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Apple HomePod mini
November 16, 2020
84.3 x 97.9 mm
Smart home technology is just about everywhere, but if you’re looking to add some to where you live, figuring out a new piece of technology can be daunting, especially if it requires a bit of research to operate. Luckily, iPhone users have the Apple HomePod mini as an easy-to-use option. This smart speaker fits perfectly into any Apple fan’s home thanks to its sleek design and compatibility with Apple devices.
No speaker is perfect, however, and the HomePod mini certainly has its drawbacks. It’s especially important to consider the pros and cons of a smart speaker if you plan to invest in several for your home. We spent a few weeks testing out the Apple HomePod mini, and now we can tell you if it is worth that investment.
Editor’s note: This Apple HomePod mini review was updated on February 10, 2023 to address the HomePod (2nd generation) announcement.
Anyone invested in the Apple ecosystem should consider this compact smart speaker. It requires an iOS or iPadOS device to operate and immediately connects to all your Apple devices. You can also use the HomePod mini to control other Apple HomeKit accessories. One of the biggest perks of choosing the HomePod Mini over other smart speakers is getting direct Siri access. Similar to using the AirPods Pro, all you have to do is say, “Hey, Siri,” and Siri will take your request— even as the speaker blasts music.
What is the Apple HomePod mini?
The HomePod mini is the smaller sibling of the Apple HomePod (2nd generation) that recently replaced the original HomePod. This smart home speaker carries out voice commands via the Siri smart assistant. Siri can answer questions for you, set reminders, send messages, and read the news. It can also control your smart home and execute commands to control your house’s thermostat.
On top of all that, this advanced ball of technology is also a speaker. It can stream music and other audio media from your iPhone or directly from services like Apple Music. If you have multiple Apple HomePod devices, you can pair them together for stereo playback or multi-room audio to fill the house with synchronized sound. Once you develop a HomePod ecosystem between the rooms of your house, you can use the speakers or your iPhone to send intercom messages to specific rooms, all the rooms, or a subset of the rooms.
The Apple HomePod mini has roughly the size, shape, and weight of a softball. It is coated in mesh fabric except for its base and touchpad. My cat knocked the speaker off the windowsill plenty of times, and the HomePod mini came out unscathed. While the speaker’s construction is solid, the white fabric stains easily (but hey, you can get the grey variant instead).
Apple didn’t bother to get this speaker IP certified, but it can withstand a relative humidity of 5-90% non-condensing. This lack of robust water resistance is fine since the HomePod mini is a stationary speaker that requires constant power from the included USB-C cable and wall adapter.
How do you set up the Apple HomePod mini?
When you first plug the Apple HomePod mini into the wall, a white light swirls around the touchpad and the speaker makes a cinematic startup sound. You need an iPhone or iPad with the latest iOS or iPadOS version to set up the HomePod mini, which takes just a few moments.
The HomePod mini has Bluetooth for its Handoff feature, but doesn't work as a Bluetooth speaker.
When you unlock your iPhone near the speaker, a card pops up on the screen with prompts walking you through the setup process. Clicking the button takes you to the Home app and Siri will urge you to test out the different smart commands.
How do you control the Apple HomePod mini?
The hot word, “Hey, Siri,” is all you need to take control of the Apple HomePod mini and all its functions. A swirling light show displays on the touchpad when Siri is activated, and when music plays it glows white. The speaker houses four far-field microphones, which work even when media is blaring at full volume. If you don’t want to strain your voice to call for Siri, just use the touchpad as a control panel.
Here’s a table that covers the Apple HomePod mini controls:
|Tap center||Play/pause music or Siri|
Touch and hold center
Tap or hold + or -
When an incoming call goes to your iPhone, you say, “Hey, Siri, answer the phone,” to take the call from the HomePod mini—this doesn’t always pan out, though. More often than not, the Siri on my iPhone responds rather than the Siri on the HomePod mini, and I end up taking calls on my phone anyway. To sidestep this, you can manually route a call through the speaker by tapping “Audio” on your phone’s call screen and selecting the HomePod. Alternatively, just hold your phone near the speaker and the call will change hands. To hang up simply say, “Hey, Siri, hang up.” The person on the other line will hear this command though.
