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Hands on with Google's Home Mini and Max: Taking aim at Amazon and Apple

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) made it more than clear that it has its sights set on Amazon (AMZN) and Apple (AAPL) when it announced the latest additions to its Home smart speaker line on Wednesday.

First there was the $49 Google Home Mini, a smaller version of the Home aimed squarely at Amazon’s $49 Echo Dot. Then there was the $399 Google Home Max, an audiophile’s dream with a brain that the search giant is pitting against Apple’s similarly smart, and expensive, $349 HomePod.

I used both the Home Mini and the Max and found them both to be approachable, attractive devices.

The Mini is a tiny, pill-like smart speaker that is meant for use around your house in areas the Home might not fit. Think your kitchen counter or your nightstand. It packs all of the smarts of the full-size Home, but instead of the Home’s multi-color touch panel, the Mini has a touch-sensitive fabric top.

Four LEDs atop the speaker let you know when it’s listening, when the microphone is muted and how high the volume is set. It’s a cute device and available in three: colors, grey, black and coral, which is like an orange-pink.

Audio from the Mini sounded clear, though, I couldn’t tell for certain due to the ambient noise in the demo area.

The Google Home Max is an audiophile’s dream with Google’s smarts built in.

The Home Max, on the other hand, seemed like it was loud enough to blow out my eardrums. The speaker, which features two subwoofers, is meant for consumers who need their tunes to sound the biggest and best.

Google’s representatives were almost giddy with excitement when blasting the Max, which still sounded fantastic even when it was close to its highest volume setting.

The mini, Max and Home can all be connected to let you listen to music throughout your house. So if you want to listen to music while you do the laundry and make dinner, songs will play in the kitchen and laundry room at the same time.

The Max can even be paired with a second Max to create an impressive stereo effect that had me wishing I could blast some sweet, sweet Van Halen.

The Home Max can rest on its side or base depending on how you’d like it to fit in your home.

Google Assistant updates

Google says it has added a few additional capabilities to its Assistant for the release of the Mini and Max. The devices can now find your Android phone by ringing it even if it’s set to silent. It can call iPhones, too, but can’t turn on the ringer if it’s silent.

Assistant can also send directions to your phone, too. So if you want to know how to get somewhere, you can ask your Home and tell it to send the directions to your handset.

Google’s Voice Match can also now determine who’s making voice calls. So if you have roommates, and you tell it to call “Mom” it will call your Mom and not your friend’s mother. When your friend uses it, though, Assistant will call their mother and not yours.

Assistant has also been optimized to handle multiple tasks. So if you say “Goodnight, Home” it can turn off the lights, set your alarm and arm your security system.

I’m a fan of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, so I’m curious to see if these new features sway me one way or the other. One thing is for certain, though — the intelligent assistant wars are only heating up.