I spent some time with Google’s new Nest Mini smart speaker — here are my first impressions

Nest Mini 2

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

Google makes a number of snazzy smart home devices, but its top seller has always been the simplest one: the puck-sized Google Home Mini smart speaker. At just $49.99, it was an affordable way for users to dip their toe into the smart home scene.

At a press event on October 15, 2019, two years after the Home Mini’s launch, Google announced the second generation of the Mini.

Google absorbed the smart home manufacturer Nest earlier this year and has been slowly but surely rebranding its devices with the Nest name ever since. So this speaker isn’t called the Google Home Mini, the Home Mini 2, the Home Mini 2nd-Gen, or any variation thereof – it’s the Nest Mini.

I spent some time with the Nest Mini at Google’s launch event. Make no mistake: It’s nearly identical to its predecessor, and that’s a good thing.

The Nest Mini has decent sound for a small speaker.

Smarts aside, the Nest Mini is first and foremost a speaker, and prospective buyers probably care about the sound above all else. Google has put in a slightly larger speaker and claims the bass is twice as powerful as the Home Mini’s.

I wasn’t able to measure the Nest Mini’s audio directly, but after listening to a few tracks, I can’t say I noticed the difference. Like the Home Mini, the Nest Mini gets louder than you’d expect for such a small speaker, but it doesn’t fill a moderately sized room with sound. I could make out the bass, but it didn’t thud through the floor or the walls surrounding it, and it wasn’t as audible as what you’ll hear on Amazon’s identically priced Echo Dot.

Google says that the new speaker comes with a new automatic volume-adjustment feature, which tailors the audio to background noise. I wasn’t able to test this feature at the event, but if it works, that’s significant. Smart audio features like this have been staples of this year’s higher-end smart speakers like the Sonos Move and Amazon’s new Echo Studio, but I wouldn’t generally expect to find them in a budget speaker like the Mini.

You can tap either side of the Nest Mini to adjust its volume, and tap the center to play or pause a track. These controls worked well. More interestingly, Google has also added a motion sensor. Ostensibly, when you move your hand close to the speaker, LEDs light up on the sides to show you where to touch.

I’ll be honest: I tried for a few minutes, and I could not get this to work. However, I’ve never used gesture controls with a smart speaker before, so it’s possible it takes some practice. I’ll be able to test the feature more extensively during our full review process.

It has the same simple design as the Google Home Mini.

Nest Mini

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Monica Chin/Business Insider

Design-wise, you won’t notice the difference between the Nest Mini and the Home Mini unless you flip it over. The Nest Mini has a new hook built into the bottom, which you can use to hang it on your wall with a nail or thumbtack. I have no interest in hanging a smart speaker in my home, as I’m not keen on long wires running across my wall. But hey, if that’s your aesthetic, more power to you.

Overall, there’s no reason to buy this speaker if you already have a Google Home Mini. But if you’re starting out on building a smart home or seeking a gift for a tech-savvy friend, the new Nest Mini looks like it could be a decent purchase.

Preorder the Nest Mini at Best Buy for $49.99 – ships October 22