The Apple HomePod mini can save up to six people’s voices and create a unique experience for each person. For example, each time you ask Siri to play music, it will play different music than if your partner asks Siri to play music. Also, if you ask Siri to send a text message to your mother, it will send the message from your phone number to your mother, rather than from your partner’s phone number to their mother. Siri effectively differentiates between my roommate’s voice and my voice.
In the Home app, you can set control customizations that include the option to set a password requirement if someone requests to play audio through your HomePod. You can also toggle who is allowed to control audio, and whether or not someone has to be a designated member of your home to do so. This will set who can add songs or episodes to the communal queue in the Music app or Podcasts app, and who can use the Handoff feature.
How does the Apple HomePod mini connect to your device?
The Apple HomePod mini operates wirelessly over 802.11n Wi-Fi, so your phone or laptop needs to be on the same network. The speaker uses the internet to answer your questions and stream media.
With other Apple devices under the same iCloud account, you can use peer-to-peer AirPlay, even if your internet is offline. (The products must have been linked to the same account before going offline.) You can’t connect your iPhone to the HomePod mini via Bluetooth, but it does use Bluetooth 5.0 for Apple AirPlay and Handoff. As your phone plays music, you can hold it close to the HomePod mini to transfer output devices; the audio will begin to play through the speaker instead of your phone.
This feature may annoy some listeners because if your phone is just close enough for the HomePod mini to recognize it (~30cm), but just far enough that a connection can’t occur, your phone will vibrate and notify you to move it closer to the speaker for Handoff.
How do you stream music to the HomePod mini?
To stream music to the HomePod mini, you need a subscription to a certain service like Apple Music, Spotify, and more. Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and even some third-party services integrate directly into the HomePod mini. You can also play FM radio over the HomePod mini. With an ecosystem of HomePods in your house, you can instruct Siri to play music over one HomePod, all the HomePods in your house, or just a few of them.
To stream audio from Spotify through the speaker, go into the “Devices” page on the Spotify player and select the HomePod mini. The connection between the iPhone and the HomePod is generally stable, but I did experience a few skips in playback. Also, because Spotify cannot be directly integrated with the HomePod, there was an instance where the speaker suddenly stopped streaming my music through Spotify and tried to switch to streaming music from Apple Music.
Apple Music and Siri
During this review, I experienced a convenient glitch. Without paying for an Apple Music subscription, I successfully requested an unlimited number of specific songs directly through Siri. Normally, when using the HomePod mini to stream music via a streaming service, you’ll need to have a subscription to that service. Apple does offer 6 months of Apple Music for free to any new HomePod mini owner, though.
How does the Apple HomePod mini sound?
The Apple HomePod mini is an omnidirectional speaker that emits sound in a 360-degree field around it, and the sound is good from all angles. Apple packed a full-range driver and dual passive bass radiators into this little sphere. A single speaker gets sufficiently loud to fill a room, despite its pint-sized footprint.
The iconic bassline of the song Come Down by Anderson .Paak comes through loud and clear thanks to those passive bass radiators, which amplify the bass response. It’s typically challenging to get a speaker as small as the HomePod mini to have a strong bass response, and while bass doesn’t parallel that of the JBL Charge 5, it should exceed most listeners’ expectations.
The high frequencies are also amplified a bit, but they don’t come through as loudly as bass notes. Many audio products do this because most consumers prefer a bit more bass, while still desiring a treble detail from cymbal hits. Sound like this bodes well for popular genres of music. Even with an instrumentally busy song like Rites of Spring by Tiger Really, the vocals, drums, bass guitar, and guitar parts are all clearly reproduced with the Apple HomePod mini.
Hold up! Something’s missing:
This section is typically where we display a frequency response chart to show you exactly where the audio output shines and where its deficiencies lie. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a technical snag in our testing, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and performance plots.
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Does the Apple HomePod mini collect your personal data?
