Google Home vs. Google Home Mini vs. Google Home Max: It’s all about the sound

Google Home Max Review
Juliana Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Are you a fan of regular, biggie, or smalls? That is the question you’ll want to ask yourself now that there’s a Google Home, Home Mini, and Home Max. The trio of speakers all feature Google Assistant and allow you to make phone calls, so what it really comes down to is sound. Here’s what you need to know when deciding which Google Home speaker is for you.

Rectangle, puck, or?

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, the company said in an ad for the little speaker. 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.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Concerned about color? The top of the Home is white but 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. During the Google event on October 4,  Isabelle Olsson, Google Home’s lead hardware designer, made a big deal of the Home speakers’ design, saying people don’t want black plastic and complicated buttons in their home. Was she taking a shot at the Amazon Echo and Echo Buttons? Probably.

All three 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.

Assistant assistance

The Google Home, Home Mini, and Home Max all 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.”

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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.

At the Google event, Rishi Chandra, general manager of Home products, unveiled some upcoming new features for Assistant. You will be able to treat the speakers as intercoms with Broadcast, letting you send out the alert it’s time to leave for school and disseminating the message to all your Home devices. Speaking of the kids, Google is hoping the Home will capture their imagination 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 tunes

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 Google says the Mini sounds good for its size and its 40-millimeter driver produces 360-degree sound, it also emphasized it 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, which is bigger than the Home. 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.

Google Home Max Review
Juliana Chokkattu/Digital Trends

To make up for the lack of stellar sound in these devices, Google is trying to go 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 should be able to do 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 also said the Home Max is smart enough to play similar-sounding music, so it can offer up songs that match your taste.

How much will you pay, and when can you have it?

The $129 Google Home has been out for nearly a year in the U.S. and is also available in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany. It’s due out in Japan soon. You can pre-order the Google Home mini today, and it will arrive in stores on October 19; it’s available in all the countries listed above. There is a waitlist available for the Home Max, but it won’t arrive until December; it costs $399.

Which one is right for me?

Google would probably love for you to buy all of its speakers and sprinkle them throughout your home. In fact, it just announced that you 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 kitchen, and the musically inclined Home Max for the 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.