When we launched the Apple HomePod mini in 2020, we had some reservations. Although it was a much better value than the HomePod, it still suffered from the same limitations as its larger siblings. Siri wasn’t as bright as Alexa or Google Assistant, the HomeKit ecosystem was limited, and there were no real alternatives to Apple Music for on-demand tunes. I bought a mini for Apple’s tight integration, and nothing more.
Fast forward to 2023 and it’s a different story. Apple has greatly expanded the functionality of the HomePod mini. It now has active temperature and humidity sensors, smoke and carbon dioxide alarm detection, access to third-party music services (however modest) and support for the Matter smart home standard. With the latest software update 16.4, the speaker can also take advantage of a revamped in-house architecture that is said to be faster and more reliable. Odds are, Apple has addressed at least one of your annoyances in the past few years.
But the market did not stand still. Amazon has improved both its Echo and Alexa speakers in the years since, and Google’s Nest Audio has received upgrades like. Then there’s competition from Apple itself — now that the company has introduced, the smaller model may not be as compelling as it once was. With that in mind, we’re revisiting the HomePod mini to see if it’s still a viable option.
smart home upgrades
Ask HomePod users what their top issues are and they’ll likely point to basic reliability. It’s easy to find complaints of broken commands and in general that can make it difficult to constantly control a smart home. Software 16.4 seems to have fixed these glitches in my one-month stint with the HomePod mini. Siri is faster and more reliable, as expected, and there was no glitch in interacting with other smart home devices (including the Apple TV 4K). While some users say they are, Apple seems to have ironed out a few kinks.
The most practical improvements are the unlocked temperature and humidity sensors, though I get a lot more use out of them than I thought. My HomePod mini test unit is in my infant son’s nursery, and the readings allow me to check conditions in the room without reaching for a baby monitor. It’s as accurate as that screen, too. You can use the sensors to automatically switch smart home devices on (such as closing curtains when it gets too hot), though no equipment could take advantage of this feature. Before you ask: The Amazon Echo app already has a temperature sensor, but it’s nice to see this functionality roll out to other platforms.
Other improvements are more subtle, but still welcome. Update 16.3 added the option to set up recurring automations with Siri. I can turn on my Hue lights every day at dusk, if I’m so inclined. And while I don’t have access to Pandora in Canada, it’s nice to know I can use Deezer as well as radio services like iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn. Just don’t expect Amazon Music — promised in 2020, but never delivered. Smoke alarm detection works as promised, though I’d prefer to get a connected alarm (like Google’s Nest Protect) if I’m really concerned about fires catching up while I’m away.
Supporting the issue also makes a difference. I’ve largely relied on Amazon Echo speakers in my home precisely because the range of HomeKit-compatible devices is still small. Matter opens the door to previously off-limits devices, including Google devices. While the list of Matter-ready devices is currently modest, it’s growing fast enough that I can comfortably recommend the HomePod mini to someone who wants compatibility with major brand security cameras and thermostats.
Does the sound quality hold up?
The HomePod mini’s design hasn’t changed since its launch aside from a wide range of colors, such as the orange color of my test unit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As we showed in 2020, the Mini punches punches at its tiny weight. Though it’s somewhat larger than the third-generation Echo Dot in my nursery and Google Home Mini in my office, it blows them away — the sound is like a larger, more powerful second-generation Echo in my living room. There’s a surprising (though not amazing) amount of bass, detailed highs, and premium hardware.
The Mini Speaker isn’t the loudest smart speaker in its class, and I usually set the volume to 50 percent or more if I want to hear from another room. However, it also maintains the fullness of its voice across volume levels, even at the 15 percent I use for lullabies in the nursery. While I prefer the regular HomePod and other louder alternatives for a house party, I’ll be happy using the mini as a speaker for the office or bedroom.
However, the HomePod mini does better with some types of music than others. A jazz tune like Ahmed Gamal’s lively ballad on “Poinciana” sounds surprisingly immersive, while a rich, treble-rich classic work like Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2” shines through. Midrange rockers like Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” also play well. However, the speaker sometimes strains to handle midrange dance tunes like Above & Beyond’s “Gratitude,” and the sound sounds a bit hollow with raps like Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes.” Updates like support for lossless audio haven’t improved things either.
