks like a small puck and is available in our country in white and gray. The small round disc has a nice fabric top and a non-slip rubber bottom, so you can place it firmly. The minimalist and modern design will appeal to many people, because it can also ensure that the speaker can blend well with a modern interior. You can change the volume via the touch controls on the side and the speaker has four small lights at the top. This way you know what the set volume is and when the Google Home Mini is listening to you and wait for a voice command. Do you not want the smart speaker to constantly wait for a command? You can also temporarily turn off the microphone completely via a physical slider.

What can you do with the Google Home (Mini)?

I mainly use the Google Home Mini to control the smart switches and Philips Hue lights in the house, set timers, check the weather forecast and listen to the latest news via voice control. This is now also possible with Dutch news sources such as NOS Journaal and RTL Nieuws. Starting a series on Netflix via the Chromecast or listening to music on the smart speaker via Spotify is also regularly used here, while a quick question about a historical fact works many times faster via voice control than looking it up via the smartphone. In English, this all works quickly and smoothly.

You can easily set everything up via the renewed Google Home app, while you can now easily operate all basic functions of your connected equipment from the app. You do not have to use different apps from different manufacturers for the basic functions. Add the devices to the Google Home app and you have one place for all your connected smart home devices. And everything is very easy to operate via your voice. The command ‘Hey Google’ or ‘Ok Google’ causes the smart speaker to listen, after which you can give a command.

This all works very well in English, but what is it like to use the Dutch-speaking Google Assistant on the Google Home Mini? To be fair, that is a bit disappointing at the moment. Although Dutch is my native language, the smart speaker is sometimes difficult for me to understand in Dutch. I have already experienced that problem with the Dutch Google Assistant on the smartphone, and now also on the Google Home Mini. Sentences, or parts of sentences, are not understood properly, which sometimes results in an answer that has nothing to do with the question at all. In English, various variations of voice commands work, while in Dutch there is often only one command that works to get something done. Still functions like asking for the weather forecast, setting a timer or a command to start music from a certain artist is fine in the Dutch language. Yet it is remarkable that the speaker can understand me better in English, even though as a Dutch person I do not speak it as fluently as the Dutch language. The Dutch voice also sounds much more like a robot with strange accents and separate words that seem stuck together in comparison to the fluent American-English voice to which I have set the speaker as standard.

Home control doesn’t work (yet)

However, this problem is still negligible. Over time, the system will learn more and more, so I expect the Dutch experience to get better and better. Two years ago, the same problems were also found on the English version and this quickly got much better. However, the Dutch version has a much bigger problem and that is that the smarthome functionalities do not work properly. From October 24 it was completely impossible to operate my Philips Hue lamps in Dutch. A simple ‘Hey Google, turn on all lights’ was invariably answered with a ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’ or a ‘This device is not available now’. Also all kinds of variants of this voice command turned out not to work.

A search showed that I was not alone with this problem. Spokesperson for Google Netherlands, Rachid Finge, gave the tip via Twitter to disconnect and reconnect the smart lighting via Google Home. While this has worked for some people, the problem remained with others (and myself). New Dutch names for the lamps, a new room layout with Dutch names and two hours of frolicking, I could have turned on the lamps exactly once in Dutch and that was via the Google Assistant on the smartphone, not via the Google Home Mini. Trying the same command again didn’t work all the other times or suddenly a completely different answer was given. Regularly a song was played via Spotify with a command to turn on the light, while I just didn’t want to sit in the dark anymore. If I switched back to English, everything immediately worked like a charm again. You now also have the option for ‘Home Control’ via the Google Assistant on the smartphone, but that did not work as it should.

Google recognized the problems and went to work on October 26 to get the smart home functionalities working. A day later everything should work again and the situation has certainly improved. I can now operate my Hue lamps perfectly via Google Assistant on the smartphone. On the Google Home Mini itself, I experience varying success. Sometimes it works fine, other times she doesn’t understand at all. It seems that Google is still busy behind the scenes to get everything working properly. Commands that work one day, for example ‘Ok Google, play radio 3fm via TuneIn’, will not work the next day. Sometimes Dutch commands get an English answer, while a Dutch command sometimes gets an English answer. Not quite ideal.

Too early on the Dutch market?

It is unfortunate that Google currently does not have enough of the promised Dutch functionalities. Although it is understandable that the Dutch version is initially still somewhat behind compared to the English language that has already been supported for two years, a basic functionality such as turning on the smart lighting is still necessary if you use the Google Home and the Google Home Mini on the Dutch market. brings. And that is not working enough at the moment. On the other hand, technology is of course still in its infancy, especially in combination with the Dutch language. Although Google seems busy to solve all problems as quickly as possible, it actually comes down to the fact that Google has introduced the smart speakers to the Dutch market too early. This means you can now purchase a product that is actually not finished yet. However, I have every confidence that Google will get these functions fully working in the short term, but until then I will just use the smart speaker in English to be able to operate my smarthome properly again.

I got to know the Google Home Mini as a fantastic and affordable smart speaker. For a small puck, which is what the Google Home Mini is in fact, the sound is certainly not disappointing. It is not special, because a bass is almost absent in the small speaker, but the sound can compete with other ‘normal’ speakers in this price range. Especially if you listen to the radio through the small speaker, it is more than sufficient. And then the Google Home Mini is also smart. You don’t buy the Google Home Mini for the sound, but for the convenience that a smart assistant can bring to your household. It is not indispensable, but it is very easy. The ease with which you can operate the smarthome via your voice, set timers while cooking or quickly request the weather forecast is unprecedented. However, for the time being you will have to use the English assistant if you want to use all functionalities, because the Dutch version is actually not finished yet. And that can certainly be blamed on Google. We will therefore look again at the Dutch functionalities of the Google Home speakers in a few weeks. Hopefully, the Dutch version also has all the functionalities you can expect from the Google Home speakers.

 

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