Until recently, if you wanted Siri in a smart speaker, you had to pay several hundreds of dollars to choose from one and only one option: Apple’s HomePod. Last month, the $99 Apple HomePod mini became available, providing a second, less-expensive choice. Is it worth it?
I’ve been using a HomePod mini for the last few weeks. And I’d say yes it is worth it, at least if you’re an iOS and HomeKit user. But it’s not quite as magical or incredible or [insert Apple superlative] as I thought, based on Apple’s gee-whiz launch presentation.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. The HomePod mini is smaller than the competition at this $99 price. That includes the Google Nest Audio and Amazon Echo 4th generation products, which cost the same. And yet the sound is good. Not “it knocked my socks off” good, like some other Apple products, but good enough for the price.
I haven’t compared the sound between all three speakers but Stacey has this trio of smart speakers. Her thoughts?
My favorite between the Nest Audio, the Amazon Echo Fourth Generation, and the HomePod Mini is probably the Nest Audio followed by the HomePod Mini with the Echo coming in at a distant third. The HomePod is pretty similar to the Nest Audio in terms of separation with nice highs and a good bass that doesn’t overpower the music. If you’re an Apple user who has been on the fence, this is probably a no brainer. And you won’t be compromising on sound.
For its size, HomePod mini at least keeps up with the competition. If I wanted richer sound, I’d probably spend a bit more and get a Sonos speaker, but that’s just me.
I do have a pair of Sonos One speakers and they beat any of the $99 smart speakers out there. Of course, they’re double the price. And although they double as a digital assistant, Sonos only supports Amazon Alexa and/or Google Assistant. So no Siri if you go that route.
Speaking of support, not all third-party music streaming services are natively supported. Apple Music is, of course, as is TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Radio.com. I use Spotify, which isn’t yet a first-class citizen. However, that’s not a dealbreaker as HomePod mini supports streaming audio through Apple AirPlay.
The 360-degree sound field produced by HomePod mini delivers. When I had the speaker on our kitchen island, the music sounded the same to me wherever I was in the room. But that seems more party trick than anything because I don’t think most people will use the HomePod mini in the middle of a room.
It’s more likely the speaker will be near a wall, on a table, or desk than smack dab in the center of your living room. And there’s nothing special about the sound when you take the 360-degree feature away. At least not that I can hear.
I’m also not a fan of the permanently connected power cord on the HomePod mini. That’s a minor grievance at best, though. And I do like just about everything else about this Apple smart speaker.
The quad-array microphones pick up my voice commands very well, even when the music level is high. The colored lights on the top of HomePod mini are mesmerizing to me as Siri responds. And accuracy of my voice commands has been great too.
I’m not a huge Siri fan for informational queries as I find Google to be far more useful. But for smart home controls and music playback? Siri can handle that with ease.
I’m also super impressed by the wireless music handoff between HomePod mini and an iOS device. Thanks to the Ultrawideband (UWB) chip in my wife’s iPhone 12, for example, she can hold her phone next to the smart speaker and “transfer” the music playback to her handset.
It works well although it isn’t quite instant. Think of a brief, perhaps one second, pause before the playback moves from one device to another. Even so, it’s a clever and useful feature.
One feature I didn’t test is the ability to connect two speakers as a stereo pair. I only have one HomePod mini, so wirelessly pairing two of them for stereo sound isn’t an option. Even with just the one speaker though, I can say the intercom feature works well: Sending a broadcast from the HomePod mini came through on all of our iPhones as well as my wife’s Apple Watch.
And that right there circles me right back to the beginning where I said if you’re an iOS or HomeKit user, the HomePod mini probably is worth the buy.
Siri might not be the “smartest” digital assistant out there and the speaker sounds aren’t what I’d call amazing but the iOS and HomeKit integrations are top-notch. So it’s either spend $250 on a big HomePod or pick up some $99 smaller versions if you’re all in on Apple’s ecosystem.