Nimish SawantDec 17, 2019 13:58:25 IST
Ever since Amazon launched the Echo speaker lineup in October 2017, the smart speaker space in India has been heating up. Google entered the market not long after the launch of the second-gen Echo speakers with its Home lineup in April 2018. Despite that, things haven’t reached a point where you can call these smart assistants as ubiquitous, but with support for regional languages, things could be getting there, to some extent.
In 2019, there are a lot more options to choose from and even brands such as Lenovo have jumped in. Lenovo had recently released a display-sporting Smart Clock, which is a competitor to the Amazon Echo Show 5 (Review) as well as the Google Nest Hub.
Google has also dropped 'Home' from its smart speaker naming convention and will be going with the Nest branding. It recently launched the Google Nest Mini, which is priced around Rs 4,499. At this price point, the Nest Mini is squarely pitted against the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, which is priced at Rs 5,499. The Echo Dot with Clock is basically a third-gen Echo Dot with a numerical display on its front face that shows the time.
We have done detailed reviews of Amazon’s as well as Google’s smart speaker lineup in the past. This time around, we decided to have the Google Nest Mini and Echo Dot with Clock face off to see which one makes for a more compelling purchase.
Build and Design
Both the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (to be addressed as Dot Clock from now on) and Google Nest Mini are familiar designs. Both devices sport minor additions to separate them from their predecessors. In case of the Dot Clock, the overall form factor, as well as the button and microphone placement, are the same as on the Echo Dot, but this time around there is an LED clock embedded in the mesh fabric circling the Dot. The light is not too much in your face and is nicely diffused due to the fabric, thereby making it perfect as a nightstand device. It also eschews that pointless command, "Alexa, what is the time?"
Google Nest Mini looks exactly like the Google Home Mini, its previous generation smart speaker. The only addition to the design is the presence of a hook on the back, in case you want to hang the Nest Mini from a nail on a wall. Considering this is a wired device, I don’t really see how that will add to any aesthetics, but Google has given you that option if you need it. It could work fine in a kitchen where the table-top is left empty. Even adjusting volume now involves a tap on the right- or left-hand side.
I prefer the build quality of the Dot Clock as it has the physical buttons on the top to adjust volume, mute the Dot, and an Action button. The addition of a dedicated aux-out is a boon for those who want to hook this up to a better sounding speaker, an option which you don’t get on the Nest Mini. The Nest Mini just has a fabric cover, with gestures to make adjustments — and we know how gestures can be unreliable. It’s a matter of preference really. I much like the Coral colour of the Nest Mini over the white of the Dot Clock.
Ease of Setup
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock: You will first need to download the Alexa app from the App Store or Play Store and log in to your Amazon account. You then head over to the tab saying Devices and hit on the ‘+’ sign on the top right-hand corner in the Devices tab. Add Device > Amazon Echo > Echo Dot > Echo Dot 3rd Generation. Then it’s a matter of following the steps that the online wizard asks you to. Ensure you are in an area with Wi-Fi as you will have to connect your phone and the Echo Dot device to the same Wi-Fi network for it to begin working. Once the Dot Clock is connected, the orange light turns to blue and you get a voice signal saying, “Your Device is Ready.” The device is now completely set up and ready to take your Alexa commands.
Google Nest Mini: For the Nest Mini setup, you will first need to download the Google Home app. Yes, it’s strange that the app is still called Google Home, whereas the products have moved to the Nest naming convention. After logging in, you will have to select Add Device, enter your nickname for the device and your location. The app then proceeds to discover the Nest Mini. Provided it’s already powered on, the app will quickly discover the Nest Mini. After that, you follow the instructions on your screen where you are asked to connect to a Wi-Fi network. I faced issues here multiple times, as the Nest Mini refused to discover my home Wi-Fi network, even though it's discoverable. Eventually, I had to create a hotspot on a phone and use that as a Wi-Fi network. You are then asked to do a voiceprint test so that your Nest Mini knows it’s you who is giving the commands. While the Mini takes a lot more steps than the Echo Dot with Clock, they are all relevant if you are invested in the Google ecosystem.
Usability and Performance
The Echo Dot Clock performed as one would expect it to, but there were many instances where the Dot Clock would just lose internet connectivity. And then randomly, the song I had requested or the query I had asked would play over Alexa’s announcement that there's some internet connectivity issue. On many occasions, after asking Alexa to play certain songs, I would hear the command “Shuffling songs by Porcupine Tree on Amazon Music” and then the Dot Clock would just go silent till I ask it the same question again, and then after a long wait it would start playing. Such a long gap between the command being given and the songs being played would frustrate any user. This is despite the fact that it has four microphones as compared to just three on the Nest Mini. Using it over the next couple of weeks, these issues subsided.
