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Google’s new Nest Mini has better controls, similar sound, and the same price

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The buttons are back

Google has updated the Google Home Mini, creating a new version that looks identical but has a few new features and a new name: the Nest Mini. That’s part of Google’s larger plan of putting all of its smart home and smart speaker products under the Nest brand name. It still cost the same $49, though if the past is any indication, you will likely be able to find deals for it quite regularly.

The new Nest Mini is a minor update, so existing users really don’t need to upgrade. There are a few new features worth running through, though. First, Google has improved the speaker by making it ever-so-slightly larger inside the exact same body — though I suspect even the most obsessive audiophile would have a hard time hearing a big difference.

Google says that it has also improved the machine learning-assisted audio tuning for the smart speaker, but it does do the auto-tuning basic on the room’s feedback like more expensive smart speakers can.

I listened to a few songs and I was again reminded that these mini speakers can get louder than I expect — and at least at a medium-high volume, there wasn’t too much distortion in the trebles or mids. But obviously, if good-sounding music is your first priority, you should probably spring for something bigger.

The more interesting updates involve the controls for the Nest Mini. Capacitive buttons are back. They were pulled from the original because they accidentally set the microphones to record. On the Nest Mini, there are three: volume up, volume down, and tap the center for play and pause. You might notice that none of those functions involve turning on Google Assistant, and that’s by design.

Google has added a couple of small lights on the left and right so that you can see where to tap for volume. It also added an ultrasonic sensor that can tell when your hand gets near, when it will automatically turn on the lights. It’s a cute feature (even though it only worked intermittently on the beta version I tried), but it’s nowhere near as impressive as the literal radar chip on the Pixel 4. I’m honestly a little confused about why Google added this feature in the first place.

The other “control” that’s potentially interesting is the computer that runs Assistant. Google says that it has an improved machine learning model that can learn which commands you use over time and convert more of them to run locally. So, for example, it could turn your lights on and off without having to make an extra round trip of sending that request to and from Google’s servers.

One of Google’s design priorities was not changing the exterior space at all, so it looks exactly the same as before. There are four colors now: chalk, charcoal, coral, and a new sky blue color. The fabric on the top is now made from recycled plastic bottles, part of what Google promises will be an increased focus on sustainability going forward.

The power jack is still a custom barrel plug, unfortunately. There is one new exterior feature, however: a little hole so you can hang it on a hook. And because this is Google, there’s a tiny little pop of a different color in it.

It’s far from the most exciting thing Google has announced today, but the Nest Mini is a fine update to a popular product. The most surprising thing to me is that Google kept the price the same — though, again, the chances that you’ll find discounts on them seems pretty high.

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