I’ve been using the HomePod mini for a couple of months now and it has successfully replaced the huge Amazon Echo Studio I previously had in my office.
Then, a friend got in touch.
“I’ve just bought a Google Nest Audio and it’s amazing. I think you should try it.”
So, I did. And I decided to compare it against the HomePod mini to see which one could win over my affections.
How do they compare when it comes to price, design, sound and that all-important home assistant?
Let’s dig in!
The HomePod mini costs £99, which is pretty ‘cheap’ for a brand-new Apple product. Sure, it pales into comparison to the Echo Dot, which can currently be picked up for around £30 on Amazon.
But let’s keep in mind the ‘Apple Tax’, here. We should also consider the HomePod mini’s big brother, the original HomePod, which is £279. That device entered the market in 2018 at £319 and suffered as a result.
No one wanted it. It was too expensive, regardless of how incredible it sounded.
The £99 entry point for the HomePod mini is therefore far more digestible. But it still takes a bit of a pasting from the Google Nest Audio, which is currently £79.99. A £20 saving is pretty sizeable once you start buying several of these little devices to fill your home with sound and place a digital assistant in every room.
But what about the value you get from either device? That’s what matters, after all, and if Apple has got it right with the HomePod mini, it might be worth spending that extra £20, surely?
The HomePod mini is as rugged, solid and pleasurable to hold as any Apple device. It feels incredibly well made. And it should, for £99.
Featuring a meshed fabric and rubberised base, Apple’s mini home speaker looks great pretty much wherever you place it. There are two colour options to choose from (space grey and white) with both featuring a cool transparent plastic surface on the top of the device which glows Siri colours when called into action.
I like it. It’s hard to take a bad photo of the HomePod mini, and it slots seamlessly into any room. It also feels like you could throw it at the wall and not cause any significant damage. It’s very Apple.
The Google Nest Audio, by comparison, is actually pretty similar. It features the same meshed fabric finish and feels as tight and well-built as any speaker at this price point should.
They’re entirely different designs – Google has opted for a tall slab as opposed to Apple’s mini-dome – but the Nest is a bit more conspicuous. It’s taller at 17.5cm versus 8.5cm and isn’t quite as aesthetically pleasing as the HomePod, to my eye. I do prefer the four little Google Assistant ‘dots’ over the Siri lights, though.
Neither of these devices will look out of place in any room, and it does feel like you’re getting a lot of design for your money, on both counts. The Nest Audio’s power cable doesn’t feel quite as premium as the HomePod mini’s braided cable, but that’s nitpicking and it isn’t something you’ll notice day-to-day.
A quick note on controls, because while you’ll inevitably operate these devices more often with your voice than your fingers, they do both offer a limited set of buttons if you want to reach out and touch them. Principally, that’s play/pause and volume up/down.
The HomePod mini and Nest Audio both score pretty poorly in this area. They both offer touch-sensitive controls which are a little too touch-sensitive for my liking. Although you’re unlikely to do so very often, if you pick either device up while it’s playing, you’re likely to inadvertently touch one of the buttons and either stop playback or needlessly raise or lower the volume.
Why can’t we just have solid, old-fashioned mechanical buttons, eh, Apple and Google?
Sound is important to me, but I’m realistic. So, let’s not beat around the bush: the HomePod mini and Nest Audio sound like they should sound. They won’t blow you away.
They will not ‘rock your house’ during a party, nor will they replace your HiFi. They’re both great-sounding little speakers, but that’s about as far as it goes.
The HomePod mini just pips it when it comes to audio quality, mind. It’s a well-balanced sound overall with just enough bass to avoid any needless distortion or muddiness, and there aren’t really any overriding harsh frequencies.
The Nest Audio sounds a little more ‘boxy’ than the HomePod mini – almost hollow at times. There’s still no noticeable distortion, but, unlike the HomePod mini, the Nest audio feels like it needs some EQing out of the box to get the best out of it (and, tellingly, Google provides several options for this). I’m not a fan of that; these devices should be plug-and-play-and-enjoy-great-sound-immediately.
Despite this, the Nest Audio still produces a sound which belies its size. Both devices do, in fact. They’re just not quite as ‘big’ sounding as the marketing hype might suggest.
