The HomePod mini is Apple’s second smart speaker (the original HomePod was released in 2018). It debuts at the more reasonable price of $99 and includes most of the same features as its $299 bigger brother. If you’re thinking of getting one, below are some things we’ve learned from our HomePod experience.
What’s the Difference Between the HomePod and HomePod mini?
The HomePod mini is, for the most part, a smaller, cheaper version of the original HomePod. While the HomePod retails for $299, the HomePod mini can be yours for only $99.
As the mini is much smaller than the HomePod, it doesn’t have the same high-excursion woofer and tweeter array that garnered so much praise from reviewers in 2018. Unfortunately, we haven’t listened to a mini yet, as it’s not out for another two weeks.
The HomePod mini also lacks the spatial awareness feature that really sets Apple’s larger smart speaker apart. This means HomePod mini cannot tune itself to its surroundings the way the HomePod can.
No spatial awareness also means no beam-forming, which is a crucial component of virtual surround-sound technology. Unlike the HomePod, the mini also won’t support Apple’s Home Cinema with Apple TV 4K, the virtual surround technology compatible with Dolby Atmos.
Many of these differences come down to the physical limitations of such a small speaker and Apple’s desire to target a cheaper price point.
How Does It Sound?
For audio quality, Apple is promising “an audio experience unheard of at this size.” If the HomePod is anything to go by, the HomePod mini will pack a serious punch.
It uses the same computational audio technology as Apple’s larger smart speaker. By analyzing the music you’re listening to, the speaker tweaks the equalizer for a better listening experience.
Sound quality is, by far, the original HomePod’s best asset. Even if you’re skeptical of Apple’s approach and ecosystem, it’s difficult to argue the HomePod isn’t the best smart speaker from a sound perspective. It manages a warm, yet not overbearing, bass response, with bright midrange and treble.
The speaker adapts well to any type of music, from punchy pop or gloomy metal, to the subtle strings of an orchestra. If Apple has taken the same balanced approach with the HomePod mini, it will be an ideal smart speaker for a broad range of tastes and genres.
You can also connect two HomePods or minis for a stereo pair, or add more to create a sound system for your entire home. You can then play the same music throughout, or different music in different rooms. Both the HomePod and mini can also be used as a basic speaker for the Apple TV, as well.
Stream Music or Listen via AirPlay
The HomePod and HomePod mini are compatible with Apple Music, as well as AirPlay for local music playback. As of the iOS 14 release, Apple announced third-party streaming services, like Amazon Music and Pandora, would also be integrated into HomePod. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard Bluetooth connection to directly connect Android or Windows devices.
If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, you can use it directly on the HomePod. You just tell Siri what to play or use the Now Playing panel under Control Center on your iPhone or iPad. Once Apple’s third-party streaming compatibility is rolled out, you can expect to see big names, like Spotify, work natively on HomePod.
AirPlay support means you can output audio from your Mac (but not Windows) desktop via Bluetooth. Unfortunately, there isn’t a 3.5mm jack or USB input for wired audio. Also, both HomePod models require constant power via a wall socket (neither are portable.)
The lack of Bluetooth and physical inputs limits the HomePod’s usefulness for a lot of people. If you don’t solely use Apple devices, or you subscribe to a streaming service that isn’t yet supported, the HomePod’s limitations start to show. Fortunately, you can play music on almost any service on your iPhone and cast the audio to your HomePod via AirPlay.
Another feature worth mentioning is the ability to wirelessly transfer music from your iPhone or iPad to a HomePod. When playing any Apple Music track, if you hold your phone close to the HomePod, you’ll see a notification that music is being transferred. After a few seconds, the track will play on the HomePod instead.
Siri’s Listening (If You Want)
The HomePod isn’t just a speaker, it’s a smart speaker. This means Siri is built-in, complete with “Hey Siri” always listening, which can recognize multiple voices. So, you can use HomePod in a busy home and still do things like send messages from your phone number or save notes to your personal iCloud account.
