As a designer, I’m always observing the experiences surrounding the latest products. This past summer I picked up an Amazon Echo Dot in the US to feed my interest in the voice assistant space, and start test-driving that product.
The Amazon experience wasn’t the greatest, primarily because it wasn’t supported in Canada yet, so my Canadian Amazon account didn’t work. The setup experience took some searching, and creativity get it up and running. I am eager to try to the process again now that it’s supported in Canada.
A few weeks back I picked up a Google Home Mini at 50% off and decided to give it a try alongside a new Ecobee3 thermostat. I must say, Google’s products are stealing my heart more and more.
The Google Home Mini comes in a simple little box. On the front it showcases the model of the device you purchased — in my case I got the charcoal grey.
On the sides it provides some additional information about the product, along with standard certifications and small print.
What was notable to me was the one side of the box used to highlight what Google Assistant can do on your Google Home. Represented with a speech bubble “Hi, how can I help?”, followed by a series of common requests. Setting the mental model of how to interact with the device before the box has even been opened.
It also has quick links to learn more about Google Home Mini. g.co/mini/explore.
The bottom of the package has a small perforated section and a pull tab to tear and open the box once the plastic has been removed. This was only made clear to me because I took a look at every face of the box.
Opening the Box
Once you open the box you’re met by the Google Home Mini. Pulling the device out of the box reveals a page that says “Let’s get started”. It’s a small stack of papers including troubleshooting and getting started guides. The guide itself is only a single sheet with two instructions — Powering on the device, and download the Google Home App. Simple.
Voice Command Guidance
Once the Home is plugged into an outlet, there will be a pleasant startup sound in sync with the Google ‘dots’.
Following the startup chime, the Google Assistant voice will say “Welcome to Google Home, to get started download the Google Home app on a phone or tablet”. Providing guidance right away on what the next step is.
From the app, the rest of the setup is rather seamless. I already had the home app downloaded, so I opened it up and the first card showed that a new device was already found. Clicking that card launched me into setup.
It then connects to the mini device itself. To confirm it connected, Google Home Mini plays a little ‘bleep’ sound, and the app asks you to confirm that you heard it.
The app then takes you through a series of questions like “What room is this device located in?” — with a number of smart defaults that you would find in a standard home, or Condo.
Wifi connection is a breeze, there is no need to connect to the Home Mini device’s wifi network first — it just lets you type in the password for your network and it’s connected. Simple.
Since I use a GSuite account for my personal email account (GSuite is a paid Google account for business — allowing you to setup custom domains), the app prompted me that at this time some Assistant features would not be available — like Calendar and Email readings. I’m hoping this changes in the future.
Teach your Voice
Just like when training Siri for the first time, Google Assistant asks you to train it to recognize your voice. It’s super simple, just say “Ok Google” and “Hey Google” two times each, and it’s done. The app does take a few seconds to process the voice training, but overall it’s still a slick process.
Once you’ve trained your voice, setup your street address (which Google likely already has populated), and confirmed the services you want setup (I already had Spotify linked through Google Assistant, so that carried into my Home setup), then you’ll be presented with a simple review screen to confirm what you’ve done so far.
Following this the app updated my Google Home software, which took maybe 60 seconds at most. The lights and chime on the Home came on before there was feedback on the app. Once the Home turned on again, Google Assistant again provided me directions — telling me to learn more about what I can do on the Google Home app.
At this point I was playing music and controlling the volume. In a process that took less than 10 minutes, at a slow, unboxing video pace. Had I been setting this up without making a video, I reckon the Home Mini would be playing music by minute 6 or 7.
The setup of Google Home is ridiculously simple. I had music playing and was getting directions within ten minutes of taking the plastic off the box. There is clearly lots going on under the hood to make the process smooth, and take the stress out of the setup process.
It is refreshing to not have to do the dance of connecting to the device’s wifi network to connect it to the home network .
The hardware is very nicely packaged, and the device itself is polished compared to the Alexa. The fabric top gives it a warm homey feel.
However, Alexa has much more explicit buttons for volume, mute and triggering a command. The Mini on the other hand has no visible buttons except for the microphone mute on the back (non obvious). The touch button on the top of the device was also disabled for ghost activations. That being said — you really never need to use the buttons.
As for light indicators, Google has a much more subtle, branded light pattern using the 4 dots. Alexa uses the light ring around the top circumference of the device. I actually prefer the practicality of Amazon’s approach — when sitting on a couch it’s hard to see the dots on the Google Home Mini, and there is no audio queue that it’s listening like there is on the Alexa.
There is some near-creepy Google magic that happens when setting up this device. This was most apparent when trying to figure out the Todoist integration. With no directions or guidance on how to set it up, I simply said “Hey Google, Let me talk to todoist” — the Todoist assistant voice popped in, and I asked her to add a task to my list (without signing in, providing an email — which is different than my Google email). “Okay, I’ve added that task to your list”. I checked my Todoist app on my phone and sure enough the task appeared. Amazing setup process… but a little creepy.
Overall, the setup experience on Google devices has become pretty unreal. As creepy as it is, the more information Google has on you, the smoother the experience they can provide. It’s a give and take.
Setting up this device triggered a desire to play with more Google devices. Maybe I’ll make a switch to a Pixel at some point, or setup Google Wifi. Who knows.