Google Assistant is finally breaking free.
When the Google Home was announced, my only problem with it was that it was stuck in one room of my house. While I move about the house doing chores or getting ready for the day, the Google Home has to pick a plug and stick to it. Yes, Google Assistant is on our phones and our TVs now, but it's an inferior version. It can't do as much as the version on the Google Home, especially in regards to media control.
What I wanted was a Google Home that could follow me around the house, just as my Bluetooth speakers do. What I wanted, I now have in the TicHome Mini.
The TicHome Mini is an unassuming little puck, available in four colors, including an adorable teal. My review unit is white, which blends unassumingly in my kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and office. No matter the color, it features a silver ring around the top. There are four buttons, four LED lights and two pinhole microphones on the top.
The buttons are easy to spot, and easy to feel for in the dark, as each divot is easy to feel and uniquely marked. The pause/voice command and power/mic mute buttons would make a little more sense reversed, with the command button up front and easier to reach, but three inches isn't that far to reach for it.
The bottom of the unit features the speaker grill and grippy base that keeps the unit from sliding around while you tap it. There's also a Micro-USB port under the leather carry strap where you charge the device. While Micro-USB isn't as bad as a proprietary charging system, it's 2017; a device of this caliber should be charged via USB-C. Having to flip over the device and make sure the cable is the right way up is a pain, and it was exacerbated by the battery issues some TicHome Mini pre-production units had. Because of these issues, which have allegedly been fixed in the final version, I can't speak much to the battery on the TicHome other than that it was quite short. That's right, this thing has a battery.
But better keep that charging cable nearby, because TicHome isn't going to tell you when it's half-full, only when it's running empty. The low battery pulse of the light is the only battery warning you get, and since the TicHome uses the same software as the corded Google Homes, there's currently no commands to get the battery level of your device. This will hopefully be addressed by Google as more portable Google Home type devices are made, but for now, it's a small pain.
The battery isn't great, and changing Wi-Fi networks is a pain, but its portability is still handy.
That said, this isn't a device you should expect to take everywhere. Because changing Wi-Fi networks means completely setting the device back up, the TicHome Mini is a Google Assistant speaker that can follow you to the garage, but shouldn't follow you into the car as you head off to work. The TicHome Mini can function as a Bluetooth device, just as the regular Google Home does, but you have to already have a phone paired with the speaker before you leave your home Wi-Fi network.
Within the home, though, the TicHome Mini is everything I'd been hoping for and more. Commands have been just as easily and consistently recognized as on my original Google Home (a little better even), and it's easy to carry this light speaker from room to room as I work on articles, gut a pumpkin, then get ready for bed.
Volume is easy to adjust with the buttons, and the command button works as a pause/play when casting music. Setting up the TicHome Mini is exactly the same as setting up a Google Home, and while the volume does distort a little once you get near max volume, this thing can fill a room with music just as easily as the Google Home Mini. There's not much bass to be found here, but in a speaker this size, that's no big shock. The speaker sounds a tiny bit tinny, as a single omnidirectional speaker, but so long as I hadn't put it on a blanket, sound quality was fine.
Many think that the TicHome Mini's debut has been undercut by the appearance of the $50 Google Home Mini, but this overlooks the entire point of the TicHome Mini. It's not enough to get the best version of Google Assistant in a smaller, sleeker packer. The TicHome Mini adds functionality the Mini cannot: portability. And seeing as the Google Home Mini is disabling the touch-to-activate feature after a defect was discovered, the TicHome Mini has another advantage: you can long-press the command button and give your command without waking everything in your house by saying "OK Google".
Is the TicHome Mini's portability and that button worth almost double the cost? For many, that answer is probably going to be no. For me, someone who wants the Google Assistant commands "OK Google, fast forward two minutes" and "OK Google, rewind 30 seconds" on literally every platform, I'm willing to pay to get them on a Cast-enabled speaker I can easily take anywhere in my home.
The TicHome Mini has my vote, and a teal one is going on my Christmas list. If you have any kids who like to stream music around the house and having Google help them with their homework, the TicHome Mini might make a good Christmas gift for them, too.
Pre-order TicHome Mini at Mobvoi ($80)