The all-new Apple HomePod mini smart speaker is the long-awaited, compact follow-up to the HomePod. The Siri-powered gadget debuted alongside the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro during the tech giant’s “Hi, Speed” product event in October.
The miniature speaker is the latest Apple product to carry the “mini” moniker, joining the iPhone 12 mini, the Mac mini, and the iPad mini. For $99, it has a price tag that lives up to both its size and name.
I tested the HomePod mini for almost 2 weeks and came to love it. By offering a cool design, a surprisingly stellar sound, a superb Siri experience, and a convenient HomeKit hub, it quickly became one of my go-to connected home gadgets. Here’s why it’s the best entry-level smart speaker for Apple users.
Compact and Minimalist Design
Measuring a tad above 3 inches tall, the HomePod mini is about the size of a grapefruit with its top removed. It has the same fabric finish as the bigger HomePod (available in white or space gray), so it blends right in with its surroundings.
Just like the full-size HomePod, the mini speaker's touch-sensitive control panel has backlighting that changes colors when Siri is listening. This is a cool and helpful feature that's visible when the speaker is nearby. And during audio playback, the mini's panel emits a soft white glow.
Solid Audio Performance
Because of its compact footprint, the HomePod mini lacks its larger counterpart’s eight audio drivers. Instead, it has a single full-range audio driver with passive radiators. The bottom of the device has an acoustic waveguide, which allows it to deliver 360-degree sound. Its mesh fabric cover contributes to its audio performance as well.
Initially, I had low expectations about the acoustic capabilities of the HomePod mini, but the speaker exceeded them by producing a powerful, crisp, and entertaining sound that belied its size. I was surprised that, even at maximum volume, the HomePod mini remained distortion-free. Its bass output, while far from the rumble of the bigger HomePod, was also respectable.
Apple achieved this sound performance by equipping the speaker with its own S5 chip — the same as in Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch SE. The component gives the speaker powerful computational audio capabilities. It adjusts its loudness and dynamic range by fine-tuning it up to 180 times per second.
There is also an option to connect two HomePod minis in a stereo pair. Combining two of the speakers creates a minimalist home audio system, capable of putting many similarly priced products to shame. If you are looking for big sound in the smallest possible package, this is a great option.
As expected from an Apple product, the HomePod mini is also compatible with AirPlay 2 wireless multiroom playback. I was able to ask Siri to move my favorite tunes from the HomePod mini in the kitchen to the living room’s big HomePod. There’s an option to play different content in each space or to simultaneously blast the same jams everywhere.
The HomePod mini’s four built-in microphones did an excellent job in picking up my Siri voice commands. I put them through their paces by interacting with the voice assistant from across a large living room (more than 20 feet long) with the music blaring, and New York City traffic din coming from an open window. I like that the speaker’s volume automatically lowers when Siri is listening.
It’s worth noting that the HomePod mini’s wireless playback capabilities will get even better in the near future. Users will be able to seamlessly switch the playback from an iPhone with a U1 chip (available from the iPhone 11 onwards) to the speaker by bringing the two devices close together.
The Best Siri Experience Yet
Apple’s virtual assistant has gotten vastly more capable, making the HomePod mini (and the big HomePod) all the more useful. Siri is better at helping with a multitude of requests, including setting timers, converting units, and translating, among many others.
The virtual assistant now answers seemingly random questions by searching the web. I got an instant reply this weekend when I asked Siri about the score from the Liverpool game (Liverpool had a 1:1 draw with Manchester City).
You can also make calls, send messages, and set reminders from the HomePod mini with Siri commands. The functionality is available for individual household members, because the assistant can identify who’s speaking.
A HomeKit Command Center
Being able to use the HomePod mini as an Apple HomeKit hub alone is a legit reason to consider buying one. The feature allows the speaker to control countless smart home products without the need of additional hardware (and more cables). Setting up HomeKit is easy via the Home app of your favorite Apple device. I used the HomePod mini's Siri commands to control the lights in my apartment, power the Apple TV 4K, and turn my espresso machine on and off.
A recently introduced Intercom feature is ideal for telling household members in other rooms that dinner is ready. Intercom is also accessible from other Apple devices. For example, users can tell family that they are on the way home with, say, pizza or many grocery bags.
Compared to the similarly priced 4th-generation Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio smart speakers (both $100), the Apple HomePod mini has a more compact footprint that's closer in size to the new Echo Dot ($50). The larger Echo and the Nest Audio do have an edge over the HomePod mini in terms of sound quality, though — their bigger housings allow them to pack more drivers.
However, the HomePod mini sets itself apart with its seamless integration with Apple products and its built-in HomeKit hub. For $99, it will elevate your daily routine and, thanks to the HomeKit hub functionality, free your connected home setup from unnecessary clutter.
I highly recommend opting for two HomePod minis in a stereo pair. For $200, they'll get you a better sonic experience than some similarly priced smart speakers with mono sound.
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