After a first attempt that fell short of all expectations, Apple has learned the lesson and honed its copy. Less expensive than the HomePod and more powerful, the HomePod mini comes to bring the new attempts of the firm in the connected home without forgetting its fundamentals. Is he the perfect new ally? Here is our test.
Having a connected speaker close at hand or within reach has become a routine matter in our interiors. The market is becoming denser at high speed and everyone is going for their product. But to survive in the ocean of references, you now need to know how to do something other than sound.
Eager to make its HomeKit interface a must for the connected home, Apple has for years sought to centralize all management within a single fixed device. Failing to do it from his Apple TV box, the first attempt was called HomePod. A product that is too expensive, too big, too focused on music and equipped with a somewhat clumsy Siri: the Californian firm then revised its copy. And the new version is called HomePod mini: the fundamentals of its predecessor with years of improvements and more. But has Apple really fixed all the flaws to make it indispensable?
The technical sheet
This test was performed with a device loaned by Apple.
Very mini, very cute!
We’d expect it to be a bit smaller than the original HomePod, but not necessarily as mini as the name suggests. Apple’s new speaker is just 8.43cm tall and 9.8cm in diameter at its widest point. This is a mini ball in hand, comparable in size to the Amazon Echo Dot , but with much better sound. With its 345 grams, this gives a fairly compact device, but which is cut to be solid on its base.
The speaker is powered with its integrated cable and is electrically connected with a 20W adapter for USB-C this time provided, unlike the last iPhone or charger of Apple Watch. The wire is not necessarily very long (around 1.50 m) compared to that of the large model which allowed it to be positioned wherever you wanted, even far from a socket or a little higher up. We will note a single false note quite unexpected when we know the attention to detail at Apple: the grip of the black HomePod mini is white. It indicates a little …
The speaker is covered in the same honeycomb mesh fabric as the HomePod Maxi, but made in one piece and from 90% recycled plastic. For the environmental aspect, be aware that the device was designed using rare earth elements recycled at 99%, and even rare earth elements 100% recycled for the neodymium magnet in the pilot of the enclosure.
Available in white or space gray, the HomePod mini has the advantage of being inconspicuous in any environment. And it is rather elegant with its flat cutout at the top to reveal the tactile surface of the controls. This is where you can adjust the volume, start or stop the music, activate Siri with a long press if you don’t want to use voice control. Apple made this choice rather than that of a physical button to be activated or not so as not to distort the general design.
The easy setup
Once your HomePod mini is out of the box, setup is pretty straightforward. You plug in the device and it emits a signal tone as the touch surface lights up. Just hold your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch closer to it to recognize it. On your device’s screen, the HomePod mini design appears. The configuration can begin.
The on-screen instructions are quite detailed. You will choose in which room it will be placed. You must then choose the personal requests that will be shared (calendar, message, contacts, reminders, etc.), authorize Siri to work with the HomePod mini and validate your iCloud credentials. All you have to do is point your iPhone or other camera at the top of the HomePod mini. All the settings (especially internet connection, contacts, etc.) are transmitted to the speaker, which is ready to operate. They can then be changed from the Home app.
If the HomePod mini does not automatically recognize when you approach your mobile device, you can use the Home app. Open it and tap the “+” icon. You can then add an accessory. Choose the option “I do not have a code or I cannot scan it”. HomePod will then appear in the list of devices offered. You just have to follow the configuration steps.
Powerful sound, calibrated for everyone
The HomePod mini uses the same acoustics principles as the HomePod to deliver radiant, powerful sound, but with the difficulty of compiling everything into a mini format. This time we find a wideband loudspeaker which will thus manage the frequencies from bass to treble through the mediums. The loudspeaker faces down. It is supported by two passive force-canceling radiators whose role is to support the bass.
The HomePod mini has a waveguide that will direct the sound flow from the bottom of the speaker outward. And to that, Apple added a suspension system to dampen vibrations. This allows you to have the same sound quality 360 ° around the device, without it moving.
The HomePod mini has significantly fewer microphones than the maxi version. Three microphones are going to be on the lookout for your “ Hey Siri “. The fourth, facing the inside of the unit, isolates the sound emitted by the speaker for better voice detection when you place an order while the speaker is playing music.
