Bottom line: The HomePod mini is the smart speaker for any Apple customer who uses Apple Music, HomeKit, and beyond. However, audiophiles can get better sound for their money elsewhere, and it's a tough sell for those outside the ecosystem.
Unbelievable sound for size and price
Brilliant design and tiny form factor
Excellent integration with Siri for Apple Music and your smart home
Lack of third party integration
Better audio experiences at this price point
Siri is not as smart as competitors
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Apple's HomePod mini announcement came as no surprise to anyone. Rumored for months, it was always on the cards that Apple would release a smaller, smart speaker based on its original HomePod. Whilst an audio marvel and a truly great speaker, the original HomePod struggled to capture customer imagine (and sales) because of its hefty price tag and lack of third-party support for services like Spotify.
Apple's HomePod mini looks to alleviate some of those concerns with a new cheap and cheerful $99 price tag, punchy audio, upcoming integration for third-party apps like Pandora and Amazon Music, and all the benefits of HomeKit control and Siri support.
So has Apple finally given us the best smart speaker of 2020, and the HomePod we all deserve? Let's find out.
HomePod mini review What I like
The HomePod mini is a truly excellent speaker, and there's plenty to love. Compared to Apple's original HomePod, it has a tiny form factor, standing just 3.3-inches tall. That makes it great for squeezing into small spaces, and a dream addition to an office, kitchen, or bedroom that won't take up all the space of its big brother.
The HomePod mini is a breeze to set up, simply plug it in, hold your iPhone close by, and iOS does the rest. Once set up, you can hop into the Home app to customize the speaker's settings, location details, and more.
A speaker first and foremost, the HomePod mini is a really great audio experience. The soundscape is well rounded, and there's balance across the board. Apple's HomePod mini truly packs a punch when it comes to audio, and a speaker of this size has absolutely no right to pump out music at the volume the HomePod mini is capable of. I laughed when Siri warned me about setting the volume to 100% for the first time, but Siri was right, the HomePod mini is very loud at full tilt. Even more impressive, like the original HomePod, cranking up the volume leads to absolutely no audible volume distortion at any frequency. For a more impressive experience, you can seamlessly pair two HomePod minis for an even wider soundscape and fuller audio extravaganza.
The HomePod was also designed to be a smart home hub but seemed just too expensive to justify buying it for this purpose. Now, Apple ecosystem users can pick up a smart home controller for just $99. Apple's HomePod mini is a superb option for those who want to control their HomeKit enabled lights, cameras, smart locks, robot vacuums, and more. Siri is also handy for asking questions, checking the weather, asking about traffic, and anything else you can think of. Because of its cheaper price tag, it's now much more feasible to add a HomePod mini to several rooms in your house to give you seamless audio playback, and smart home coverage and control. Not only that, it means you'll be able to take advantage of Intercom, a new feature for both HomePod that lets you communicate to other rooms, or to your home whilst you're out and about.
HomePod mini review What I don't like
The HomePod mini is pretty great, but not perfect. The audio is well balanced, but the bass doesn't boom like the original HomePod. That's certainly not a fair comparison because of the size and price, but it's worth noting that if you've heard a HomePod and want a similar rumble, you might be left a little disappointed. Listening to some genres of music, I also found the top end to be a touch thin, but this is a real nitpick as, on the whole, this is a great audio experience.
I mentioned the joys and benefits of stereo pairing, but this is a double-edged sword. A better audio experience than listening to just one, it could be argued that you need to buy two HomePod minis in order to truly unlock its audio potential, however, you could say this about the original HomePod too, and buying one is still a great audio experience.
If you are using them in stereo, you'll need to sit very still, and perfectly distanced between left and right, as the position at which you can enjoy L and R audio together is quite narrow. Move too much one way or the other, and you'll stop hearing stereo very quickly.
As with the original HomePod, Siri is great when it works, but it doesn't always work. Quite possibly the result of my regional English accent, I usually find myself cursing at Siri on a daily basis, as the smart(ish) assistant bumbles over seemingly menial tasks and requests with irksome frequency. Consensus suggests that rivals like Alexa and Google are much more advanced than Siri as voice assistants, but Siri remains the only choice for those invested in the Apple ecosystem. If you aren't well invested in Apple's other product, or intelligent assistance is more important to you than audio quality, you might want to try a rival speaker like an Echo featuring Alexa. However, remember that this involves putting an Amazon or Google microphone in your house, which comes with its own problems.
