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Apple HomePod mini review: playing small ball

Apple HomePod mini review: playing small ball
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Apple HomePod mini review: playing small ball

Apple HomePod mini overview: taking part in small ball

Two and a half years in the past, Apple lastly entered the good speaker market with the HomePod. It was a singular machine — as an alternative of prioritizing an accessible worth and good assistant options, it was laser-focused on audio high quality and significantly dearer than its closest opponents from Amazon and Google, whereas being much less succesful as a wise speaker. In consequence, the HomePod didn’t actually take off. Apple was compelled to decrease its worth, and different retailers needed to low cost it aggressively in an effort to get anybody to purchase it.

Quick-forward to now and Apple’s new good speaker, the $99 HomePod mini, takes a special strategy. It’s smaller, less complicated, and method cheaper than its greater sibling, and due to Apple’s work on Siri over the previous few years, it will possibly truly do greater than the unique when it launched. It’s clear that Apple designed this to enhance the bigger HomePod. You probably have an authentic in your lounge, you possibly can put the mini in varied different locations in your house with out having to take a position as a lot cash or take up as a lot shelf house.

However the remainder of the good speaker world has clearly not stood nonetheless, and Amazon and Google have launched essentially the most compelling choices of their respective lineups this 12 months. Whereas Siri has gotten higher, it’s nonetheless the HomePod mini’s Achilles’ heel — nicely, that and the truth that you continue to have to be totally embedded in Apple’s ecosystem to get essentially the most out of it.

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The highest of the HomePod mini has a touch-sensitive panel that lights up when Siri is listening or responding to instructions.

HomePod mini Design

The HomePod mini has a special look than the bigger HomePod, however you possibly can inform they had been minimize from the identical material. As a substitute of a squishy-looking cylinder, the mini is a squat ball with a flat high. It jogs my memory of a scented candle or an upside-down Magic-8 Ball wrapped in mesh. Similar to the unique, you will get it in gentle or darkish grey, and it has an identical tender cloth.

On high of the mini is the one interface on the machine itself, a flat plastic touch-sensitive pad that you should use to invoke Siri, play or pause music, or regulate quantity. It has the identical multicolored LEDs beneath it that gentle up and swirl round at any time when Siri is listening or responding. It can glow white when music is taking part in or inexperienced while you’re utilizing the mini as a speakerphone for calls.

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The USB-C energy cable is completely connected to the HomePod mini.

In my testing, I’ve discovered this light-up panel to be more durable to see from throughout the room than the Echo’s glowing ring. Until you’re proper subsequent to the HomePod mini, it’s laborious to inform when Siri has heard your voice command and is responding. It’s additionally way more fiddly to make use of to regulate quantity (particularly when nothing is taking part in), and there’s no visible affirmation for the way loud the speaker is ready while you do regulate the amount, like you possibly can see with an Echo or Nest Audio. In all, it’s simply much less accessible than the buttons on Amazon’s audio system and even the touch-sensitive areas on Google’s — a uncommon miss on this division from Apple.

There’s additionally no bodily swap to disable Siri’s always-listening characteristic. It’s a must to both ask Siri to “cease listening” or dive into the HomePod settings within the Dwelling app in iOS to toggle the characteristic, a sluggish and clumsy course of.

Just like the bigger HomePod, the mini has a completely connected energy wire, although this time, it ends in a USB-C port. (A 20-watt charging brick comes within the field.) The wire is about six ft lengthy, although I want there was the choice to simply swap it for an additional if you wish to put the speaker removed from an outlet.

The HomePod mini has 4 microphones for choosing up voice instructions, nevertheless it doesn’t have the room-tuning capabilities the unique HomePod has. As a substitute, Apple says the processor within the mini (an S5 chip, the identical as you would possibly discover in an Apple Watch) analyzes the music being performed and adjusts the speaker’s output for the very best quality.

The microphones do an admirable job of listening to my voice instructions, even from throughout the room and whereas one thing is taking part in, and the processor is fast to take motion. In my expertise, Siri is usually sooner to reply and do one thing than both Alexa or the Google Assistant, whether or not that’s to play music, reply a query, or management a wise dwelling machine.

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The HomePod mini is about the identical measurement as the brand new Echo Dot however significantly smaller than the full-size Echo.

HomePod mini sound high quality

With the primary HomePod, Apple prioritized sound high quality above all else. That’s not fairly the identical with the HomePod mini, however you possibly can nonetheless hear the trouble that went into making the mini sound comparatively good.

I say “good” as a result of, for its measurement, the HomePod mini sounds fairly good. It’s significantly better-sounding than the similar-sized fourth-gen Echo Dot, and it places out extra bass than different small good audio system.

The important thing factor to note is that the HomePod mini outperforms different “small” good audio system just like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini, however it will possibly’t compete with bigger audio system just like the common Echo, Nest Audio, or Sonos One. The HomePod mini is priced nearer to these bigger audio system, though it actually belongs within the small speaker class in the case of the sound it will possibly produce.