As with the maxi format, you have no speaker setting possible and you have to rely on an automatic equalizer. The calibration is done digitally thanks to the on-board audio system. The HomePod mini is equipped with the S5 chip, which was already found in the Apple Watch Series 5. This means that the compact speaker is now capable of great things, especially thanks to its software analysis of the music played. The chip will make sure that the quality stays the same, regardless of the volume.
The good surprise is also the range of sound. It is easy to hear very well thanks to the 360 ° sound field. To do this, Apple has studied the acoustics of several hundred interior configurations to consider all the positioning possibilities of the HomePod mini. It is the algorithm of the S5 chip that will control and calculate the sound (audio computation). Music is analyzed almost 180 times per second. This helps prevent sound saturation and distortion.
This results in very good sound quality even when moving away. We tested it by placing it in a kitchen which is an extension of the living room and the sound was diffused into the main room without having to spit the decibels in the kitchen. A rather surprising sound wave propagation system for such a small size. The Echo Dot and the Google Nest mini , the closest in size, are far from the same audio quality.
All tactile and more visible
If you’re not using Siri, everything can also be done through the touchscreen on the top of HomePod mini. The +/- keys adjust the volume. Pressing in the center allows you to play or pause. A long press will trigger Siri. Double tap to skip to the next song, three times to go back.
The surface is quite responsive to the touch. But it sometimes happens, with a little less diligence, that you stop the music when you just wanted to turn up the volume.
People with disabilities are not forgotten. Features have been included in settings such as adapting to taps, transcribing intercom announcements, or using in addition to VoiceOver.
Multiple uses in the program
The HomePod mini does much like its big brother, but with a few additional highlights. Like him, it will above all allow you to listen to music, control the connected home or manage your connected daily life.
You can also take or make a call from HomePod mini, stream music from your iPhone, iPad Mac, or extend the audio spectrum of Apple TV. Any device compatible with AirPlay can also use it. On the other hand, friends who are Android users, go your way! The HomePod mini is a worthy Apple heir and remains in the family, possibly extended.
The HomePod mini is first and foremost a speaker and therefore serves to distribute sound. Music, podcasts, audiobooks or radio through the partnership with TuneIn (“Hey Siri, play the radio …”) are its strengths. Ask Siri and Siri even runs for the latest news flash from RTL, France Inter or France Info.
The device is designed to take full advantage of the Apple Music catalog, currently the only one available. In the coming months, the Californian company should open its system and thus allow the use of other streaming services by default. Amazon Music is advertised just like Pandora (but only for the United States). During WWDC 2020, Apple had suggested that Spotify or Deezer could also become default services for launching playlists. But we are still waiting.
At $ 99, Apple has been very clever at getting people to invest in multiple devices and spread them around the house. This will have the merit of ease whether in multiroom or stereo when two HomePod mini are detected nearby. The sound gains even more in quality. And the system can even stream to AirPlay-enabled devices in other rooms for perfect program tracking.
Among the nice little additions, with the on-board U1 chip, the HomePod mini can retrieve a song to listen to on the iPhone by bringing it closer to the top of the speaker, or send the song currently listening to the smartphone. Too bad this only works for devices with the U1 chip, ie the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 series at this time. One of the next updates is expected to add visual, audio and haptic effects to the transfer.
For a long time, Apple has been looking for a device to centralize home automation controls. The easiest is obviously the iPhone. But how do you get out of this when the smartphone is not at home and you have to control the devices? Apple TV does not have much functionality for this and practicality. The HomePod had sketched out the first possibilities, but it lacked power and its music capabilities far exceeded that of the Siri of the day. A concern when you want to land in the heart of the connected home.
New year, new design and new possibilities. The HomePod mini makes up for a lot of the weaknesses of the first model for anything outside of sound. But it still only accepts devices that are “ Works with Apple HomeKit “. This further limits the field of possibilities.
Turning off lights with compatible Philips Hue or Nanoleaf bulbs becomes easy, and even designing a “good night” scenario in which all the lights go out becomes more intuitive and easy. The doors are centralized from this voice hub and a simple “Hey Siri, open the blinds”, “Hey Siri, put the thermostat on 23 ° C” will improve your daily life in the blink of an eye, without having to put your hand on your iPhone.
Pairing accessories is easy. There is usually a code accompanying them in the package with a house logo on it. You just need to scan it from the Home app for it to be registered. If you already had it in a compatible app, it can be quickly and easily added to the list.
Video surveillance, routine management and remote control, Siri can comply at any time, alone or through you from the iPhone. Because everything is centralized and managed by the HomePod mini. It can even notify you with a notification if it notices a suspicious event detected by a surveillance camera, motion sensor or connected doorbell.
