Why it matters to you
Google is taking on the Dot and Sonos with its two new offerings because it really wants you to bring the Home into your house.
If you’ve been keeping an eye out for leaks before today’s Google event, then chances are you know a lot about the new Google Home Mini, the puck-like Amazon Echo Dot equivalent, and Google Home Max, a Sonos-esque speaker. The two new additions to the Google Home lineup were formally unveiled at the event, confirming much about what we’d already heard.
Google Home Mini
First up is the $49 Google Home Mini. “Form and size really matters for creating that something that actually fits into any room or on any surface,” Isabelle Olsson, Google Home’s lead hardware designer, said at the event. A leaked pre-order page from Walmart (since removed) gave us the dimensions ahead of time: 4.53 by 4.53 by 4.72 inches and weighing less than a pound. A video showcasing the product promised it would be smaller than a doughnut and weigh less than a chipmunk. Four LED lights at the top illuminate when you say “OK, Google,” and you can tap the Mini to pause music, change the volume, or activate Assistant.
Covered in fabric (available in a pinky-red Coral, a grayish white Chalk, and darker gray Charcoal), the Mini is supposed to project 360-degree sound, but it can wirelessly connect to speakers with Chromecast built in. Like the original Home, you’ll have to plug it in, but it can use Google Assistant in all the same ways: telling you the weather, giving you the day’s events based on your calendar, reciting a story, and so on. Asking it to use the upcoming Broadcast feature, you can turn all your Home devices into intercoms, so you can call your children to dinner. We’ll have to wait to hear if it’s something you’ll want to listen to music on, given its compact size.
Google Home Max
On the other end of the price and sound spectrum is the $399 Google Home Max. In terms of sound quality, it clearly aims to take on the popular Sonos Play:5. Google played up the Home Max’s 4.5-inch high-excursions drivers, which indicate the speaker should indeed be able to output generous amounts of bass and play very loud, as Google suggested during its presentation. The bass drivers are accompanied by two tweeters to cover the high frequencies, and all together will be controlled by what sounds like some very advanced digital signal processing (DSP).
In most instances, DSP is used to sculpt sound quality to suit the standards of the speaker’s engineering team. That will certainly be the case here, but Google is taking sound-shaping to another level with what it calls SmartSound — essentially an ultra-smart EQ system. Google says that SmartSound will analyze the acoustic properties of the environment it is placed in, and do it in real time. It will use that information to adjust the Home Max’s sound curve to best match the room it is placed in, leveraging thousands of room presets. For example, if the speaker were placed in a room full of glass that tended to over-accentuate high frequencies, it might dial back the treble in a few key frequency bands. Likewise, if it’s in a room with a lot of sound-absorbing materials like carpet and large, overstuffed chairs, it might pump up the bass to keep the low-frequency pulses in balance with the rest of the sound.
SmartSound goes a step further, however, and learns different aspects of music listening. As an example, Google said the Home Max could turn the volume down automatically when streaming music in the morning. Conversely, the speaker might play at a high volume with lots of bass on weekend nights in a home that tends to entertain and party on Friday and Saturday evenings. The speaker will also recognize individual voices and play songs that match that user’s musical taste.
The Home Max supports most popular streaming music services like Spotify and YouTube music, and for its price of $399 (which comes in under the Sonos Play:5) comes with a 12-month subscription to YouTube Red, which includes YouTube music.
For those who wish to connect their own sound sources, like a turntable, personal music player loaded with high-res audio, or television, the Home Max supports both digital and analog audio inputs. The speaker can also be set up in a horizontal or vertical orientation, the latter of which would be ideal if two speakers were to be paired for stereo sound. A moveable magnetic base allows the adjustment.
You can pre-order the Home Mini today, and it will hit stores October 19. To get the Home Max, you’ll have to join a waitlist, and those won’t ship until December.