Of course, it also matters what volume you play your music at. Chan said since most people tend to set their speakers at level six or seven out of ten, that's the loudness that Google optimized the Nest Mini's sound for. I typically listen to my Echo at about volume six from a few feet away, while I sat in front of the Nest Mini during my demo, barely an arm's length away, which could at least partially account for the similarities in my experience.
Still, I was impressed by what Google was able to achieve without changing much of the Mini's hardware. The exterior looks pretty much exactly the same as before, save for a wall mount carved into the underside. With this, you can put a screw in your wall and hook the speaker up wherever you need. The audio quality will be minimally affected, since the speaker fires upward. There's also a new power socket, instead of the microUSB slot from before, and one more far-field mic than the two previously.
The fabric that covers the Nest Mini's top is made out of recycled plastic bottles, while the external enclosure is composed of 35 percent recycled plastic as well. This isn't something you'll immediately notice, but it does mean that you can feel a little less guilty about buying more of these to stick in all the corners of your home. You might be more taken by the new color option, though. There's a new blue variant called Sky, in addition to the existing white, black and pink versions (Chalk, Charcoal and Coral, respectively). It's a deeper, less-green hue than the previous Aqua.
Aside from the audio upgrades, the Nest Mini also comes with a processor onboard that packs 1 teraop of power. This means your Assistant requests can be processed locally, making it faster to answer you. In fact, according to Chan, you should see a three to ten times improvement in speed over the older Mini. The Nest Mini will also support the Stream Transfer feature that Google announced last week, letting you pause your music on one speaker and picking it up on another compatible device. Chan showed me how this worked by playing a song on the Nest Mini and then asking Assistant to continue the track on a nearby Nest Hub Max, and the system did so seamlessly.
Another feature that pleasantly surprised me was something Google is calling ultrasound sensing. On newer Nest devices, the system can send out chirps via its speakers and use its microphones to pick them up. This lets them detect if something is close by, which can then enable different functions. For example, on the Nest Mini, ultrasound can tell when you're hovering your hand over it, and light up indicator symbols to show you where to tap to change the volume. Without this, it's hard to tell where the capacitive controls are.
Ultrasound sensing can also tell when there is noise nearby in specific frequencies and tune its output to make it possible for you to hear Assistant or your podcasts over the din. We checked this feature out on a Nest Hub Max, so I can't vouch for how well it works on the Nest Mini yet. If it performs the same way as it did on the smart display though, it's an impressive feature.
On the outside, the Nest Mini doesn't seem like a major upgrade. But it packs significant audio improvements that make the speaker truly compelling for its size and price. It's nice to see Google developing this into something more than a "companion" device or an afterthought. This might be the perfect speaker for your bathroom, where you might care less about top-notch sound and want to hear your favorite podcast over the shower or your hairdryer. If you want better quality, consider the Nest WiFi Point, which has the same internals but in a taller body with a larger chamber to resonate sound. With its latest audio devices, Google is continuing to prove its software can make up for (at least some) hardware constraints.