Apple last year updated its HomePod Mini range, it didn’t overhaul much except the colours – it anticipated the colour of my bedside table, apparently. But when it sent Gizmodo Australia the three new devices to test, we were a little confused why we needed three. But within minutes of setting them up, it was clear: three HomePod Minis are better than one.
At $149 a pop, expecting you to buy three is silly. So the majority of this review will focus on one. One is still good, don’t worry.
Apple's smart speaker
Sound is fine, smarts are great.
Can't be used without power.
With the assumption you use an iPhone if you’re purchasing a HomePod Mini, setup is exceptionally easy. Plug it in, take the protective tape off the bottom, watch a ring of lights form around the top and a sound to chime. Bring your phone close and you’ll be shown your device on-screen with the option to setup. Select the room the HomePod Mini will be in, confirm which personal requests you want Siri to perform (messages, reminders, calendar notifications, etc), choose whose voice Siri responds to (you can set up profiles) and then accept the Apple Ts & Cs.
As you, in theory, are using your iPhone, it should be set up with your Apple ID already – if it is, you can select ‘Transfer Settings’ to do exactly that.
Then, you place the camera over your HomePod Mini, a sound chimes and set up should be done when the Apple assistant says ‘hello’.
Siri then walks you through a little bit of a demo and tricks you into playing some music. Just me over here ignoring the fact Siri started playing Pantera after stating ‘Here’s some music picked for you’. I do not have Apple Music. Thanks Siri. Apple knows too much about me, it’s true.
While I said this review would focus on one HomePod Mini, it’s worth noting how easy it is to add a second one. Plug in HomePod 2 and it will power up the same as HomePod 1. Once the light and sound show is done, the device will pop up on your phone the same way as the first did and within minutes of taking it out of the box, HomePod 2 is playing the same song as the OG Mini.
This fumbled. The third HomePod Mini started playing music from Apple Music Voice while the other two were playing the same tune from Spotify. I wanted it to be smarter here, I really did, but that was an easy enough fix, going via Spotify to play through all three speakers.
Fine, great actually. For such a little ball it sure packs a decent punch. My first test for music was Cemetery Gates, which to say is bass-heavy is an understatement. The vocals came through clean, they didn’t blend with the guitar and the drums didn’t overpower the other instruments. Full volume? Things started to get a little fuzzy.
The bedside table, in a corner of a room, I thought wasn’t the best place to test a speaker, but moving it onto my desk, the vibrate-y sound was still present. Full volume just isn’t something the HomePod Mini loves but it was quite loud. Volume back down to a level that isn’t going to annoy my neighbours, it returned to fine.
When looking for a speaker like the LG XBOOM 360, you expect the sound to dominate, to be clear, crisp, perfect at all volumes across all genres. You have to approach a speaker like Apple’s HomePod Mini in a different way. If you’re an absolute music buff who wants clear, crisp, perfect at all volumes across all genres, put simply, a HomePod Mini isn’t for you. Who is it for? Literally everyone else. The speaker is completely fine in an office, a bedside table or a kitchen – wherever you want to put it.
Three of them together sounds pretty darn cool.
Asking Siri to call someone via the speaker worked fine, the call kicked off on my iPhone in the usual Apple way, but the sound just came through the HomePod Mini. Talking to a dude made his voice a little hard to hear, due to the vibrations caused by his deep voice. It was a very similar experience to that I noted above when playing loud music.
On the other end of the line, all reports were that I sounded clear, just like the phone was placed on loudspeaker.
As I just noted, the HomePod Mini can control all Apple features both on your iPhone or the speaker itself. Siri is a smart cookie. But there’s also a dedicated app (more on that in a sec).
Moving your phone near the HomePod Mini will bring up the song that’s playing. As I didn’t use Apple Music before unpacking the HomePod Mini, I signed up using the voice account. This means I cannot search for a song or choose particular playlists, rather Apple Music is playing tunes it thinks I will like based on certain data it has on me. Let’s pretend this data is simply songs that I had in my iTunes back in 2012 when that was a thing. Youcanskip songs and tell Siri when they really don’t have it nailed.
The only annoying part of being able to hover your phone near your speaker is that it freezes all capability in your phone until you swipe away from expanding the song screen. And because these things are so bloody smart, it’s very sensitive and activates the feature on your phone (and accompanying vibration) whenever you’re near the speaker.
Opening the native Home app on iOS will display your HomePod Mini. Tapping on the device will pause it, so will tapping in between the volume up and down buttons on the speaker itself.
The app has a tonne of features, all powered by Siri. It organises your devices into rooms, I put mine in the ‘Games Room’ (it’s the spare room that has my desk shoved against the wall in the corner) and I can add another speaker to the room or other smart home devices such as lights. You can also use your phone as a way to intercom the devices setup around your home.
You can configure ‘scenes’ and the app will also allow you to automate certain accessories in your smart home. There’s also a ‘Discover’ tab that will give you tips or ideas on how to create a smart home.
In Spotify, selecting a song, then opting to play it through the HomePod Mini is also seamless (this is via AirPlay). The quality of the song (now I’m not sure that I’m not losing my mind) is nowhere near as good from Spotify as it is from Apple Music. I pay for Spotify so it’s definitely broadcasting in full quality. Over on Amazon Music, I wasn’t even prompted to connect to the HomePod Mini, rather I was presented with a banner that read ‘Connected to AirPlay’. The sound still wasn’t as clear as it was through Apple Music, but it was fine.
As someone with a handful of Google and Nest devices peppered throughout my home, I was curious how the interconnection would work. Nope, can’t add the HomePod Mini to my Google Home. Pipedream.
The only thing I found to complain about was that the HomePod Minis need to be plugged into the wall and that you can’t power them through a USB-C port on your laptop. Thankfully, unlike the iPhone, these things come with a wall plug.
The material is nice, the colours are cute, the smarts are decent and the sound is fine. These little balls of speaker are good for what they are, and great for a touch of smart home-ness for only $149. They’re definitely value for money, which isn’t something usually associated with Apple products.