It seems like everybody and their mother is harvesting personal data from technology users these days. A lot of people are hesitant to buy a smart speaker because of this fear, and tech companies like Apple are keenly aware of this.
Apple assures users that the HomePod mini only listens after hearing the wake phrase, and you can disable Siri by saying, “Hey Siri, stop listening.” You can later re-enable Siri in the Home app. You can also disable the HomePod’s location services. Your verbal requests are associated with a random identifier rather than your Apple ID when they are sent to Apple to be processed, which prevents Apple from storing this information about you. When you ask Siri to read your messages or notes aloud, the HomePod mini doesn’t send that information to Apple, but rather the communication occurs directly between the HomePod and your iPhone.
Unlike many smart speakers, the HomePod mini doesn’t have a microphone mute button. These are often included in other speakers to reassure users that the device is not recording them when they don’t want it to.
Should you buy the Apple HomePod mini?
The Apple HomePod mini is a very good entry-level smart speaker. Anyone who’s comfortable with an iPhone should have no problem setting up and controlling it. Spotify streaming isn’t yet perfect with the HomePod, but this is unsurprising given how Apple makes its products for its own products. Really only die-hard Apple fans out there who listen to Apple Music, check the time on an Apple Watch, and take phone calls on their AirPods Pro should get this speaker.
Because the speaker integrates so well with the iPhone, if you decide to switch from a basic home to a smart home and invest in a few HomePod minis, it’s easy to adjust your setup to carry out daily tasks. You and your housemates can send intercom messages, stream music throughout the house, and access Siri to address all of your curiosities.
What should you get instead of the HomePod mini?
If the Apple HomePod mini’s lack of a mute button upsets you, there are a few alternatives to consider. The Amazon Echo (Gen. 4) uses the Alexa assistant and takes a similar form factor to the HomePod mini. It has a microphone mute button placed conveniently on the top of the speaker, and an LED ring light on the bottom of the speaker glows red when muted. The speaker is a bit larger than the HomePod mini, and it houses two tweeters and one woofer for louder output. The Alexa assistant isn’t all that different from Siri except that it is more compatible with Amazon products and services like the Amazon Firestick and Amazon Music than Apple ones.
It’s the same with the Google Nest Audio—if you want direct YouTube Music integration or access to proprietary features like Chromecast, you should go with the Google speaker. The Nest Audio also has a microphone mute button, and the speaker verbally confirms that it is muted each time you press it. There are a few special features included in the Nest Audio such as Ambient IQ which automatically adjusts the volume of your audio depending on the environmental noise level, and Media EQ which adjusts the sound signature of playback depending on the type of media streaming. These features help the Nest Audio stand out as a speaker that prioritizes sound quality.
All three speakers cost the same $99 USD and perform pretty much the same functions. The biggest difference between the products lies in their respective smart assistants, which will likely be what you base most of your buying decision on. If you’re interested in a larger and more substantial speaker then the Apple HomePod (2nd generation) was recently announced at $299 USD.
Frequently asked questions about the Apple HomePod mini
You don’t need to “turn on” the HomePod mini in order to use it. Rather, once you plug it in, it is always turned on waiting to hear the wake phrase, “Hey, Siri.” Similarly, the only way to “turn off” the HomePod mini is to unplug it, but you can also mute the microphone so that it is not actively listening for the wake phrase.
Another brand to look into is Sonos, and we recommend starting with the Sonos One (Gen 2). This speaker is quite a bit larger than the Apple HomePod mini and it is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but not Siri. The Sonos One (Gen 2) has some extra features that you won’t find in a cheaper speaker like Apple’s HomePod mini—for one, it has Sonos Trueplay, a technology that optimizes the speaker’s sound signature to the specific room you place it in. The Sonos One (Gen 2) prioritizes sound quality in a way that the HomePod mini does not—Apple chose to tradeoff great sound quality for a compact form factor. A notable drawback that the Sonos One (Gen 2) has when compared with the HomePod mini is that the Sonos speaker is very complicated to set up. If you’re an iPhone-owner and you want something user-friendly that leaves no room for confusion, stick with the HomePod mini.