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Google Nest Mini vs. Amazon Echo Dot with clock: Battle of the budget smart speakers

New budget-priced smart speakers from Google and Amazon are upon us! Here's how they stack up.

Google and Amazon have become the Mac and PC of the smart home, and the $50 smart speaker is their primary battleground. Amazon most recent tweak is the third-generation Echo Dot speaker, this one equipped with an embedded LED clock. Then, at its Pixel event in New York at the end of 2019, Google brought forth its new Google Nest Mini, a rebranded, feature-updated version of its Google Home Mini speaker. 

Amazon sells the new Echo Dot with the clock for $60. You can pick up the new Nest Mini for $49. Both units are frequently on sale. This entry-level pricing for both units reflects their traditional role as a way for you to make a relatively low-risk foray into using smart assistants to play music, control your smart home, assist in your day-to-day household planning and more. 

Read more: The best alarm clocks for 2020

Their affordability also increases the chance you'll plop one down on your kitchen counter and start providing Amazon or Google with that sweet usage data they can mine to tailor their marketing efforts to you and and your family. Cool!

Which one should you buy? Here, some thoughts.

James Martin/CNET

The look and feel of the new Google Nest Mini isn't that different compared with the original Google Home Mini that launched in 2017. It has a similar cloth-topped design (made of recycled plastic this time), in coral, charcoal, chalk and a new blue hue called sky. Google also didn't address the most commonly cited hardware disparity between the Home Mini and the Echo Dot, the 3.5mm audio jack. 

Instead, Google made some subtle design tweaks, and added some power under the hood. 

An integrated bracket on the underside of the new Nest Mini makes it officially wall-mountable. Not everyone will use that feature -- it might be custom home automation builders that take advantage of it the most -- but it offers some built-in flexibility that doesn't come standard with other smart speakers, including the new Echo Dot.

A new ultrasound sensor system built into the top of the Nest Mini can now detect when you're standing close to it, and then activate a pair of LEDs that point out the touch-based volume controls on top of the speaker. They were harder to find on the Home Mini, which lacked that feature.

Inside the new Nest Mini, Google boasts a more bass-heavy speaker, as well as an onboard processor and a machine learning chip that let the Nest Mini learn the voice commands you give to Google Assistant most frequently and then process them locally, rather than sending them out over to Google's servers. The benefit there is faster response times once the speaker has learned your most common commands and the ability to execute them locally when you don't have an internet connection. Read our review of the Google Nest Mini.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That "third-gen" modifier in the Echo Dot product name? It's important. The reason is because the third iteration of the Echo Dot speaker actually came out in 2018. Thus, the only thing different about the hardware of this model and the unit that came out in 2018? The clock. That's it. 

The clock adds $10 to the price of the Echo Dot, but it's useful in a way that's easy to understand. Instead of asking Alexa for the time (one of the most common questions she gets) you can simply glance at the speaker itself. You can also use it as an alarm clock and tap the Echo Dot to snooze the alarm. If you don't want to keep the clock on all the time, Amazon also gives you an option to turn it off. 

I wouldn't put the Echo Dot in my bedroom. I do have one in my kitchen, but amid other LED clocks on my oven and my microwave, I wouldn't find the clock-equipped Echo Dot that useful there. It would help in our basement family room where we have a first-gen Echo Dot and no other electronics other than the TV, which isn't always on. Depending on your situation from room-to-room at home, the Echo Dot with the clock could be a welcome addition if you already use Alexa. Read our review of the Amazon Echo Dot with clock.

Which one of these new speakers is better will largely depend on how and where you intend to use it, and whether you've already adopted a voice assistant. 

In terms of down-to-earth practicality, it's hard to argue with the obvious, more universal benefit of the Echo Dot's new clock, even with the $10 upcharge. If you own any Alexa-powered smart home devices, that extra practicality makes the Echo Dot with Clock the best bet for you. 

Now playing: Watch this: Comparing Google Nest Mini and Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Google's Nest Mini speaker has a longer outlook in mind with its machine learning capabilities, along with some niche use-cases, like the desire to mount it on your wall. With clearer audio and a redesigned speaker pumping out 40% more bass than the first-gen model, the Nest Mini is a great fit for most people. 

Read moreThe best smart speaker for 2020

Now playing: Watch this: New Nest Mini promises better sound, smarter features