Should You Buy the HomePod Mini?
The HomePod mini is Apple's smallest smart speaker, featuring a round design, an S5 processor, 360-degree audio, and a U1 chip, all at a $99 price tag.
Announced in October 2020, the HomePod mini is still a new product in Apple's lineup, and Apple does not release new HomePod models on a regular schedule. Apple has only debuted one full-sized HomePod so far, which has not been updated since its launch in early 2018. This makes it difficult to speculate on an upgrade timeline for HomePod models, but it is very unlikely that there will be a new HomePod mini model any time soon. If the HomePod mini mirrors the full-sized HomePod, it could yet be several years before it is replaced with an upgraded model.
Given that there have not yet been any signs of a new model or rumors around what upgrades could be on the way, now is a good time to buy a HomePod mini. With a $99 price tag, the HomePod mini is priced in line with its competitors, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Nest Audio.
Compared to rivals such as the Google Nest or Amazon Echo, there are a number of clear advantages to using a HomePod mini with Apple devices and services such as Apple Music. For example, the HomePod mini supports Apple HomeKit and a unique audio handoff experience, plus it has native Apple Music integration. HomePod devices are also the only smart speakers to feature Siri support, including Apple's Intercom feature. This means that when used with Apple products, the HomePod mini is the best option for a compact smart speaker.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the HomePod mini is a compact smart speaker, being considerably smaller than the Amazon Echo, for example. While many HomePod mini users have noted its "remarkably big sound," it may not be appropriate for larger spaces or for audiophiles looking to get the most out of their music.
If you feel that the HomePod mini may be too small, you should consider the full-sized HomePod, which is priced at $299. The larger HomePod misses out on the HomePod mini's U1 chip-enabled features, and considering its current age and high price point, the HomePod mini will be more appropriate for most prospective customers.
Apple in October 2020 unveiled the HomePod mini, a new, more affordable $99 HomePod option that's being sold alongside the standard HomePod.
The HomePod mini is a smaller version of the HomePod, measuring in at 3.3 inches tall compared to the HomePod's 6.8-inch height. Available in white and space gray, the HomePod mini features a fabric-covered spherical design with a flat top that has a backlit touch interface interface for activating Siri and controlling music.
Like the HomePod, HomePod mini is meant to work with Apple Music, but it also supports podcasts, radio stations from iHeartRadio, radio.com, and TuneIn, with support for Pandora and Amazon Music coming later in the year.
Two HomePod minis can be paired together to create a stereo pair with left and right channels for rich sound, and multiple HomePod minis can work together throughout the home to stream music to multiple rooms. Two HomePod minis can be paired, but HomePod mini can't be paired to HomePod.
Inside, the HomePod mini is equipped with an S5 chip, which is the same chip that was first used in the Apple Watch Series 5. The S5 chip works with Apple-designed software to analyze the music that's playing to optimize for loudness, adjust dynamic range, and control driver and passive radiator movement in real time.
There's a single full-range driver inside the HomePod mini, powered by a neodymium magnet and two force-cancelling passive radiators for what Apple says results in deep bass and crisp high frequencies. The standard HomePod has a 7 tweeter array and each tweeter has its own driver, so the single-driver HomePod mini won't be able to match the sound of the HomePod.
Though there's less hardware inside the HomePod mini, Apple says that it uses the same acoustic principles as the HomePod with an acoustic waveguide to direct sound down and out of the bottom of the speaker for a 360-degree audio experience.
According to Apple, the HomePod mini can provide consistent sound almost anywhere in a room, mimicking the tones of a larger speaker through computational audio. A three-microphone array is designed to listen for Siri commands, and a fourth microphone that faces inward isolates sound coming from the speaker for better voice detection when music is playing.
As with the HomePod, Siri on HomePod mini can provide a personalized experience by identifying the different voices of up to six members of a family, tailoring music and podcasts to their preferences and responding to personal requests.
A new feature lets HomePod mini users ask for a personal update for a snapshot of their day, with Siri offering up personalized news, weather, traffic, reminders, and calendar appointments.
The HomePod mini has a built-in U1 Ultra Wideband chip that allows it to interface with iPhones that have a U1 chip. Bringing an iPhone close to the HomePod mini allows the music that's playing on the iPhone to be handed off to the HomePod mini.
As of the 14.4 software, the HomePod mini supports visual, audible, and haptic effects when sound transfers from one device to another. Personalized listening suggestions show up on the iPhone when it's next to HomePod mini, and controls are available even when the iPhone isn't unlocked.