The amount of times Alexa mishears you is not funny and it is frustrating when the Dot Clock starts playing a song you hadn’t requested in the first place. With the Nest Mini, this problem wasn’t that common. Most times, Nest Mini gets your speech and won’t randomly start playing songs you never requested. Yes, there is a learning curve involved with the Nest Mini as well if you are asking it to do anything beyond playing music, news briefings and simple QnAs.
A great thing about Nest Mini is that it has a machine learning chip on the device, so a lot of the processing happens on the device rather than in the cloud, you'll have no such luck with the Echo Dot Clock, which explained the noticeable waiting times before Alexa started playing what you had requested.
The Echo Dot Clock comes with support for Alexa Hindi out of the box. Older Echo devices also support the Hindi language now with the latest software update. Alexa was able to understand most of the commands in Hindi for things such as playing songs, reading out the news, converting currency, and other straight forward requests. But ask it a few general knowledge questions and it struggles. For instance, when I asked it newsy questions such as ‘Alexa mujhe Assam Accord ke bare me batao’ or ‘Alexa demonetisation kya tha?’ or other explainers, I would get a response: ‘Sorry mujhe iske baare me nahi pata’. In comparison, Nest Mini would offer many detailed answers. It's just something you have to live with if you have an Echo device — the search functionality (powered by Bing) is no match for Nest devices powered by Google's search results.
Thanks to the tie in with Google Assistant, Nest Mini is also nicely tied in with your other Google services, so adding stuff to Google Calendar, finding the travel time between your house and any other location using Google Maps or playing from your YouTube Music playlists, is a smooth experience. The news experience is also far superior to Echo Dot thanks to the tie in with Google News.
Both devices are horrible at things such as recipe recitals. With display sporting Echo and Nest devices now available, but you are a hobby chef, I'd ask you to go for those over the Dot Clock and Nest Mini if you want to use these assistants to help you with cooking.
In terms of sound quality, I found the Echo Dot Clock to be a lot more powerful than the Nest Mini. Neither of the devices are meant to be for audiophiles, and in terms of loudness of volume and clarity of voice response, the Dot Clock and Nest Mini do a good job. There is certainly an improvement in the Nest Mini's sound quality over the Home Mini. With the Echo Dot Clock, it is difficult to really notice any difference when placed beside the older Echo Dot.
Both the devices have a dedicated button to mute the microphone. On Echo Dot Clock it's present on the top surface alongside the microphone, and on the Nest Mini there is a toggle switch. When activated, the glowing light becomes red to visually inform you that the microphones are disabled.
If you were to ask me for my personal preference, I would go for the Google Nest Mini. The reason is, I am deeply invested in the Google ecosystem and don’t have that many smart home products I use in my day to day life that would require an Alexa-powered device. On the other hand, I use Google Assistant almost every day and am subscribed to YouTube Music.
If you are someone who has an Echo speaker, Alexa-powered smart bulbs and other smart home devices which tie in nicely with the Alexa ecosystem, then maybe the Echo Dot with Clock makes more sense for you. A word of warning, the shopping experience using Alexa is quite frustrating and even if you rely heavily on Amazon for your shopping needs, I wouldn't recommend buying an Echo device. If you have a good quality speaker lying around, Echo Dot Clock could be a great way to make it a smart speaker, provided listening to music is what you will primarily do on the Echo Dot Clock.
It is difficult to pick one among the two and say that this is the smart speaker you should go for. Your purchasing decision depends a lot on which ecosystem you will be invested in. Think of it like choosing between a Nikon and Canon DSLRs in the same price range. A major deciding factor will be which ecosystem you are already invested in. For instance, if you already have spare Canon lenses lying around, you will not even consider the Nikon body. Similarly, if I had Alexa-powered smart home devices lying around, Nest Mini would not be a great choice. Even if you don't have any smart home devices, figuring out which smart home ecosystem to invest in will depend on you. On the other hand, if I am not invested in Google’s ecosystem and don’t really use Google Assistant, there is no reason for me to get the Nest Mini either.
If you are a first-time buyer considering which smart speaker to invest in, I’d say go with the device which you feel will be the most valuable for your needs. If you just want to just listen to music, either of the devices is fine. Two clear advantages the Dot Clock has over the Nest Mini are the presence of an Aux-out, and a display for time — which can let one use it as a glorified clock if nothing else.
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