Smart Cans are REALLY Good Kitchen Gadgets

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Towards the end of last year I finally picked up a smart speaker, at the height my pandemic driven curiosity. The specific device was a Google Home Mini - discounted to around $20 sometime during Thanksgiving week, I felt it was worth giving a spin.

As my home is not particularly smart at the moment, initially I did struggle to find a real, proper use for it. There are, of course, the gimmicks - asking it to tell you the weather, or the time (both much easier to do just on my phone). It can play music, of course, but it kinda sucks at it? I mean, I did pay all of $20 for it, but still. Asking it to play a specific spotify playlist usually sends it careening into some random track that happens to phonetically resemble said playlist.

But I finally found it: the one role in which it truly excels: as a kitchen gadget.

I keep it plugged in at the kitchen, and I use to do a few things:

  1. Set and keep track of timers (including named timers)
  2. Play entertainment, mostly podcasts
  3. Convert units

And it does all of that uniquely well because the last thing I want to do when my hands are covered in oil, seasoning, batter, or just water is to fiddle with my capacity touchscreen on my phone, or physical timers. Podcasts sound fine - it's not like audio quality really matters here.

Now, why not just do it with my phone? In my experience, as an assistant device, the smart cans are just better. The Home Mini is noticeably faster to activate and faster to reply. Furthermore, the speaker, while not amazing, is still far louder than my phone.

In terms of privacy, there is a physical mute switch on the Mini. To be honest, I haven't researched whether or not it actually does anything, but it is isolated in the kitchen, so nothing particularly intimate is going on near it. You could also probably just stick it in a box or something when not cooking.

There is also a feature where it can read out recipes to you, but in my experience it's a pretty bad experience, and it only works on specific sites (not to mention the UI to send a recipe to the speaker from your phone is really bad, and I'm not even sure you can do it from a laptop).

Timer commands are fairly intuitive; "Set a timer for 10 minutes" will do what it says. You can do "Set a timer for 10 minutes for pasta" to give it a name (useful when you need multiple timers at the same time). "Timer status" will list out the timers. Just the word "Stop" will acknowledge a ringing timer.

But if you're looking for kitchen gadget to help manage timers and provide some entertainment, the steep discounts to $20ish dollars on the small cans is honestly a perfectly fine price for what it does.