At 3.3 inches tall, the HomePod mini is about the identical measurement because the fourth-gen Echo Dot and significantly smaller than the full-size Echo or Google’s Nest Audio. In consequence, it has only one speaker: a downward-firing full-range driver that’s designed to evenly unfold sound in all instructions. Two passive radiators assist to intensify decrease bass tones, however they shouldn’t be confused with the a number of energetic audio system which can be within the Echo and Nest Audio.

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The HomePod mini doesn’t present a visible affirmation of quantity ranges, which is irritating.

So it sounds good, however I can’t say the HomePod mini sounds nice. And subsequent to the bigger Echo and Nest Audio, each of which value the identical, it merely can’t sustain. It doesn’t have the presence, quantity, or sound stage of both, and it definitely can’t match the Echo’s bass output. As they are saying, there’s no alternative for displacement.

Sadly, there isn’t a lot you are able to do to enhance that, both. Two HomePod minis may be paired in a stereo configuration, however that doesn’t dramatically improve the quantity of quantity you get, and it does nothing for enhancing bass or punch. Not like the Echo or Nest audio system, you possibly can’t pair the HomePod mini to a subwoofer or bigger speaker system. You might be caught with what it does out of the field.

Regardless of not being fairly as much as the Echo’s sound efficiency, the HomePod mini does sound nice for many any style of music and for podcasts and different vocal performances. It has good stability within the mid-tones and a really vocal ahead sound profile. You’ll hear the lyrics to your favourite music simply, with out them getting overwhelmed by bass. The bass that’s there may be heard however not felt.

The HomePod mini’s 360-sound works as marketed, too. I can stroll across the speaker, and the sound of the music simply doesn’t change. That is nice when you plan to place the mini in the course of a room, however realistically, it is going to be on a shelf or nearer to a wall, the place it has much less of an impression. That’s why each Amazon and Google switched to extra directional speaker designs this 12 months, after years of utilizing 360-degree audio system.

In all, the HomePod mini excels at informal listening and background music. It’s nice for taking part in music throughout dinner while you don’t wish to drown out dialog or simply to have some audio taking part in within the background as you make money working from home. The mini is good to take heed to at low volumes or larger settings and doesn’t distort in any respect. It received’t soundtrack a celebration, and it definitely doesn’t exchange a correct sound system — however for its measurement, it’s good.

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The HomePod mini sounds good for its measurement.

The Ecosystem of the HomePod mini

It received’t come as a shock to many, however except you’re totally purchased into Apple’s iOS ecosystem, you shouldn’t even take into account shopping for the HomePod mini. The truth is, I’d go even additional: everybody in your house actually must be utilizing iPhones and Apple companies to make the HomePod mini value shopping for.

Organising the mini requires an iPhone or iPad. For any good dwelling management, it’s worthwhile to be utilizing Apple’s Dwelling app and HomeKit-compatible units. Asking the HomePod mini to put a cellphone name, learn messages, or provide you with calendar updates requires you to make use of an iPhone.

The HomePod mini doesn’t assist cross-platform audio streaming like Google Solid or Spotify Join, so the one solution to ship audio to it from a tool is through Apple’s AirPlay. You want an iPhone or a Mac to do this.

You may faucet an iPhone to the highest of the HomePod mini to switch no matter you’re taking part in in your cellphone to the speaker after which faucet it once more to switch the audio again to your cellphone. Apple will probably be increasing this with a brand new interface and extra options for iPhones with the U1 chip (any mannequin launched in 2019 or later, apart from the SE) sooner or later, however I wasn’t capable of check that for this overview.

Apple has made some small strides towards permitting the HomePod to instantly play music from sources aside from Apple Music, and there’s now an API that apps can faucet into to turn into default music choices on the HomePod. That means that you can use voice controls to play music and have it play from a special service than Apple Music. However proper now, the one app that’s taken benefit of it’s Pandora, and there’s no phrase when others, similar to Spotify or YouTube Music, will hop on board. (Given Spotify’s frequent lawsuits and criticism of Apple’s locked-down platforms, I wouldn’t maintain my breath for it anytime quickly.)

This characteristic can also be restricted to music gamers. You may’t select a special podcast participant or audiobook supply. The HomePod mini solely helps Apple Podcasts and Apple Books.

None of this can be a drawback when you’re totally purchased into Apple’s world, however the actuality is that few people (and, by extension, households) are. Each of Apple’s main good speaker opponents have companies and ecosystems of their very own, however additionally they permit for way more freedom of selection for most popular companies and work with each iOS and Android units.

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Siri has gotten higher because the authentic HomePod mini, nevertheless it’s nonetheless behind Amazon and Google’s digital assistants.

Siri on the HomePod mini

Again in 2018, my colleague Nilay Patel rightly identified that the state of Siri on the unique HomePod may be summed up by the truth that it can’t deal with a number of timers. I’m joyful to say that the HomePod mini can assist a number of timers, and you may even label them now.

Siri has gotten different enhancements over time as nicely. It will probably now differentiate between voices, so I get a special reply for “what’s on my calendar” than my partner does after they ask the identical query. It additionally prevents a random particular person from sending messages or inserting cellphone calls from my iPhone utilizing the HomePod mini, an issue we bumped into when reviewing the unique HomePod.

