I got the two HomePod Mini’s that I ordered on launch day Wednesday afternoon and have spent some time kicking the tires and seeing what they are capable of. To be completely honest, my experience has been a bit mixed so far, but I still like what I hear overall.
The HomePod Mini as a speaker
The reviews of the HomePod Mini have generally been pretty positive so far. I get it. For a fairly small device that only costs $99, the sound quality is pretty good. However, don’t expect to be blown away. Maybe it’s because I have a full-size HomePod and have been spoiled by its impressive sound quality, but I was kind of disappointed with music playback form one HomePod Mini alone. Even with the price in mind, I did expect a little better. I think it was acceptable, but it won’t exceed expectations unless they are modest.
The bass is obviously lacking due the HomePod Mini’s diminutive size. It is present, but lacks the oomph that you get from the HomePod and other larger speakers. I wasn’t really surprised or disappointed by that. However, I also found the volume and mid-range to be a bit lacking when using a Mini solo, as well. It does sound better than the smallest speakers from Amazon and Google, but the Mini’s price puts it up against their mid-range products that are a bit better in terms of sound quality.
All this said, the HomePod Mini is still a good speaker for the size and price. I do think it’s worth the money if you want integration with the Apple ecosystem and sound quality isn’t of paramount importance. Just understand that there are plenty of better and more flexible pure speaker options available for $99 and under.
While I am a little more critical than some on the HomePod Mini as a speaker alone, I actually liked using two of them as a stereo pair quite a bit more. First off, the setup process is very smooth. If you label two HomePod Minis with the same room name, you are automatically asked if you want to use them as a pair.
It’s just as easy to unpair them, as well.
As for sound quality, having two Minis really beefs things up. The volume obviously increases, but so does the overall richness and fullness of the sound. Paired up, they just do a much better job of filling a small to medium sized room with sound.
As for musical styles, I threw the kitchen sink at them. Classical, jazz, classic rock, electronic music, soundtracks, bluegrass and Americana- you name it, I listened to something in the ballpark. The paired minis represented all of them pretty well. They lack some of the bass power a lot of listeners will likely prefer for dance or rap, but they get the job done. The balanced nature of the sound works pretty well for most of the other styles that I tried.
I also liked using the stereo pairing feature of the Minis with my Apple TV. I will go ahead and mention right here that Apple’s smaller smart speakers are not compatible with the new Home Theater Mode that works with stereo paired HomePods and the Apple TV 4K. That means you don’t get the fancier Dolby Atmos surround capability that the larger speakers can pull off.
While this is certainly something to consider, so are price and where you plan to use the speakers. First off, two Minis will cost you less than one HomePod on anything less than a super sale or used. If you aren’t a demanding audiophile and your budget prevents you from picking up an extra HomePod, two Minis is a nice secondary option.
I also found that a pair of HomePods Minis did a very nice job as stereo speakers for my Apple TV in my bedroom. Just one HomePod is a bit much in this smaller space and two can be downright overbearing. I found the Minis to be more than enough. They are also easier to position in a more cluttered space (which my bedroom definitely is) thanks to the much smaller form factor.
I also like the versatility that the size of the Mini allows. As show above, Apple’s Home app makes it fairly easy to pair two Minis up and then break them apart again. You can easily move one around to other locations in your living space and then move it back to be part of a pair when you want better sound or to watch a movie on your Apple TV in stereo. They are definitely a LOT easier to move and position than a full-sized HomePod.
The smarts part
Similar to what happened to the Apple Watch after release, a lot of Apple users checked out on the HomePod when it didn’t deliver enough as a smart device right up front. While I think Apple has done a better job of turning the Watch around into a device with a lot more mainstream appeal, they have done a decent job of at least getting their smart speakers to perform all of the basic tasks that we expect from a device like this.
So if you are an Apple user who wrote the original HomePod off a couple of years ago because you were looking for more than great sound quality, I can’t really blame you. However, it might be worth checking back in at this point. Siri isn’t amazing, but it is better than it was. I threw several queries and questions at it today and it actually did pretty well. It gave me the weather when I asked. I was able to fire off a couple of text messages with the words in the right places. I set reminders and the text and times were set properly. It gave me the music I asked for. I even set two timers at once without issue. The HomePod should have had all of these feature and done all of this without frustration two years ago, but the fact that it does it all now at least makes the HomePod a viable product.
Apple still has plenty of improving to do. Siri can stand to be more intelligent, but at least the HomePods work better in conjunction with an iPhone today beyond just using AirPlay. The new handoff features also should have been there from the beginning, but better later than never. The new Intercom in-home intercom feature that now works with HomePod and other Apple devices is another bit of catch-up with the competition. That said, this feature does play to Apple’s strength since their devices tend to go everywhere with you, while Amazon’s don’t. Vertical integration can be compelling when it all lines up properly.
The biggest drawback to using the HomePod or HomePod Mini as a smart speaker is due to the lack of options in home automation. Apple has finally gotten its act together when it comes to HomeKit and at least made it a viable option for third parties releasing these kinds of accessories. However, while the selection of devices available to Apple users is improving, HomeKit is still a long way behind the competition in this regard. That said, the combination of Apple streamlining the process for third parties to add HomeKit compatibility and the resonance of their focus on privacy should help them be more competitive in this space.
So where does the HomePod Mini land? I like it and I would recommend to most interested Apple users with a few conditions. If you insist on great sound quality, you need to buy two Minis at minimum, and you should at least look at a HomePod if you’ve never tried one. There is a noticeable difference between them in sound quality, as their should be.
However, if you are more interested in versatility at a competitive price and good sound quality is enough, then the HomePod Mini should be able to meet your needs. Personally, I can’t see myself ever using them solo for anything more than podcasts or a news rundown, but I was pretty happy using a stereo pair to listen to all kinds of music and for watching some episodes of The Mandalorian and Tehran with my Apple TV. A pair of Minis holds its own well in a small to medium sized room.
If you are more interested in a connected speaker for its intelligence and home automation capabilities, then the HomePod Mini may still be enough. This will depend on how heavily invested you are in the Apple ecosystem and if their emphasis on privacy is something that speaks to you. If home automation is a priority, then just be sure that you do some research and make sure the gear you either already have or are interested in is compatible with HomeKit.
The HomePod Mini isn’t going to blow anyone away with any one feature. However, it does a lot of things well for $99 and is still affordable enough to pick up as a pair. Any Apple fan looking to add some connected speakers to their living spaces will likely be happy with the HomePod Mini as long as they aren’t expecting miracles.