Another limiting factor of the HomePod mini, as with the original, is the lack of support for third-party applications and its dependence on other Apple services and products. If you don't use Apple Music, Apple devices, or HomeKit enabled smart home products, this is probably not the speaker for you. Spotify does work with AirPlay, but you can't use Siri to control the audio, which is probably one of the only reasons you'd buy a HomePod in the first place. You can use Pandora with Siri voice controls, but rivals like Spotify and YouTube Music are yet to join the party.
As with Siri, sometimes audio playback is a little quirky. I've found that whilst using a stereo pairing, resuming a track sometimes means one speaker stops working for no reason, only to revert to stereo a few seconds later. You also can't use two HomePod minis as stereo speakers for your Mac natively, which seems like a huge missed opportunity on Apple's part.
HomePod mini review The competition
If you're after a pure sonic experience, you can probably find better pound-for-pound audio from something like the Echo, or the Sonos One for a few bucks more. The HomePod mini is really an expensive rival to devices like the Echo Dot, rather than a cheaper alternative to similar-sized devices, or bigger ones at the same price.
As mentioned, the HomePod mini shines at the heart of a home built around Apple's ecosystem, so if you don't use Apple Music, or have other Apple devices, then you might prefer something like the Amazon Echo. The Sonos One Gen 2, whilst more expensive than the HomePod mini, is certainly a better choice if pure audio quality is your only concern. Apple's own HomePod, now cheaper than its launch price, is still much more expensive, but outshines the HomePod mini by a large margin when it comes to audio, whilst offering all of the same integration benefits. The Amazon Echo sits at exactly the same price point, but still offers native Apple Music support, smart home control, and a cool range of colors, as well as the aforementioned benefits (and privacy concerns) that come with Alexa.
HomePod mini review Should you buy?
You should buy this if ...
You're invested in the Apple ecosystem
The HomePod mini is the perfect smart speaker for users of multiple Apple devices, thanks to features like Intercom, Find My, AirPlay, and more.
**You use Apple Music (or Pandora)*
Apple Music is a tremendous audio experience when used with the HomePod mini, and you can use Siri to play your playlists, radio stations, and anything else you can think of.
You have lots of HomeKit enabled smart home devices
If you use Apple's Home app to control your smart home devices, then the HomePod mini will slot seamlessly into this lineup, allowing you to control your devices just by talking.
You need an office or kitchen companion
The HomePod mini is the perfect size and volume for an office, or your kitchen or bedroom, and perhaps even a smaller living room.
You should not buy this if ...
You use Spotify (or YouTube Music)
Right now, Spotify is not supported properly with the HomePod mini. You can AirPlay songs to your HomePod mini, but you can't control Spotify properly with your voice, which is the primary function of the HomePod mini.
You want a speaker to pump up the party
The HomePod mini isn't the speaker for you if you want a ghetto blaster for hosting parties, it just doesn't have the presence of larger speakers like Apple's original HomePod or offerings from Sonos.
You only need a speaker for audio
If your only reason for buying a speaker is to listen to music, you can get better value for money or a higher quality speaker for the same price as HomePod mini. The value of the HomePod mini comes from its integration with Apple's other products and services
This is the only smart speaker to consider for users of Apple Music, people who own Apple's hardware, and those looking for a great hub to control their smart home through Apple's Home app. It's a much tougher sell for people using third-party alternatives like Spotify, or for those who rely on smart home devices not compatible with HomeKit. Pure audiophiles might also be left wanting from the HomePod mini's audio offering.
The HomePod mini is a tremendously small, versatile, and incredibly loud smart speaker. It is a perfect addition to any home where Apple is already the ecosystem of choice. It would make a great gift for any Apple Music user, or anyone with Apple products like the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and more. For a speaker of this size, the audio experience is rich, balanced, and never distorts no matter how loud you take it. The $99 price tag means all of the control and versatility of Apple's original HomePod is now accessible to so many more people, thanks to its cheaper price tag and smaller form factor.
Apple's HomePod mini does still feel like Siri, whilst better, is holding it back. The lack of support for third-party services will frustrate Spotify users, and only in the context of an Apple ecosystem can the HomePod mini realise its full potential.
Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.
Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9