How you feel about this ultimately depends on how you feel about Siri. Apple’s virtual assistant has improved a lot over the years, but it still trails Google’s and Amazon’s in functionality. Sometimes, Siri requests that work on your iPhone won’t work on the HomePod. Instead, you’ll receive an unhelpful error like, “Sorry, there was a problem with the app.”
If you find the assistant useless on your iPhone, its performance on the HomePod won’t change your mind. Like many of its rivals, the HomePod also hears the “Hey Siri” command at odd times, like when you’re watching TV in the next room.
Fortunately, you can turn off “Hey Siri” always-listening in the Home app on iPhone, iPad, or Mac. You can also turn off “Touch and hold for Siri,” which effectively disables Siri altogether. We’ve had Siri turned off on our HomePod for over a year now, but still use the speaker daily to play music.
While Siri can do a lot of useful things on a phone or Watch, it’s not well suited for a smart home speaker. Unlike Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, Siri offers little in the way of entertainment. There are no games, nor is it particularly good at web searches.
When you ask Siri a question that requires pulling information from the web (like, “What is a flying fox?”), the assistant sends the results to your iPhone. This is eclipsed by the all-knowing abilities of Google’s assistant, which is an endless fountain of knowledge by comparison.
Intercom and Smart Home Controls
The HomePod mini is Apple’s latest move on the smart-home market, where it currently only occupies about 5% of the market share. The functionality is there, baked right into Siri. You can use the HomePod and mini to control various smart-home devices, including lighting, switches and sockets, thermostats, and anything else that’s HomeKit compatible.
On iOS 14, a new feature called Intercom allows you to send messages to other members of your household via connected HomePods. For example, if you say, “Hey Siri, Intercom, I’ll be home late,” your HomePod speakers will relay the message, no matter where you are.
If you can’t get Intercom to work, try updating the software on your iPhone and HomePod first (which you can do in the Home app).
Keep in mind you can also control your smart-home devices from your iPhone, Apple Watch, or similar. You can even add people to your household in the Home app and allow them to control various parts of your smart home.
A HomePod is a nice touch, but it’s not strictly necessary if HomeKit is your primary concern.
Touch Controls Aren’t as Polished
The HomePod and HomePod mini each have a touch screen on top. When you tap it, music playback begins. You can tap and hold it to talk to Siri. You can also use the same double- and triple-tap gestures you would on a pair of wired EarPods to skip to the next or previous song.
Unfortunately, the touch screen is very easily triggered. Just like your iPhone, anything conductive will set it off. So, if you have a cat and your HomePod is in an accessible place, expect music to randomly start or stop playing at all hours.
When you tap the touch screen, the HomePod resumes playing the last song you listened to at the same volume. This can have terrifying results, depending on what that was, and how loud it was.
While this won’t be a problem for many (especially if your HomePod’s touch screen isn’t as easily accessible), we’ve found it endlessly irritating. Unfortunately, there’s no way to disable touch controls entirely, which would be nice, since you can control HomePod entirely with your voice, iPhone, or iPad.
There’s no shortage of threads on Reddit and other message boards in which HomePod owners are trying to figure out why their HomePod randomly plays music. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, which will further deter you from ever wanting to touch it.
Listen Before You Buy
The original HomePod’s sound quality was enough to convince many skeptics of the speaker’s superiority to just about any alternative—at least, from a sound perspective. The HomePod mini should be approached similarly.
Don’t expect Siri to suddenly be useful on the HomePod. It’s the same Siri you’re used to on your other Apple gadgets. The HomePod mini should be gauged primarily by its fidelity, since this is clearly Apple’s strongest suit in the smart-speaker game.
The drawbacks are worth keeping in mind, though. Many will be frustrated by the lack of Bluetooth audio and wired connectivity, the fact that Siri is still Siri, and the overly sensitive touch controls.
And what about the price? In short, it aligns with similar high-quality smart speakers.
If you’re still thinking of getting a HomePod mini, be sure to check out our tips for getting the most out of your new smart speaker.
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