First HomePod mini reviews: Superior audio that’s better late than never

By

First HomePod mini reviews: Better late than never
Early reviews say the HomePod mini punches above its weight.
Photo: Apple

The first HomePod mini reviews almost universally praise the tiny smart speaker for outstanding audio quality. A wave of superlatives like “impressively powerful,” and even “startling” make HomePod mini sound like a total champ.

Across the board, the reviewers say Apple’s new $99 smart speaker offers stiff competition to other devices in that price range. And beyond audio, they deliver surprisingly positive assessments of the HomePod mini’s design and features. Even Siri earns accolades!

HomePod mini reviews

Most of the reviewers focus on the HomePod mini’s astonishing audio capabilities, especially for a speaker that measures just 3.3 inches high.

Impressive audio quality

What Hi-Fi? says “the HomePod Mini outperforms its size and price like no other smart speaker you can buy.”

Here’s more from the audio publication’s review:

From the moment we start playing music, it’s clear that the HomePod Mini comfortably outperforms its size and price. It goes much louder than expected – even 75 per cent volume is louder than we imagine most people will regularly want to go in an average-sized living room. But, no matter how much you push it, the HomePod Mini never shows any sign of strain. It’s clean and composed at all volumes.

While a bigger speaker, such as the Amazon Echo, will produce deeper bass, the HomePod Mini doesn’t sound bass-light in its own right. In fact, it’s more solid and authoritative than a speaker this small has any right to be, and its bass is seamlessly integrated into the overall presentation. There’s excellent overall tonal balance and consistency, with no frequencies over-exaggerated.

The Ambient also says HomePod mini stands up to the competition:

And the big news there is it actually performs very well against its sub-$100 rivals; albeit it is neither as loud, nor as bass-rich as the larger Echo. In fact, it actually holds up pretty well against the Sonos One, which is double the price.
I did most of my comparison testing against the Sonos and, while it can’t match the One when you go above around 70% volume, it’s more than a match at mid-levels.

That’s not to say things get wobbly at higher levels; I’ve never heard the HomePod Mini waver or distort in my two weeks of testing – but there’s only so loud a speaker of this size can be.

In one of the less-than-effusive reviews, The Verge says HomePod mini sounds good but not great for its size and price point:

The key thing to notice is that the HomePod mini outperforms other “small” smart speakers like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini, but it can’t compete with larger speakers like the regular Echo, Nest Audio, or Sonos One. The HomePod mini is priced closer to those larger speakers, although it really belongs in the small speaker class when it comes to the sound it can produce.

HomePod mini design

First HomePod mini reviews: That Siri swirl proves mesmerizing.
That Siri swirl proves mesmerizing.
Photo: Apple

Most of the reviewers also praised the HomePod mini’s ball-like design.

Engadget sums it up like this:

Small gadgets are often undeniably cute, and that’s the case with the HomePod mini. Holding the small speaker in my hand felt like holding an orange, albeit one with a flat bottom and top. I was taken aback at just how small it was. It’s only 3.3 inches tall and just under four inches wide. That makes it significantly smaller than Amazon’s new Echo and Google’s Nest Audio (two speakers I’m going to be comparing the HomePod mini to frequently in this review). Despite its ball-like shape, the HomePod mini feels quite similar to its larger sibling, with a fabric cover (that comes in white or space gray), rubber bottom and glossy plastic top.

And here’s What Hi-Fi? complimenting the HomePod mini’s looks (and trashing the competition):

The whole design gives the impression of a tiny, woven plant pot – in a good way. It’s pretty and unobtrusive, and will happily fit in any room of the house.

The glass panel on the top is opaque when the speaker is inactive, but a swirling orb of coloured light appears when Siri is listening or processing, while a smaller white orb gently oscillates as music plays. It’s a classy and alluring touch beyond anything you’ll get from any other similarly priced speaker. It makes the wraparound lightstrip of the new Amazon Echo look as sophisticated and seductive as a set of traffic lights.

Microphones work well

Like the original HomePod, it sounds like the microphones for detecting “Hey Siri” commands work extremely well.

Here’s What Hi-Fi?:

Certainly, the HomePod Mini has no issue hearing or comprehending us at any point during testing.

Also impressive is the way Siri always seems to know which device is being addressed, sensing when an instruction is to the HomePod Mini on the other side of the room even when an iPhone is lying much closer. This is particularly clever compared with Alexa – we find that questions directed at an Echo speaker just a couple of feet away are often answered by a different speaker in another room.

Siri surprises

In an striking reversal from the original HomePod launch, many of the early HomePod mini reviews give Siri a big thumbs up — at least with regards to playing music. For other smart speaker tasks, Siri still lags.