HomePod mini can activate Find My to help you find a lost iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or Apple Watch in the home by triggering a sound.
HomePod mini is able to control HomeKit-compatible smart home accessories and it serves as a home hub to enable access to HomeKit devices when you're away.
HomePod and HomePod mini both work with an Intercom feature that allows messages to be sent from one device to another. Intercom works across rooms, in a specific zone set up in the Home app, or in multiple rooms in the home at one time.
Intercom can be used with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and CarPlay, so messages can be sent from any device to the HomePod mini for communicating with family members.
HomePod mini supports a range of other features including Siri Shortcut tasks, ambient sounds for playing soothing noises like rain, web search results that can be sent to iPhone, and music alarms for waking up to a song, playlist, or radio station.
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Pricing and Availability
HomePod mini is priced at $99 and it is available for purchase from the online Apple Store and Apple retail locations following its November 16 launch.
HomePod mini launched in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the United States when it debuted. HomePod mini is expanded to Austria and Ireland in June, and is coming soon to New Zealand.
AppleCare+ for HomePod mini is priced at $15 and provides coverage for two incidents of accidental damage every 12 months. Without AppleCare+, the repair fee costs $79, which is just $20 cheaper than the HomePod mini.
Reviews of the HomePod mini were largely positive, and despite the speaker's small size, reviewers were impressed with the "remarkably big sound," which was described as "full and clear" and "impressively powerful."
The sound isn't too far off from the sound of the original HomePod, and it sounded better than other speakers in its price class.
The design of the speaker is "cool and compact," and is unmistakably a HomePod with the familiar mesh covering. The HomePod comes with a USB-C cable for charging, and both the space gray and white colors are "attractive."
HomePod mini looks similar to the standard HomePod, adopting the same mesh-covered "acoustically transparent fabric" design in white or space gray. Rather than a cylindrical body, HomePod mini has a more rounded, bulbous body with a display at the top that offers physical controls and a Siri wave form.
HomePod mini measures in at 3.3 inches tall and 3.9 inches wide, and it weighs 0.76 pounds, so it's small enough to fit just about anywhere. There's a silicone base at the bottom of the HomePod mini that keeps it in place, and Apple says that the HomePod mini won't leave white rings on furniture like the standard HomePod can do.
HomePod mini is powered by a non-detachable power cable that has a USB-C connector at the end, which is designed to work with an included 20W power adapter. Because the HomePod mini features a USB-C connector instead of a plug like the HomePod, it can potentially be powered by a battery pack, MacBook, or other accessory.
The HomePod mini is meant to work with Apple's 20W power adapter, but after the HomePod 14.3 software, it is also compatible with some 18W charger options from third-party manufacturers.
HomePod mini supports several touch gestures using the touch-based interface at the top of the device. A tap pauses or plays music, and a double tap swaps to the next track. A triple tap goes back to the previous track, and a touch and hold brings up Siri.
Tapping and holding on the "+" button raises the volume, and tapping and holding on the "-" button lowers the volume.
Sound Quality and Hardware
There's an S5 chip in the HomePod mini, which is the same chip that Apple used in the Apple Watch Series 5. Apple uses the S5 chip to eke the maximum sound out of the HomePod mini's small enclosure, using software to analyze the music to apply tuning models to optimize for loudness, adjust dynamic range, and control the driver and passive radiators.
Inside, the HomePod mini has a full-range driver that's powered by a neodymium magnet and two force-cancelling passive radiators for what Apple says is deep bass and crisp high frequencies. The HomePod mini has a lot less internal hardware than the full HomePod, which is equipped with a seven-tweeter array, each with its own individual driver.
Though the HomePod mini doesn't have the same hardware setup, Apple says that it delivers the same 360-degree sound through an acoustic waveguide that directs the sound out of the bottom of the speaker. According to Apple, HomePod mini can be placed anywhere in the room to provide consistent sound.
Along with the driver, HomePod mini includes a three-microphone array for listening to "Hey Siri" commands, along with an inward-facing microphone that isolates the sound coming from the speaker to improve voice detection when music is playing.
HomePod mini is also equipped with a U1 Ultra Wideband chip that allows the HomePod mini to interface in unique ways with U1 equipped iPhones for handoff features and other functions.
Music can be played to multiple HomePod minis, HomePods, and AirPlay 2 speakers throughout the home at the same time, but two HomePod minis in a single room can also work together as a stereo pair with left and right channels to fill a space with sound.
