Review: Apple HomePod Mini

When the original HomePod came out, I was blown away by the sound quality. But I was also blown away by the price of the HomePod. It was insanely expensive. And it didn’t help that Siri wasn’t the most intelligent personal assistant when compared to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Thus I skipped it.

Fast forward to the present day. Apple has released the HomePod Mini, and by doing that Apple has addressed a lot of the criticisms that I had about the HomePod. But let’s start with what the HomePod Mini looks like and what you get in the box:

You get the HomePod Mini which is covered in fabric like the original HomePod and has a woven fabric USB-C cable that is permanently attached to the HomePod Mini. That’s the same as the original HomePod. To the right of the HomePod Mini you get some documentation and an Apple sticker. And to the left of the HomePod Mini you get a 20W USB-C brick. The same one that Apple decided to leave out of the iPhone 12 models.

Yeah, I’m not letting the fact that Apple left charging bricks out of the box of iPhone 12 models go.

The HomePod Mini is tiny. It is 3.3 inches high by 3.9 inches wide and comes in white and space grey. I chose the latter as it isn’t going to get dirty. It’s small enough that it will fit in anywhere and maybe even go completely unnoticed. There is a touch screen on the top that allows you to trigger Siri and control the volume. Setup is laughably easy. You plug it in, and bring an iPhone next to the HomePod Mini. Then follow the prompts. In about 5 to 10 minutes, it will be live. You can also set it up to recognize the voices of others in the household so that they can use it as well.

Besides all the “Hey Siri” commands he HomePod to play music and the like, there’s a couple of things that make the HomePod unique:

  • The Apple U1 chip: Apple’s own ultra-wideband silicon found in iPhone 11’s and 12’s as well as the Apple Watch Series 6 is being used for handoff purposes with the HomePod Mini. Simply point your iPhone 12 for example at the HomePod Mini and the U1 chip is able to track the phone, recognize my intent, and pass off any audio I was listening to. Though I will admit that it wasn’t 100% perfect at doing that.
  • Thread: This is a new smart home connectivity standard that has many benefits over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Z-Wave. The most notable being instant response. I have a HomeKit compatible light switch that prior to the HomePod Mini arriving, it would take a couple of seconds to turn on and off. With the HomePod Mini it was instant.

That’s all great. But let’s get to the key points. Starting with how it sounds. Well, I threw the same audio torture playlists that I use to test car audio systems during car reviews. I also tested it in a couple of rooms to force the computational audio that driven by the Apple’s S5 chip to adapt to different environments. And the bad news is that the HomePod Mini is a bit lacking in bass versus the HomePod. But other than that, the audio quality is great. I seriously think that you will have no complaints while playing music and I would say it is about 70% of the audio quality of a full sized HomePod. If you got two of them, you can make a stereo pair to get true left/right audio. And it would likely sound great.

You can also use the HomePod Mini as a HomeKit bridge so that you can automate and access your home remotely. It takes almost zero effort to set that up assuming you have HomeKit compatible devices. In my case, I have a pair of HomeKit security cameras, and a HomeKit light switch. I was able to create automations that did the following with ease: When both my wife and I leave our condo which is verified by the lack of presence of either the iPhone or Apple Watch that each of us has, the cameras will turn on and have the ability to stream and detect movement. If movement is detected, the camera that is pointed at the door will record video and sound to iCloud and send a notification to both our iPhones.

One cool feature is Intercom. This allows you to use the command “Hey Siri Intercom” to record and to play an audio message on all connected HomePod speakers as well as on iPhones, Apple Watches and the like of all family members. And it works inside or outside your home including on CarPlay. It’s great when you don’t want to shout from the kitchen to someone else in another room that dinner is ready. Or that you driving up to your home to pick up the kids and you want them outside and ready to go.

So what’s the downside to the HomePod Mini? For starters, all of this is only good if you are within the Apple ecosystem. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can’t set it up. Nor can you interact with it. In other words those on Team Android need not apply. Also, Siri while improved as of late, is still miles away from the sort of functionality you get with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. By that I mean that you have to speak to Siri using very specific commands to get it to work for you. You don’t have to do that with the Google or Amazon equivalent. Though the flip side of that is that Siri doesn’t troll and mine your data the way that Amazon and Google do. So Apple has made a conscious decision to prioritize privacy over broader functionality. You’ll have to decide if that matters to you and you can live with the limitations that this decision brings to the table.

The price is the best part of the HomePod Mini, it’s $99 USD which makes it enticing to those in the Apple ecosystem. And only those in the Apple ecosystem. Siri is still only okay. The sound is great. And the price is right. Which means that it might be enough for Apple to sell a few truckloads of them.

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