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15 October 2019 15:54

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Google Introduces New $49 Nest Mini Speaker With On-Board Machine Learning, Stereo Pairing

Google has unveiled a new version of the Nest Mini, its small Google Assistant speaker. While the device looks a lot like the previous Google Home Mini, the new device will come with an increased quantity of recycled plastic in the design. The fabric on the new Nest Mini comes from old plastic bottles, with Google saying that they are giving them a new lease of life, rather than them ending up in landfill. When it's not playing music and responding to your commands, the Nest Mini remains the core of a smart home, working with a wide range of companies under the Works with Google programme. Isabelle Olsson, design lead at Nest, has a simple test when designing new products.

"If she says, 'Google,' I know we're on the right track," Olsson laugh—before clarifying, "I don't make all my decisions based upon a three-year-old." Still, the recognizability of such otherwise understated objects is a testament to Google's sharp design language—a design language that continues to evolve with the announcement of two new Nest products. The first product is the new Nest Mini ($49, arriving on October 22), a rebranded sequel to the Google Home Mini speaker and personal assistant. The second product is the Nest Wifi (starting at $169, available on November 4), a new take on Google Wifi, the company's mesh Wi-Fi technology. It's a home router system and home assistant in one, and the new design gives the product's white plastic puck styling a homey makeover in colors like snow, sand, and mist. It's a lot harder to do when you introduce new features and make the sound better," says Olsson.

Notably, the Mini sports a hardware design first for Google: a fabric top that's made out of recycled PET bottles—those clear plastic bottles you see everywhere. The team needed to create a reasonably sized device, cramming together the speaker and microphone from the Nest Mini with the hardware inside a mesh router system (a mesh system uses many small nodes, rather than one big router, to make a Wi-Fi network across your home). "It's the same design, the same gesture, but the proportions are awful." Instead, the Nest Wifi took visual inspiration from ceramic vases and cups (even though the device is built out of 50% post-recycled plastic, not ceramic), with the intention of designing a device that wouldn't look out of place next to a piece of art at home. Google introduced a revamped version of its entry-level smart speaker at a press event in New York Tuesday: The new $49 Nest Mini speaker effectively replaces its Home Mini predecessor with bigger sound, a built-in machine learning chip for faster responses, ultrasound for proximity detection and the ability to pair 2 speakers for inexpensive stereo sound. The Nest Mini pulls all of this off while staying true to the Home Mini's size and shape, with a bit of a twist: Google decided to rely on 35% post-consumer plastic for the Nest Mini's enclosure, and make the speaker's fabric cover out of 100% recycled material derived from old plastic bottles.

The company also added a hook to the back to give consumers an option to wall-mount the Nest Mini. But the biggest two new features are the sound improvements, as well as the addition of on-device machine-learning. For instance, if a consumer frequently asks the Nest Hub to turn on their smart light bulbs, the device identifies this as a common scenario, and responds to it without sending any data at all to Google's servers. "By the third or fourth time, it just executes this locally," said Google Nest smart speaker product lead Mark Spates. Asking for a Spotify stream or a podcasts obviously still requires the Nest Mini to request data from the cloud, but Spates explained that frequent requests could still be answered more quickly by doing voice command recognition locally.

The other big improvement is the sound: The Google Home Mini always sounded good for its size, but wasn't exactly the speaker you'd want to listen to music on for longer periods of time. Google Nest smart speaker product manager James Howarth told Variety during a recent interview that this process took "many, many" months, during which his team built around 25 prototypes for the new device. Previously, Google only allowed this type of functionality for its high-end Home Max speaker. With that feature, Google is effectively catching up with Amazon's smart speakers, which has been allowing stereo pairing for its $50 Echo Dot for some time. Google also added two LED lights to indicate where to tap to change the Nest Mini's volume — something that previously was a bit of a literal hit-or-miss process.

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Most of the hardware features of the new Nest Mini had leaked in recent weeks. Spates said that the company was still evaluating options to serve consumers who want to bring casting or voice control to their stereo systems. Google also used Tuesday's event to introduce an updated Google Wifi system, which now features endpoints that effectively double as a Nest Mini smart speaker, complete with casting and far-field microphones for voice control. Nest Aware, Google's optional cloud service plan for Nest devices, is changing early next year, the company announced at its Pixel event in New York on Tuesday. Instead of living on the Nest app, Nest Aware 2.0 will move over to the Google Home app as part of the company's software migration and new Google Nest brand identity. The new plan starts at $6 per month for 30 days of event-based notifications and 10 days of continuous recording and covers all of the Nest devices in your home. Customers moving their accounts over to Google and the new Works with Google Assistant program have lost functional automations with third party devices and services that used to work with the old Works with Nest program. In addition to the new pricing and multi-device access, Nest Aware 2.0 adds advanced audio sensing capabilities. Specifically, all Google Nest security cameras, smart speakers and smart displays should be able to listen for smoke detectors and alert you that something might be going on at home. Plenty of home security cameras out there have smoke-detector-listening-capabilities, like the Wyze Cam and the Wyze Cam Pan, but it's fairly new for smart speakers and displays. Alexa devices can listen and record alarms and the sound of glass breaking as part of its Alexa Guard feature, but this is new for Google Assistant devices. Google is also adding in an e911 feature to its new Nest Aware service. Google announced a new small smart speaker, the Nest Mini, on Tuesday at the company's Made by Google '19 event in New York. The new version of its smallest smart speaker is called the Nest Mini, as Google moves toward a Nest-branded line of smart home devices that includes the Nest Hello, Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Now playing: Watch this: First Look: The new Nest Mini While the Home Mini and the new Nest Mini look nearly identical at first glance, there are a handful of important updates. Google added sky blue to your color options for the Nest Mini, in addition to coral, chalk and charcoal. The fabric on the top looks and feels similar to Home Mini, but it's made from 100% recycled plastic. Inside, the Nest Mini boasts a brand new speaker, which Google says will put out twice the bass of the Home Mini. That chip helps Google Assistant learn, anticipate and recommend commands that you use frequently, like turning on the lights or setting an alarm. There are three microphones on this speaker, one more than the Home Mini, and they work with something Google calls Ultrasound Sensing. Hover your hand above the Nest Mini and two new LED lights will illuminate on each side of the speaker, indicating where to tap for volume adjustment. Promising better sound and more features than the Google Home Mini, the Nest Mini could prove an even better value than its predecessor. Stay tuned as we test out the Nest Mini in the CNET Smart Home.