HomePod mini review: Apple's new speaker is smaller, smarter and much cheaper

HomePod mini review: Apple's new speaker is smaller, smarter and much cheaper

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Apple HomePod mini review (Image: APPLE)

If you want one the best sounding smart speakers money can buy, there’s little doubt Apple’s HomePod comes top of the pile. Ever since this intelligent music maker launched back in 2018 it’s been impressing audio fans with some seriously superior music quality. But while it may sound pretty epic, one of the problems for HomePod is that it’s simply too expensive, especially when compared to the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Nest gadgets which can be picked up for a fraction of the cost and often boast more smart features to boot.

The fact you can grab one of those rivals for such a bargain price has given these Alexa and Google-powered devices a massive advantage, but Apple is now trying to fight back with the launch of its new, and much cheaper, HomePod mini.

This ball-shaped boom-box goes on sale next week and comes packed with features and a price of under £100 – making it far more affordable. So, is it any good and can this latest speaker make a dent in the Amazon Echo and Google Audio’s dominance?

Express.co.uk has been trying out the HomePod mini for the past few weeks and here’s our full review.

If you’re a massive Apple fan and already own an iPhone, Apple Watch, iCloud account, and Apple Music subscription then the first thing to know about the HomePod mini is just how ridiculously simple it is to set up.

Apple HomePod mini review

Apple uses some clever tech inside the mini to boost its audio prowess (Image: APPLE)

Plug it in, hold your phone near the speaker, and Apple does the rest. The pairing process even connects the speaker to your home Wi-Fi and logs into your Apple accounts without you need to press a single button.

It really is very impressive and means you can go from delivery to belting out playlists in a matter of seconds. Once it’s up and running, the next thing you’ll notice is just how good this mini speaker sounds.

Despite its small 3.3-inch size, Apple’s audio team has worked wonders once again with this HomePod speaker, following in the footsteps of the standard model with a device that packs plenty of punch.

Obviously, this mini version doesn’t quite offer the same levels of wall-shaking bass, but it’ll easily fill an average-sized room with sound.

Apple HomePod mini review

Apple HomePod mini looks great and has simple controls on the top of the speaker (Image: APPLE)

Apple HomePod mini review

Apple HomePod mini review (Image: APPLE)

When pumping the volume up to the max, there’s little distortion and we’ve been left pretty impressed by how well this speaker sounds when compared to bigger devices. Apple says this has all been achieved by a clever acoustic waveguide which channels the sound down and out the bottom of HomePod mini to create a consistent 360-degree experience.

Apple has also packed its clever S5 chip inside, which can basically monitor what’s playing on the device and tweak this sound accordingly.

In fact, Apple boasts that the S5 can apply complex tuning algorithms – over 180 times a second – to understand the unique characteristics of the audio. The S5 is able to optimise loudness, adjust the dynamic range, and predict the movement of the driver and passive radiators in real-time.

Clearly, the number of tuning algorithms per second isn’t something we could test… but all we can tell you is that HomePod mini punches well above its weight. Listening to tracks on Apple Music, radio or podcasts all sounds much better than you’d expect from something so small.

If there’s not quite enough oomph, you can pair together two HomePod mini speakers to listen in stereo for more room-filling sound and, just like the set-up process, pairing two HomePod minis together is really simple and very effective.

Apple HomePod mini review

The setup is simple and the HomePod seamlessly links to all your other devices (Image: APPLE )

Apple HomePod mini review

Apple HomePod mini review (Image: APPLE)

Away from the actual audio, we also really like the way the HomePod mini looks. Its really cute mesh design will fit neatly on a bookshelf or kitchen worktop and it really won’t look out of place even in the most style-conscious of homes.

There’s also simple controls on the top of the mini which pause/skip tracks, raise or lower volumes and summon the Siri assistant. Of course, this is a smart speaker, so you’ll find yourself saying Siri’s name an awful lot if you want to get the most out of your new purchase.

There’s no question that Apple has improved its smart features with Siri now able to cope with almost everything you ask of it. You can play your favourite playlists, check the weather, get news reports, set timers and control things such as volume via simple commands.

If you have an iCloud account you can also set reminders or calendar entries which then instantly sync with your iPhone, iPad or Mac. Shopping lists can also be created, phone calls made and iMessages sent without ever touching your phone and there’s even a new Intercom option which allows you to summon the family down for tea without shouting up the stairs. It all works really well.

Siri even recognises voices which means it can offer improved answers for different members of the household.

However, this is all pretty standard stuff – and Alexa and Google Assistant have been able to handle all of these voice commands for years. And while Apple has been playing catch-up with Siri, Google Assistant has gotten much, much smarter.

Apple HomePod mini review

The HomePod mini can be linked for stereo pairing (Image: APPLE)

Apple HomePod mini review

The new intercom feature is a nice upgrade (Image: APPLE)

When asking for train times, Siri was unable to answer, and telephone numbers of local restaurants or our doctor’s surgery also caused the Apple voice assistant to stutter, telling us to check the web instead. Not ideal.

When asking Google Assistant on the Nest Mini these same questions, the chatty AI was able to provide answers with pinpoint accuracy – even adding in some extra information, like the amount of time our next train would take to reach central London. So, it’s clear there’s still a bit of work to do before the HomePod can match the power of the US search engine.

The fact the HomePod mini isn’t quite as smart as the other smart speakers on the marker is an annoyance for those paying a premium for the Apple-branded kit, but there is a bigger issue for users in the UK.

One of our biggest gripes with the original HomePod is that it couldn’t access any BBC radio stations and, two years since the launch of the HomePod, that issue still remains on the mini.

Saying “Play Radio 2” to your HomePod and you’ll get nothing in return, with Siri apologising that “I can’t play that radio station”.

This remains a major downside for anyone who enjoys the BBC with their morning coffee and it’s something that needs addressing especially when you consider how many people tune in to these stations every day.

Of course, there are other radio channels to listen to and, if you subscribe to Apple Music, the HomePod can keep you entertained all day and long into the night with curated music, podcasts and personalised recommendations all available. But it’s disappointing to see some of the most popular stations not be supported on HomePod in the last two years. Both Google and Amazon smart speakers support BBC out of the box.

Apple HomePod mini review: Final Verdict

The HomePod mini is a great little smart speaker with audio that punches well above its weight considering its dinky size. And when pairing two HomePod mini speakers together in stereo mode, the audio is more than good enough to blast your favourite tracks.

It looks great and the simple set-up for iPhone owners takes all the hassle out installing it in your home. Since the launch of the original HomePod, Siri has also definitely got a little smarter and seamlessly linking between your devices and iCloud account makes the HomePod mini seriously useful for anyone deeply entrenched in the Apple world.

However, if you’re looking for more smarts from your smart speaker, the Google Nest range still comfortably wins first prize and the fact the HomePod can’t play anything from the BBC is a massive drawback that you really need to consider before buying it. It’s also worth checking which brand of smart lightbulbs, thermostat and video doorbell you’ve got at home, as HomePod still supports a much smaller number of these. The range is growing with Nanoleaf recently announcing a new set of compatible smart lightbulbs and more accessories will hopefully arrive in the future.

If you want a small speaker with great looks and sound to match then the HomePod ticks all the right boxes and that £99 price tag makes it a far more appealing option than its bigger brother.

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