Apple is finally back in the smart speaker game, shrinking down its behemothic HomePod and bringing us the new, more compact HomePod mini. It’s one of the cheapest devices Apple has ever put out: at $99 / £99 / AU$149, it’s almost affordable for most, although it’s going head to head with devices that can cost a fifth of that price at times, with the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini being seen as its chief rivals. However, Apple believes that a combination of its Siri voice assistant and excellent sound quality will win the day – and there are a number of impressive things about this tiny speaker. The first of these is the set-up process – you’ll need an iPhone or iPad to use the HomePod mini, and you’ll simply hold your device near the new HomePod mini and the connection is instant.
With Google having already launched its own new smart speaker this holiday season, and Amazon’s new Echo line-up on the way soon, Apple’s new speaker aims to convince consumers to consider an alternative to the Google Assistant- and Amazon Alexa-based alternatives that currently dominate the segment. The sphere-like device, which was launched alongside the new iPhone 12, features a well-known mesh covering, along with a touch surface with controls on its flat top for volume, play and pause.
Apple says it has combined a strong voice assistant with the same excellent sound quality in the original HomePod. Additionally, the device’s privacy features will mirror the way Apple configures the original HomePod. It won’t tie your requests and conversations with Siri to your Apple ID, providing a sort of anonymization, and the data will be encrypted.
The device will be available for order on Nov. 6, according to Apple, and it’ll start shipping the week of Nov. 16. The lower-cost sets it apart from the original HomePod, which is priced at $299 in the US (though it can often be found discounted to $199). Amazon and Google have smart speakers in that lofty price range as well, but most of their market share comes from speakers in the $50 price range. That high price is one of the factors that has limited sales for the HomePod, making it harder for Apple to gain a foothold for Siri as a household voice assistant.
“Apple says the HomePod Mini has an “acoustic waveguide to direct the flow of sound down and out toward the bottom of the speaker for an immersive 360-degree audio experience.”
Apple has also included Apple Homepod Mini features to entice people to buy more than one device. Multiple speakers can sync music from different areas of the house, and when two speakers are together, they go into the stereo mode. The company claims that this supports the high-quality sound provided by the “computerized audio” system, which analyzes music and adjusts the tuning and other audio features to optimize the sound.
Finally, the device is positioned as a family-friendly addition to the home. The intercom feature, which is similar to Google’s broadcast feature, allows users to ask Siri from their phones to play a smart speaker message to listen to people in other rooms. The recipient can send a voice message. HomePod Mini can tell the difference between the voices of different household members and re-personalize responses to them.
HomePod mini price and release date
- The HomePod mini is set to cost $99 / £99 / AU$149 when it launches on November 16 – and you can pre-order it now from Apple.
- That’s far cheaper than the original Apple HomePod, which cost $349 / £319 / AU$499 when it launched in 2018 – and the launch of the new HomePod mini means you can expect some fantastic Apple HomePod discounts in the Black Friday deals or Cyber Monday sales.
- That pricing puts the HomePod mini in direct competition with the new Amazon Echo (2020), which costs $99.99 / £89.99 / AU$149 – and it also shares a fairly similar spherical design.
- It’s not like Apple to price its products at the more affordable end of the spectrum, so perhaps the company is anticipating that people will buy more than one unit – as mentioned, you can pair two to get stereo sound.
HomePod mini setup
The Apple HomePod small process is incredibly simple – it’s the best thing we’ve ever seen for any smart speaker, especially if you’ve never owned a smart speaker before and fear that setting one up can be a complicated business. Once you take it out of the box and insert it, you will get a small flashing light above the speaker. Keep your iPhone homepage next to the mini, and you’ll get a notification asking if you want to connect – tapping this will activate the camera, which you can use to detect the light above.
Once it’s been located, it’s then a few simple taps to transfer key information to the device – things like the Wi-Fi network are crucial, as that’s how the HomePod mini communicates with the world around it, and it’s great to not have to dig out your Wi-Fi password again. Your Apple ID is synced, and you have the choice of whether to allow information to be logged for you or personal information for your (pre-defined) household. All of this is handled through your iPhone’s Home app, which will ask you to assign it to your living room (so you can say things like ‘turn off the bedroom light bulb’), as well as a pair of other speakers you can buy even more homeposts. If so – once again these will be automatically detected by your iPhone and you will be given the option to pair.
HomePod audio performance
Buy it if…
- Your family uses iPhones
The HomePod mini is fine if you live alone, but it can handle multiple users and is at its best in a bigger household.
- You have an Apple Music subscription
You need Apple Music to be able to command tracks with your voice – that’s key to enjoying the HomePod mini.
- You’re good friends with Siri
Siri can be anything from idiosyncratic to downright annoying at times – if you like the way it behaves, you’ll enjoy the HomePod mini a lot more.
Don’t buy it if…
- You’re an Android user
This is a speaker for those embedded in the Apple ecosystem. If you do not have an iPhone but you’re desperate for a HomePod you can hack around it, but it is far from ideal.
- You don’t want to buy two
- The HomePod mini is so much more powerful when you put two together – the sound that the stereo setup brings really enhances the experience
- You have a lightly-sleeping household
Apple needs to make the HomePod more night-time friendly and not be so loud… or you need to find the perfect moment to ask it questions first thing in the morning.