I’ve owned a Google Home Mini for three months now, and most days, it makes me want to pull my hair out.
I most often use Google’s smart speaker in combination with my Chromecast TV setup, which I am also not a huge fan of, but nothing quite compares to the rage I feel for my Google Home Mini sometimes.
Before I get into it, I want to acknowledge that the technology is still in its early stages, and that is totally acceptable. There are several commands the Google Assistant can’t handle yet, and it will actually tell you when whatever you’re asking is too advanced for its AI. I appreciate that level of honesty, but still, there’s a handful of aspects of the Google Home Mini I just can’t forgive.
1. Google Home Mini can’t remember preferences, and it doesn’t seem to get better at learning your previous commands
I am a simple woman. When I get home from work, I watch videos from the same three YouTube channels on my TV, and then watch one of two Netflix shows before bed. But for some reason, telling my Google Home Mini to perform all of the same searches day after day is a struggle.
For example, no matter how many times I watch the BBC show “Planet Earth” on Netflix, the Google Home Mini will not understand the first several times that I ask it to “play ‘Planet Earth’ on Netflix.” This is without even considering adding more qualifiers to my command, like an episode or season number. Eventually, the Google Home Mini will get it right – so part of the issue is not hearing me properly, but it’s also not keeping track of what I watch when it eventually gets it right, so it’s not any better the next time I give the same command.
These aspects of learning and predictability are basic features we’ve come to expect from AI-based technologies, but for some reason, the Google Home Mini can’t keep up.
2. The wake word is too sensitive
As a person who sleeps with the TV on, I’ve had to get up in the middle of the night multiple times to physically unplug the Google Home Mini because it was awakened by someone on the TV saying something that remotely sounds somewhat similar to the phrase, “Hey, Google,” and then tried to interpret what was said on TV into a function.
I know, this seems like a fairly rare, easily avoidable problem. But until you’ve been woken from a deep sleep by an eerily deadpan robot-woman yelling, “Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that,” or an unidentified Spotify playlist blasting at full volume, you won’t know the pain I’ve endured.
3. The Google Home app leaves much to be desired, and is practically useless
The Google Home app seems like a great idea.
In theory, it should show me what’s currently playing through my Google Home Mini (whether it’s a YouTube video, show on Netflix, playlist, podcast, or whathaveyou) and allow me to pause, control volume, rewind, and all the other functions that you usually find on a remote control. In addition, the app is intended to offer content that I might be interested in, and offer helpful tips and suggestions for using the Google Home.
In reality, the app is never synced with what’s really happening in my device, rendering it pretty useless as a replacement for the remote control. The “Browse” section is entirely generic, and not catered to my search histories at all.
The suggested commands are helpful, and I’m often surprised at some of the cool things I can ask the device. One of my favourites right now is, “OK, Google. Tell me a joke.” Unfortunately, I have no reason to open the app and browse the suggested commands if it’s otherwise of no use to me, so I rarely interact with it.
4. The Google Home Mini seems to have more frequent syncing issues with iOS devices
I am – for better or worse – an iPhone User. But my boyfriend, who also lives in the apartment and regularly interacts with the Google Home Mini, owns the Google Pixel XL.
While his experience with the Google Home Mini is similarly disappointing in the general sense, his Pixel phone is surprisingly more compatible with the device than my iPhone, despite the fact we use all the same apps to interact with it.
Google Assistant syncs more quickly and more often with the Google Home app on my boyfriend’s phone, and actually works reliably as a remote control by changing his phone’s lock screen to reflect whatever is playing through the speaker, which is pretty clever. On my iPhone, meanwhile, the remote control feature only works about 50% of the time simply because of the syncing issues.
The Google Home family is supposed to support all devices from both Android and iOS, so I don’t understand why his phone seems to be given preferential treatment. Of course, this may be unique to my experience, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.