Though two HomePod minis can be paired, the HomePod mini cannot be paired with the full-size HomePod.
macOS Big Sur 11.3 adds support for HomePod Stereo pairs, allowing a set of paired HomePods to be set as the default sound output option, with the two HomePods showing up as a single selectable speaker rather than separate as in prior versions of macOS. The iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV all support HomePod stereo pairs.
HomePod mini works with Apple Music, Apple's streaming music service that's available starting at $9.99 per month. It connects directly to Apple Music in the cloud over WiFi, so it is able to access a user's music library with playlists, music mixes, and preferences.
HomePod mini supports a shared Up Next list so all of the people in a home can contribute to the music playlist, and it can accept commands from anyone in the home once linked to an Apple Music account.
There's also multi-user support with HomePod mini able to recognize the voices of up to six members of the family, so each person can access their own Apple Music content along with things like personal calendars, reminders lists, and more.
HomePod mini also works with iTunes Music purchases, iCloud Music Library with an Apple Music or iTunes Match Subscription, Apple Radio, Podcasts, and AirPlay content from iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV, and Mac.
Supported Third-Party Music Services
HomePod mini works with iHeartRadio, Radio.com, Deezer, and TuneIn, but in the future, will also support music services like Pandora and Amazon Music.
Starting in June 2021, Apple is adding a new Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos feature to Apple Music, which will allow HomePod (and presumably HomePod mini) owners to listen to specially designed Spatial Audio tracks.
Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos is designed to provide an immersive, multidimensional audio experience that allows artists to mix music in a way that makes it sound like the notes are coming from all around you.
Spatial audio applies directional audio filters and subtly adjusts the frequencies that each ear receives to place sounds virtually anywhere in space for an immersive listening experience.
Apple Music will automatically play Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as will the built-in speakers of the newest iPhones, iPads, and Macs, plus the HomePod.
Apple plans to add new Dolby Atmos tracks on a regular basis, and will offer up a curated selection of Dolby Atmos playlists. At launch, there will be thousands of Spatial Audio songs available across a wide range of genres.
There's also a new lossless audio feature for Apple Music, but it is not compatible with the HomePod at this time. Apple is, however, working on adding lossless audio support to the HomePod and the HomePod mini, and the feature will be added in an upcoming software update.
Siri is a key part of the HomePod mini, with most music playback controlled through Siri commands. Siri is able to make music recommendations based on personal tastes, aiding in music discovery, and the assistant can keep track of what each user likes.
Questions and commands that work with Siri on HomePod include "Play more songs like this," "Play something new," "Who's singing?" and "Play more like that."
Siri is designed to work as a home assistant, similar to Alexa or Google Assistant on competing speakers. Siri can answer questions about a wide range of topics and can send messages, make phone calls, set timers, offer weather updates, make calendar appointments, create shopping lists, and more.
Siri can answer queries from any person in the house, and can access personal content for each user by identifying people by voice. Each person's access is tied to their iCloud account, allowing Siri to access music preferences, calendars, reminders, and more.
Siri provides a personal update that gives each user a quick overview of their day. Asking Siri "What's my update?" provides news, weather, traffic, reminders, and calendar appointments.
With Siri's ability to place phone calls, the HomePod mini can serve as a speaker and a microphone for voice-based conversations. Anyone in the home is able to start a call and then swap the call over to HomePod mini with the built-in continuity features.
Other Siri Features
- Siri Shortcuts - Siri Shortcuts created on the iPhone or iPad can be activated by voice on the HomePod mini.
- Ambient Sounds - Siri can play ambient noise like rain, a fireplace, a stream, and more, and can set a sleep timer so the sound will stop playing automatically.
- Find My - Asking Siri to find a lost device causes the missing device to play a sound so it can be located within the home. This feature works with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and Apple Watch.
- Web Search - HomePod mini can conduct a web search and send the results to the user's iPhone.
- Maps - Siri suggestions appear in Maps on iPhone when asking HomePod for information about a location.
- Music Alarms - With a music alarm, users can wake up to a song or radio station from Apple Music.
Introduced as a feature alongside HomePod mini and enabled in iOS 14.2, Intercom lets family members communicate with one another throughout the household using the HomePod mini, HomePod, and other devices.
Similar to Walkie-Talkie on Apple Watch, Intercom allows one person in the family to send an Intercom message from one Apple device to another, including the HomePod mini. Messages can be sent to a HomePod in a specific room, in a zone, or in multiple rooms at one time.