Here’s What Hi-Fi? touting Siri’s DJ skills:

Siri’s real strength in the context of the HomePod Mini (just as it was with the original HomePod) is its music curation. After a short period of learning, it responds to the phrase “play something I’ll like” not by streaming your most played track of the last few weeks, but by playing something that you may have never listened to before but is a good fit for what you often do listen to. If you’re not in the mood for Siri’s first suggestion, saying “play something different” will switch genres while remaining within your general tastes. It’s a really powerful way to discover new music, and Alexa is nowhere near as good at it.

And here’s The Ambient joining the chorus to sing Siri’s praises:

As with the original HomePod, Siri is on board to be your digital DJ and Apple’s assistant again impresses. With Siri it’s easy to jump from genre to genre, song to song, or band to band, using your voice… “Play songs from the 70s”, “Play some of Pink Floyd’s best songs”… or asking for vague things like, “Who plays the bass in this band?”

Even at full volume Siri picks up commands most of the time although I’d sail the fail-rate is slightly higher than on the bigger HomePod.

The Guardian gave Siri mixed reviews:

Siri has significantly improved in its understanding of speech, knowledge and capabilities since the first HomePod. It is perfectly capable of simple tasks such as timers, calculations and conversions, telling you when the next Premier League game is, the weather or the current phase of the moon, or looking up the traffic news.

It is still behind Google Assistant in the breadth of knowledge and will often pass off results to a notification on the iPhone rather than reading out an answer – it will send you to a Wikipedia page instead of just telling me how old someone is. It also has very limited conversational features compared with its rivals but you can change the accent and gender of its voice.

And an even more negative take on Siri comes from The Verge:

I ran into a number of weird bugs with Siri during my two weeks or so testing the HomePod mini. When asking Siri to play an album from Apple Music, it would play songs out of order instead of how they appear on the album. When I use the HomePod mini to place a call, neither myself nor the other party could hear anything until I transferred the call to my iPhone and then back to the HomePod. While Siri is able to distinguish between my voice and my spouse’s and provide personalized answers, it didn’t know my spouse by name and referred to them as “secondary user 1,” despite Siri having all of their information on the iPhone.

Some of these bugs, such as the Apple Music one, were resolved during my testing period or didn’t happen every time. But collectively, they are demonstrative of why many people still have a negative perception of Siri.

Bugs aside, Siri is still behind where Amazon and Google are with their virtual assistants. It does the basics mostly fine, such as playing music, giving weather reports, and setting timers and reminders. But Google still reigns supreme when it comes to answering random facts and Alexa is constantly being improved with proactive features that make it feel more like an actual assistant than a voice-controlled remote.

HomeKit and multiroom capabilities

Apple HomePod mini will fit right into your smart home.
HomePod mini will fit right into your smart home.
Photo: Apple

The Ambient says HomePod mini’s multiroom capabilities blow away the competition:

When it comes to getting music in multiple rooms in your house, Apple is now streets ahead of Google Home multi-room and Alexa multi-room audio setups; both of which have a have raft of issues.

A couple other negatives

Siri’s limitations aside, the most common complaint isn’t so much about the HomePod mini but about how late Apple was to the affordable smart speaker party. That’s not really something you can hold against the HomePod mini. However, some reviewers also complained that the new speaker still isn’t cheap enough to compete with things like the Amazon Echo Dot, which retails for $49.99 and frequently goes on sale for far less.

Other reviews dinged the HomePod mini for not having a detachable cord. And several pointed out that as a smart speaker, Apple’s device is less flexible than competitors — and less useful if you’re not all-in on Apple:

CNBC summed it up like this:

While the HomePod Mini is good for Apple users, and Siri has gotten a lot better in recent years, you can still do more with an Amazon Echo or Google Nest Hub. The Echo lets you buy stuff from Amazon, for example, or control your Amazon Fire TV. I’d like to see Apple add support for controlling the Apple TV from a HomePod Mini by voice, so that I could just ask it to start playing a movie or TV show. But you can’t do that.

The Google Nest Hub, as you might expect, ties better into Google services like Calendar and Maps, and has a smarter voice assistant since it taps into Google Search and knows a lot more about you if you regularly use Google services.

Best for the Apple ecosystem

If you use multiple Apple devices, HomePod mini is the best smart speaker for you.
If you use multiple Apple devices, HomePod mini is the smart speaker for you.
Photo: Apple

As you might expect, all the early reviews point out that HomePod mini is ideally suited to people already swimming in the Apple ecosystem. From seamless setup with an iPhone to new features like Intercom, this is definitely a smart speaker for Apple fans.

Here’s Cnet hammering that point home:

In short, if you like Apple — and if Siri is your smart assistant of choice and HomeKit is your preferred smart home hub — you’re going to love Apple’s newest smart speaker. If you’re already living with an iPhone, Apple TV or original HomePod the Mini makes sense as your next small smart speaker.

HomePod mini

The HomePod mini, which Apple unveiled last month, arrives November 16. Preorders started last week, though, and ship dates began slipping almost immediately. Right now, it looks like you can’t take delivery before the end of this month at the earliest. So if you want one, your best bet is to check availability at a local store starting next Monday.