The fall season is upon us, which inevitably bringsand from tech giants like , and . The first two, Google and Amazon, compete in a unique way — with the budget smart speaker. $50 smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot and Nest Mini have made smart home tech, a traditionally pricey category, much more accessible to average consumers. In fact, if you have a smart speaker on your countertop at home, chances are it’s one of these two budget options.
The competition is fierce: the past four years have seen Amazon and Google go tit-for-tat with their bite-size speakers, with the, the , the and finally the . But now, in 2020, Amazon has launched yet another wallet-friendly smart speaker, the . For the same $50 price as always, it boasts a larger speaker than ever before and a new, spheroidal shape.
The question is, pitted against last year’s still competitive Nest Mini, which speaker is better? Let’s find out.
Amazon’s Echo Dot is impressive as ever. Its 1.6-inch speaker is half an inch larger than the previous generation’s, and it’s a few millimeters larger than the Nest Mini’s 1.58-inch speaker. Practically, this new Dot sounds fuller, with a slightly stronger bass than the Nest Mini — though the Nest Mini still offers comparable distinction to midrange tracks, such as in acoustic or classical music. The Dot also features a 3mm audio input for connecting to bigger, better speakers, which is a nice touch for audiophiles.
The biggest difference, though, is in voice assistant. The Echo Dot uses Alexa, Amazon’s assistant, which can do pretty much everything you need a voice assistant to do — control smart home devices, answer questions, play music and so on. Alexa can also do a few unique things, like listen for break-ins and check delivery statuses for Amazon Prime packages. If you have a Fire TV device, you can also tell Alexa to stream shows on your TV. Basically, Alexa is as smart as ever in the new Echo Dot.
The new Dot also features a new, spheroidal profile — it’s not exactly revelatory, but it’s a welcome evolution. For $50, the whole package is great: it would’ve been hard to imagine getting a speaker this good for this price only a few years ago.
Read our full Echo Dot (2020) review.
Google’s Nest Mini, even a year from its release, is still a great smart speaker. It features strong clarity of sound for the size and price, and a surprisingly ample bass. Otherwise, a lot of the design features are similar to the Echo Dot: you have the cloth-topped design (made of recycled plastic), in coral, charcoal, chalk and a new blue hue called sky.
An ultrasound sensor system built into the top of the Nest Mini can also detect when you’re standing close to it, and then activate a pair of LEDs that point out the touch-based volume controls on top of the speaker. They were harder to find on the Home Mini, which lacked that feature.
An integrated bracket on the underside of the new Nest Mini makes it officially wall-mountable, but it doesn’t have the 3mm audio jack for plugging into bigger, better speakers — and that’s a big disappointment for audiophiles looking to add Google Assistant to older, non-smart speakers.
Google Assistant is marginally more naturalistic than Alexa, but they can basically do the same things. Unlike Alexa, Google Assistant works well with Google services and platforms like Calendar, Gmail and more — and it can work with Chromecast devices, as Alexa works with Fire TV devices.
Read our full Nest Mini review.
Which is better?
Disappointing as it may be to say, which device is better for you will likely come down to your preferred voice assistant. If you use Google platforms often, the Nest Mini adds a great deal of day-to-day administrative smarts that the Echo Dot can’t match. But if you’re more concerned about Amazon shopping, especially as we approach the holiday season, the Echo Dot will serve your needs better.
If the speakers are measured simply on their hardware, the Echo Dot has to get the nod for the slightly improved sound quality and the audio in/out jack, which makes listening to music better on Amazon’s device. But again, if one device is on sale (as Google’s Nest Mini is at the time of this article’s writing), then even a slight difference in price could legitimately swing the right decision one way or the other.
To see Google’s and Amazon’s full-size smart speakers compared, read.