Apple HomePod Mini evaluation: Lastly the sensible speaker that Apple wants

“The HomePod mini is exactly what Apple needs to be a relevant player in the world of smart speakers.”

  • Computerized audio optimizes the experience

  • Clean sounding highs and mids

  • The compact size makes it discreet

  • It’s the cheapest HomeKit hub

  • Siri lacks the advanced intelligence of her colleagues

  • Short power cord

Apple rarely has flaws in its products, especially in the dominant era that began with the release of the iPhone. The Cupertino, California-based company has been kicking it out of the stadium time and again, setting the bar for every product category it enters. Products like the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and AirPods have shown phenomenal appeal with consumers, but that doesn’t mean Apple is infallible.

The HomePod is an example of one of those missed opportunities, and its failure has hampered Apple’s ambitious smart home efforts. Pricing was partly the problem – a premium price of $ 349 out of the gates made it a tough sell for the masses. Now, however, there appears to be a redemption with the HomePod mini. While it looks like Apple has gotten smaller with this iteration, don’t let its size fool you, as this decision has bigger implications that make it a great player in the smart home.

Smaller is better

Gone is the cylindrical, bulky design of the original HomePod, which has been replaced with a more subtle appearance thanks to its spherical shape. It’s adorned with the same fabric as its predecessor – something I wasn’t too excited about because my cats viewed it as a scratching post. However, thanks to its smaller size, it fits better in tighter, smaller spaces and out of the reach of cats. Eventually I decided to put it in my entertainment center in the living room where it won’t overwhelm the rest of the stuff there.

Apple HomePod Mini Smart Speaker Size ComparisonJohn Velasco / Digital Trends

The HomePod mini has a backlit touch-sensitive lid. The animation of Siri listening and reacting gives it a sophisticated look, but it still can’t lift my eyes from the echo LED ring of light. On the back is the power cord that ends with a USB-C connection. Surprisingly, the cable itself doesn’t seem detachable. Since the original HomePod’s cable could be removed with a little pull, I figured that would be the case here, too – but it doesn’t seem to be. In addition, the length of the cord is quite short, which means it has to be placed near an electrical outlet.

Don’t buy just one, buy two because this year’s HomePod mini won’t empty your wallet.

Apple’s decision to go small is an interesting one. You’d think its size rivals the Nest Mini and the Echo Dot, but it’s actually supposed to keep up with the mid-range.

Computer audio at its finest

If you’re all into raw audio performance, the original HomePod is the natural choice for you. You should stop now if this is your only priority. This is because the HomePod mini is nowhere near the performance of the original. HomePod mini really comes to life because compelling computer audio is able to analyze and optimize whatever is playing.

Apple HomePod Mini Touch controlsJohn Velasco / Digital Trends

From a technical specs perspective, the full-range driver and the two passive radiators of the HomePod mini don’t let audiophiles drool too much. In fact, it’s the combination of Apple’s S5 chip and computer audio that provides an enticing and compelling audio experience. The HomePod mini doesn’t disappoint with its size and produces plenty of mids and highs that are not drowned out by the bass. In fact, the focus on the mids and highs becomes even clearer as the volume is increased – it never loses contact with them and the bass never sounds tight.

If I have one criticism of the audio quality, it is that the HomePod mini controls audio tuning. There is no way to customize or customize my special preferences. It’s not a deal breaker, but I would still appreciate some degree of control over things like highs and lows.

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Back to my point about computer audio. This is most noticeable when I’ve paired the HomePod mini with my Apple TV 4K to watch videos. Unlike my soundbar, which seems to prefer the sound effects and scores over the dialogue, the computerized audio attenuates the scores and sound effects appropriately with each dialogue so that I can actually understand what people are saying. This kind of smart setting is also useful when playing commercials as my soundbar has a tendency to turn up the volume while playing. However, the volume remains constant with the HomePod mini. When it comes to computer audio, I’m all-in.

Catching up with the competition

First and foremost, the HomePod mini is the cheapest home hub for Apple HomeKit devices at home. You need it so that your HomeKit devices can communicate with your needs when you are not on your home network. Previously, the only other alternatives were the more expensive Apple TV HD ($ 149), Apple TV 4K ($ 179), and HomePod ($ 299). You can also use an iPad, but I don’t usually recommend doing this because you want your home hub to remain stationary at home. Therefore, the iPad is the least qualified candidate in my opinion.

Siri still has a lot of catching up to do, which is reflected in the fact that she is missing the performance of her colleagues. Google Assistant always surprises me for its intelligence, while Amazon Alexa can be exchanged for a celebrity voice like Samuel L. Jackson. Siri isn’t as smart or as funny as the other two virtual assistants, but I really hope she catches up. For example, it annoys me that Siri doesn’t want to reveal my appointments for that day when I ask about it. Instead, it tells me to check my phone, which is inconvenient. It’s probably a setting somewhere that prevents her from announcing it, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

Apple HomePod Mini Smart Speaker Size ComparisonJohn Velasco / Digital Trends

Even so, there are other features that I found useful. Use the intercom function, with which I can play an audio message on all connected HomePod speakers in my apartment. It’s great when you don’t want to shout from the kitchen to someone else in another room that dinner is ready. There’s also proximity control, which allows me to pass something I’m hearing on my iPhone to my HomePod mini – all by placing my iPhone over the touch-sensitive surface of the HomePod mini. The seamless functionality that allows different devices to communicate with each other in this way is what Apple is known for, and proximity controls are proof of that.

There is also the question of app support. Right now, music listeners only have a handful of options to choose from when it comes to streaming from an iPhone to a HomePod mini. Apple Music and Pandora work like a charm comfortably, but many other third-party apps like YouTube Music are missing.

The HomePod mini is the speaker Apple should bring out first.

Over the past year we’ve seen more and more HomeKit compatible smart home devices, from smart locks to cameras. The lack of compatible devices no doubt diminished the consumer appeal of making Siri the virtual assistant of choice at home, but things have gotten better. While Apple still lags behind Google and Amazon in terms of overall devices supported, using HomeKit devices offers a higher level of security and privacy.

Apple HomePod mini in handJohn Velasco / Digital Trends

This is the untold story you won’t hear too much about in the smart home wars. Apple doesn’t require its users to install a new app or sign up for an account in order to use these smart home devices. All you have to do is set it up from the Home app and you’re done.

Our opinion

The HomePod mini is the speaker Apple should bring out first. If so, the company would be in a far better position in the smart home market. Regardless, its cost of $ 100 makes it an attractive proposition better positioned to bring Siri home. Sure, it’s not as smart or powerful as some of the other smart speakers, but it doesn’t have to be as it’s a logical choice for many more Apple users due to its computerized audio, subtle design, and HomeKit Home Hub functionality this time.

How long it will take?

Like all Apple devices, the HomePod mini is solidly built. The mesh should hold up if left undisturbed, but the cloth-like material is prone to staining if something is easily spilled on it.

Apple offers a one-year limited warranty that covers defects. However, you can also purchase them AppleCare + for the HomePod mini, which effectively extends coverage for two years and covers two instances of accidental damage.

Is there a better alternative?

You bet. For the same cost, Google Nest Audio is very present in the audio department. Audiophiles will appreciate its punchy and more powerful audio performance, while the Amazon Echo (4th generation) strikes a balance between design, performance and compatibility with other smart home devices.

Should you buy it?

Don’t buy just one, buy two because this year’s HomePod mini won’t empty your wallet. You will also be amazed at the computer audio data you can deliver as a home theater fan.

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