Still, the sound is pleasant, and holds up well next to my standard Echo. Although the HomePod is not as loud, it provides more consistent detail. The problem, as you might guess, is that the almost similar sound isn’t an attraction in and of itself. Apple has the size advantage, but that’s about it. And it’s safe to say you’re better off spending more for higher-quality speakers like the regular HomePod or if you care about accuracy or gimmicks like the HomePod’s spatial audio support.
Some things are still broken
As much as Apple has improved the HomePod mini over time, some elements are just as frustrating as they were three years ago. For one, Spotify support is missing. That’s not under Apple’s control at this point, and we don’t expect Spotify to get heated up when it’s still engaged in price increases and app integrations. However, it does rule out the most popular music streaming service on the planet unless you’re willing to use AirPlay.
And no, Siri isn’t any brighter than before. Most updates since launch have revolved around Apple TV support (like playing a movie), Find My Friends and compatibility with the cheaper Apple Music Voice plan. Siri does a good job with straightforward tasks like playing music or checking the weather, but it doesn’t have Alexa’s third-party skills nor Google Assistant’s knack for answering general knowledge questions.
In that regard, the HomePod mini isn’t necessarily the best speaker for the nursery or dorm room. You can adjust Siri’s volume or correlate it with your own volume, but there’s no Alexa-style whisper mode that responds with soothing tones. If you’re not careful, you’ll inadvertently surprise someone by creating a playlist — trust me, I know. You can tap your iPhone on the HomePod to silently transfer music (still one of Apple’s best tricks), but it doesn’t do much good if you’re rocking a baby to sleep.
Support for other platforms is still lacking. You still only need an iPhone or iPad to set up the HomePod mini, while the absence of a Bluetooth audio and input jack rules out even basic connectivity with non-Apple devices. While Matter support improves the range of smart home devices you can use, a small device remains off-limits if you’re on Android.
Better value for the right person
Even with all of these interruptions in mind, the HomePod mini is a better value now than it was in 2020. It’s more useful and reliable in the smart home, and you’re not as locked into the Apple ecosystem as you used to be. You’ll be pleased with the sound quality for the money, especially if you want a smart speaker that doesn’t take up much room on a side table.
Moreover, the HomePod mini may be attractive precisely because it is not part of the Amazon and Google ecosystems. The Echo speakers annoy me by jamming Alexa’s responses and notifications with unwanted layers — no, I don’t want to subscribe to Amazon Music or evaluate the power cords I bought last month. Google isn’t terrible, but it does give out unsolicited advice quite often. Although the HomePod’s functionality is limited, I tend to switch just to escape the annoyances of its competitors.
These days, the HomePod mini is also tempting if you’re particularly privacy-conscious. I’m not too upset about it myself, but it’s no secret that Apple’s competitors in general are. Amazon and Google get personal profiles and contact information that Apple doesn’t have, for example. Both likewise make use of queries, and Amazon collects audio recordings to improve the service as strictly subscribed to Apple and Google. The HomePods still have to collect some data, like IP addresses and device names, but I’d feel more comfortable with the mini than their alternatives if I wanted to keep information sharing to a minimum.
Having said that, the mini is still the perfect fit for Apple fans. It makes sense if you subscribe to Apple Music, and the offer gets better the more Apple devices you have. HomePods are not as attractive in multi-platform homes. You might also want to wait for more Matter-compatible devices if you’re going to use this speaker as the centerpiece of your elaborate smart home setup.
This is still a stronger buy than the high-end HomePod for most people. You get the same environment sensors and voice assistant features, and the audio is pleasing if you’re a casual music listener or tend to listen to spoken word content like podcasts and news radio. The more affordable model is for buyers who want the best possible sound quality out of an Apple speaker, or want to experience spatial audio without spending $450 on an Apple TV.
Against Amazon and Google, it’s more complicated. We noted on our site that the fourth-generation Echo and Nest Audio are both louder and more powerful than the HomePod mini, though they pay for it with larger enclosures and less consistent sound across frequencies. However, they are not tied to a single mobile platform, and they have rich smart home ecosystems even without matter playing a role in them. More flexible voice assistants, a wider variety of devices (there’s no Apple equivalent to the Echo Dot or Nest Mini) and well-established ecosystems are the safer options.
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