I remember first hearing a Sonos One and being blown away by how detailed and full-bodied the sound was for such a small device. The HomePod mini and the Nest Audio continue that trend, although, if I’m honest, they don’t sound quite as full-bodied as a Sonos One (there is a size difference, in fairness).
Both the HomePod mini and Nest Audio can be doubled up to form stereo pairs. I’m yet to try this, but early tests from other reviews suggest this has a noticeable improvement on overall sound quality, whilst obviously adding a stereo field.
Apple waffles on about “boundary-pushing computational audio”, and “360-degree audio” on their HomePod mini website, but those marketing terms simply manifest themselves in a decent-sounding little home speaker – nothing more. Google is far more conservative when boasting about the Nest Audio’s capabilities, revealing that it has just a woofer, tweeter and “tuning software”. It’s the same deal, though, when you plug it in and turn it on; it sounds decent.
The HomePod mini just scrapes through the audio fight, but both are ‘to be expected’ when it comes to sound quality and volume, which is no bad thing. You won’t be disappointed with either.
Siri still lags behind Alexa, in my opinion. And, while my experience of Google Assistant is relatively limited, I’m willing to heed the advice and insight from people who have spent considerable time with it.
With that in mind, Siri also appears to lag behind Google Assistant. My tests are pretty conclusive on that front, too. It offers more answers, seems less likely (ironically) to turn to Google when it doesn’t have any built-in advice to offer, and just feels like a more pleasurable experience, overall.
Siri is still ham-fisted and dimwitted. I can’t for the life of me think why it’s taking so long for Apple to up their game in this regard.
So, if home assistance is a key consideration for you and you’re not welded into the Apple ecosystem, the Nest Audio definitely crosses the finish line first.
Fitting into your home (and life)
During the launch of the HomePod mini, Apple made a huge play for its family-oriented features. This includes an ‘Intercom’ feature which enables you to send messages to specific HomePods from other Apple devices.
It works really well, and although I only live in a house with one other person, I can see how useful it could be for an entire family. The fact it recognises different voices also makes it a compelling home companion which may bury some of the Siri inefficiencies for some people.
There’s also the little things that make a big difference with these devices, and for me, I’ve found the ability to hand audio off to the HomePod mini from your iPhone by simply tapping the latter device on the HomePod incredibly useful. It’s a pleasing dose of Apple magic when you first try it, but completely non-gimmicky the more you use it. This handoff feature enables me to quickly transfer any audio playing on my phone to the HomePod in the most intuitive way imaginable.
By comparison, the Nest Audio has Chromecast built-in, which means you can stream directly to it from multiple devices. You just can’t ‘tap to transfer’, though, which makes it a little more cumbersome to use in that regard.
Which one should you buy: HomePod mini or Google Nest Audio?
I think this choice is pretty straightforward, and it comes down to two considerations:
- which platform you prefer; and
- whether or not you use Spotify.
If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, the Nest Audio makes little sense. It’ll work with your iPhone, sure, but you need to download the Google Home app and go through a fairly convoluted setup process to get it working. And, when done, you can’t stream to it via AirPlay, which remains one of the most useful ecosystem features Apple has ever developed.
If you’re an Android person, the Nest Audio is the perfect mini home speaker and assistant and beats any Echo device hands-down in that regard. Simple.
However. If you’re a Spotify user, you’ll have to make a choice that’s centred around convenience. You see, the HomePod mini isn’t yet capable of native Spotify playback. That’s to say, you can’t ask it to play something from Spotify, because the HomePod mini will only connect directly to Apple Music, Pandora and Amazon Music. When and if Spotify will arrive is anyone’s guess.
By comparison, the Nest Audio integrates seamlessly with Spotify. Sure, you can stream Spotify music that’s playing on your iPhone to the HomePod mini, but if that’s your music service of choice, you’ll be immediately removing one of the HomePod’s most useful features; asking it to play music without any input device.
The HomePod mini and Nest Audio both offer sound which won’t blow you away but will impress, given their size. They’re both well-built and thoughtfully designed. They also feature assistants which are useful, although Siri still needs improvement.
We’ve therefore reached that inevitable junction with devices like this where the choice simply comes down to the ecosystem in which you find yourself and whether or not you use Spotify. However, once you’ve made that choice, you won’t regret it, because the HomePod mini and Nest Audio are both fantastic little home speakers.
It does illustrate that there are increasingly fewer features that differentiate products from the likes of Google and Apple, though, doesn’t it?