With Intercom messages relayed to HomePod, the HomePod automatically plays the voice of the person that's speaking. Messages can be sent to and from HomePod, HomePod mini, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and CarPlay. A HomePod is required for Intercom to work, and the feature is controlled through the Home app.
Handoff and the U1 Chip
With the release of the HomePod mini 14.4 software and the iOS 14.4 update, Apple added improved Handoff capabilities between the HomePod mini and the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models, all of which are equipped with a U1 Ultra Wideband chip for improved indoor positioning functionality.
If you're listening to a song on your iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 and bring the phone near the HomePod mini, there are now visual, audio, and haptic effects when the song transfers. As the iPhone gets closer to the HomePod mini's location, it begins a soft haptic touch rhythm that gets faster and faster as the iPhone continues to approach the HomePod mini. Eventually, the song transfer interface options up, and the song transitions from the iPhone to the mini.
Transferring a song is quicker and more reliable with these visual and haptic-based transfer cues, and there are some other useful changes enabled by the U1 chip too. When an iPhone is held near a HomePod mini, you'll see personalized listening suggestions and song recommendations.
More notably, when you hold an iPhone next to the HomePod mini the iPhone will display playback controls that you can access without unlocking your phone, giving you a quicker way to manually control content playing on the HomePod mini.
The U1 chip functionality is limited to the HomePod mini because the standard HomePod does not have a U1 chip inside it. Using this feature also requires an iPhone with a U1 chip, and that's limited to iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models.
Like the HomePod, the HomePod mini serves as a HomeKit hub, enabling remote access for HomeKit devices so they can be controlled even when a user is away from home.
Through Siri, the HomePod mini also serves as a control point for all of your HomeKit devices, with HomeKit-enabled accessories able to be controlled through Siri voice commands.
There are also a few other neat integrations, like a feature that lets the HomePod announce that someone is at the door when paired with a HomeKit-compatible doorbell.
HomePod mini supports 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0, plus it supports low-power Thread networking technology, which is a secure, mesh-based system designed to connect Internet of Things devices. HomePod mini's Thread support is limited to HomeKit devices so it can't be used cross-platform.
It has also been discovered that the HomePod mini features a hidden internal temperature and humidity sensor, presumably for controlling HomeKit devices and scenes, but it has not yet been activated by Apple. The sensors could perhaps be enabled via a software update at some point in the future.
HomePod mini was designed with privacy in mind. Siri is activated through a "Hey Siri" command, and until those words are spoken, HomePod mini does not listen to the conversations in the room. Once the "Hey Siri" wake word is said aloud, data is sent to Apple's servers using an encrypted and anonymous Siri ID. All communication between HomePod mini and Apple's servers is encrypted and anonymized to protect user privacy.
The current version of the HomePod's software is 14.4, which introduced new Handoff capabilities that take advantage of the U1 Ultra Wideband chip in the HomePod mini when paired with an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12.
HomePod mini How Tos
If you're new to the HomePod mini, or just looking to get the most out of your HomePod, make sure to check out all of the HomePod how tos we've shared.
HomePod mini works with the iPhone SE, iPhone 6s or later, the 7th-generation iPod touch, iPad Pro, fifth-generation iPad or later, iPad Air 2 or later, or iPad mini 4 or later with iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 or later installed.
What's Next for the HomePod Lineup
According to Bloomberg, Apple is considering a new version of the HomePod that would be between the HomePod and the HomePod mini in size, sound quality, and cost.
After it was announced that the HomePod has been discontinued, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman explained that Apple has "been developing new speakers with screens and cameras."
The report suggests that Apple could be at least exploring the idea of new HomePod models with a display and camera to compete with the likes of Google's Nest Hub Max, Amazon's Echo Show, and Facebook's Portal. Apple's camera-equipped HomePod would presumably offer similar functionality to existing competitors with features such as FaceTime video calling and HomeKit integration if it ever comes to market. Gurman cautions that "a launch isn't imminent," so there is no guarantee that Apple will release such a product.
Gurman later added that Apple is exploring using an iPad connected to a HomePod via a robotic arm for this device, so that the camera can follow a user around a room, similar to Amazon's Echo Show.
Apple is also believed to be working on an Apple TV that is combined with a HomePod smart speaker, according to Gurman. The set-top box would include a camera for FaceTime on a TV and "other smart-home functions."