Apple's latest version of its HomePod smart speaker brings all of the power of Siri into a pint-sized package in the HomePod Mini. This 3.3" spherical speaker delivers 360-degree sound with computational audio to produce crisp audio that will fill the room. And in addition to voice control, a touch surface on the top of the speaker offers quick manual controls.
The smart features are powered by Siri, which can answer your questions, control your smart home, and everything else you would expect from a digital assistant. All the speakers in your household link together: they can be used as an intercom system or simply play music throughout the house. And a pair of speakers can sync up for true stereo sound. Siri can even distinguish between different voices in the household to give everyone a personalized experience: if anyone asks for their calendar or their Apple Music favorites playlist, it will come up on request.
And of course, HomePod Mini works with all of your other Apple devices, which has always been a big selling point for Apple products. The intercom will work on any Siri-enabled device, so you can send messages to iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Handoff features let you seamlessly switch devices and continue what you were doing without interruption. Holding your iPhone near HomePod Mini is all it takes to switch from playing on your phone to playing on the speaker. One particularly neat new Handoff feature is Car Play integration: if you ask HomePod Mini for directions, they'll show up in Car Play when you get in the car.
HomePod Mini also continues Apple's commitment to privacy: it only listens for the keyword "Hey Siri" and won't pick up anything else. Though Siri does send information across the internet to process requests, your request is associated with a random identifier and not your Apple ID, so activity can't be tied to you. And if you ask for information from your phone — like reading messages or checking your calendar — Siri grabs data straight from your phone and doesn't send anything to the cloud.
HomePod Mini costs $99 — a big price drop from the larger HomePod, which costs $299. However, that's still a big price for a smart speaker. If you're sold on the HomePod Mini, you can pre-order it on November 6 , and it will ship on November 16.
How does the HomePod Mini compare to other smart speakers?
While the $99 price tag is economical for an Apple product, it's pricy for a small smart speaker. The new Amazon Echo Dot is a spherical smart speaker that's only slightly larger than the HomePod Mini, but it's half the price at $49.99 on Amazon. The Google Nest Mini smart speaker is a bit smaller (3.85 inches in diameter by 1.65 inches tall), and also priced at $49.99 (on sale now for $29.99 on Google). All of these speakers have comparable features, except when it comes to audio quality.
The HomePod Mini is priced to match the larger Amazon Echo (a 5.2-inch spherical speaker) and Google Nest Audio (a 6.89-inch tall rectangular speaker), even if it's closer in size to their smaller (and cheaper) cousins. The physical size of these speakers is typically about sound quality: the larger speakers have subwoofers (albeit small ones) for better bass. The Echo has a 3-inch woofer and two front-firing 0.8-inch tweeters, while the Nest Audio has a single 0.75-inch tweeter and a 3-inch subwoofer. The tiny HomePod Mini doesn't have a subwoofer, which will limit its audio performance. Whether that's a dealbreaker is up to you.
Other than sound quality, which speaker you want really comes down to two questions: what you want to use the speaker for and what voice assistant you want to use. HomePod uses Siri, Echo uses Alexa, and Nest uses Google Assistant. If you already use a particular voice assistant, your life will be much simpler if you pick a smart speaker that uses the same voice assistant. That means it will work with your existing devices and smart home setup, and you won't have to learn and use multiple voice assistants depending on where you are and what you want to access. If you have a household full of Apple products, HomePod is your best choice — and you simply have to live with the price premium.
While there's a lot of commonality between what smart speakers have access to, they aren't all created equal. What do you intend to play on your smart speaker? HomePod works best with Apple Music and Apple Podcasts, and though it does support some third-party services, it doesn't support the popular streaming service Spotify. While you can stream Spotify from your phone to your HomePod, you can't simply ask it to play Spotify — a definite inconvenience if you're a fan of the service. Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio can both play Spotify, but each has its own gaps. Before you buy, be sure to check if your smart speaker of choice can easily access your favorite services.
In the end, we recommend sticking to your favorite voice assistant, regardless of the cost. If you use Siri, that means HomePod. Even at $99, the HomePod Mini is a good value for households that are packed with Apple products. You can pre-order the HomePod Mini on November 6, and it will ship on November 16.
[Image credit: Apple]