HomePod mini is Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth 5.0 compatible. It also supports devices using the Thread protocol, the alliance’s low-power mesh network promoted by Apple, Amazon, Google and Zigbee for better interoperability in the home.
One of the new features is the ability to use HomePod mini to send a voice message to all family members in the house. This requires that they all belong to the same Family account in iCloud.
Whether they have their iPhone, an Apple Watch, another HomePod, AirPods in their ears, or even in a vehicle equipped with CarPlay, they will have the message you send them. This is effective enough to call everyone at the table or indicate that you are about to leave.
Find a device
The HomePod mini now has a feature to locate a misplaced device (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch). A fairly practical proposition if you are in a hurry in the morning. “Hey Siri, find my iPhone” and the voice assistant starts searching. Siri gives you an idea of how far away the lost device is. A ringtone will sound from it until you find it.
Alarm clock and ambient sounds
Among the new features, there is the possibility of programming a musical alarm clock with a specific song, a playlist or a radio station from Apple Music.
Siri can also launch ambient sounds (stream, fireplace, rain …) to help focus, relax or fall asleep
Hey Siri, have you made any progress?
Now, when Siri needs to answer you, the touch area lights up in a more visual and colorful way than on the previous HomePod. This allows you to see whether the voice assistant is active or not. We know how much Apple claims to not want to spy on us, think about the security of our privacy and leave our data alone.
The surface also activates during a call or when music is triggered. Note that Siri is quite efficient when you call and reacts quickly. We’ve never had a dud when it comes to waking the assistant out of her sleep.
What more can he do from now on? It’s always there to manage your music (see below) and can better adjust the volume of the sound if you ask it to turn up to 50% or turn it down to 30% and it does. A good way to know what noise level you are at, because there is no indication. If you ask him a question, he now answers it much more effectively, on more varied topics. And if that requires a bit of a dense response, it sends a link to your iPhone for reading a web page, a route via the Maps app on your smartphone or even on your CarPlay-compatible vehicle screen.
The assistant can use Siri shortcuts created on iPhone and iPad. If you’ve created a shortcut to launch the robot vacuum, you can activate it from HomePod mini or set up an end-of-day scenario. The HomePod mini is also now able to create to-do lists via external services like Omnifocus or Things. You can use it to create a Note like a dictaphone.
In addition to playing the assistant with an eye on your calendar or reminders, informing you about traffic conditions or the nearest store, Siri sends messages on iMessages, WhatsApp or even Skype to view. However, you still have to dictate to it and pay attention to the validation so as not to get the wrong recipient among the proposed contacts.
It’s obvious that Siri is now more efficient than its counterpart on the first HomePod or even on the iPhone, but it’s still far from perfect. He hears very well, he does not always understand well. Some titles in English may not be what you expect. Pronunciation concern or difficulty understanding Siri? We still feel … The answers to our questions are sometimes laughable on the wording and a little off the mark.
Compared to the competition, it is also a shame that Siri is still not able to understand two instructions in the same sentence. We asked him to set an alarm for 10 am by turning on the radio. And at 10 a.m., the HomePod mini went off and said “10 a.m. alarm on the radio”. We are still waiting for the radio to go off… We must also name our connected devices extremely well, because Siri does not look any further than the name given. If you want to turn on “the lamp in the living room”, it should not be called the “living room lamp” or the assistant will not understand what you are talking about.
Another regret: the recognition of users’ voices to be able to have adapted answers only works in English for the moment. If other people you request information or contact, these are those of the primary user.
If you don’t feel like sharing your information or your life with Siri, it can be turned off at any time from your main device settings. Everything will then have to go through it. This inevitably takes some of the interest out of the HomePod mini.
To be in Apple’s universe or not to be …
This is obviously one of the things that often grinds the teeth of non-Apple users. The smart speaker only works with devices flocked with a bite of apple. And yet, not all. To be able to use the HomePod mini, you must have your choice of:
- iPhone SE;
- iPhone 6s or later;
- iPod touch (7th generation);
- iPad Pro, iPad (5th generation or later), iPad Air 2 or later, iPad mini 4 or later.
And it is better to update iOS 14 to fully use the functionality of the device.
Price and availability
The HomePod mini is available in space gray or white for $ 99, on the Apple website, in Apple stores, at authorized resellers and some carriers.