You can too run Siri Shortcuts from the HomePod, supplied you’ve gone by way of the legwork to program them in your iPhone. Siri may do a bunch of issues with Apple’s apps, similar to notes, calendar, reminders, and Maps, and a few restricted actions with third-party apps which have added assist for SiriKit instructions.

A brand new characteristic as of software program model 14.2 is the flexibility to offer you an itinerary at the beginning of your day, together with a climate report, upcoming appointments, commute site visitors, and a information blurb from NPR. You may ask for a special information supply, similar to Fox or CNN, however that’s about so far as you possibly can customise this characteristic. Both method, it’s good to see Siri catch as much as one thing that Alexa and the Google Assistant have supplied for years.

I bumped into quite a lot of bizarre bugs with Siri throughout my two weeks or so testing the HomePod mini. When asking Siri to play an album from Apple Music, it will play songs out of order as an alternative of how they seem on the album. After I use the HomePod mini to put a name, neither myself nor the opposite occasion might hear something till I transferred the decision to my iPhone after which again to the HomePod. Whereas Siri is ready to distinguish between my voice and my partner’s and supply personalised solutions, it didn’t know my partner by identify and referred to them as “secondary consumer 1,” regardless of Siri having all of their data on the iPhone.

A few of these bugs, such because the Apple Music one, had been resolved throughout my testing interval or didn’t occur each time. However collectively, they’re demonstrative of why many individuals nonetheless have a damaging notion of Siri.

Bugs apart, Siri remains to be behind the place Amazon and Google are with their digital assistants. It does the fundamentals principally high quality, similar to taking part in music, giving climate stories, and setting timers and reminders. However Google nonetheless reigns supreme in the case of answering random details and Alexa is consistently being improved with proactive options that make it really feel extra like an precise assistant than a voice-controlled distant.

HomePod mini Good dwelling

The good dwelling capabilities of the HomePod mini are largely unchanged from the HomePod. It will probably management good dwelling units which can be arrange within the Dwelling app on the iPhone and may be built-in into Dwelling automations. It will probably additionally act as a Dwelling hub, which lets you management your good dwelling units together with your iPhone from wherever you have got a knowledge connection.

The mini does assist a brand new good dwelling protocol referred to as Thread, which permits units to connect with it over longer distances and utilizing much less energy than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. (Good dwelling nerds will bear in mind Thread as the usual that Google initially pushed and adopted by Eero routers earlier than successfully stalling and going nowhere for years.) A handful of good lights have been introduced with assist for Thread in HomeKit (Apple’s good dwelling platform), however for now, the Thread ecosystem is sort of small. HomeKit itself does have a variety of appropriate good dwelling units, together with lights, contact sensors, cameras, thermostats, door locks, good plugs, and extra, all of which may be managed by voice by way of the HomePod mini. It’s not as broad an ecosystem as Alexa and Google supply, nevertheless it’s nonetheless complete.

Additionally new for both HomePod is an intercom characteristic that permits you to broadcast messages from a HomePod to a different HomePod or Apple machine. You may have it despatched to a particular HomePod or blast it to the entire HomePods within the dwelling as an announcement. You may even intercom utilizing Siri out of your cellphone or Apple Watch to broadcast messages to anybody that’s at dwelling.

However regardless of its identify, Intercom isn’t actually a two-way intercom. It’s successfully sending recorded audio messages to the units as an alternative of opening a stay audio. It’s high quality for letting the household know you’re on the best way dwelling from the grocery retailer or telling the youngsters it’s time for supper from one other ground of the home, however I didn’t discover it notably vital in my dwelling. Each Google and Amazon supply comparable options on their good audio system, however they’ve extra two-way stay communication choices than the HomePod.

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The HomePod mini is sufficiently small to slot in most locations in your house.

When the HomePod initially launched, it felt like Apple was working in a totally completely different world from the remainder of the good audio system, one which didn’t make sense for lots of people. The HomePod mini a minimum of feels prefer it’s in the identical ballpark as the remaining.

At $100, in comparison with the unique HomePod’s $350 launch worth, the mini is priced low sufficient that you would be able to envision shopping for a couple of and spreading them all through your own home. It does many of the belongings you anticipate a wise speaker to do and sounds good when doing them. When you’re already totally purchased into Apple’s ecosystem, together with companies, it’s laborious to fault the HomePod mini’s worth or capabilities. It additionally supplies an escape from among the privateness issues and baggage that include the Echo or Nest good audio system, together with the more and more frequent adverts that present up in Alexa’s responses.

Nevertheless it looks like Apple remains to be two years or extra behind Amazon and Google in the case of good audio system. And in comparison with the equally priced Echo and Nest Audio, the HomePod mini struggles to maintain up in each sound high quality and options.

Apple has proven that it’s keen to enhance issues and take heed to suggestions in the case of good audio system, so I’ll have an interest to see the way it continues to develop. Hopefully, now that the HomePod mini is right here, it begins to maneuver somewhat sooner.

Pictures by Dan Seifert / GadgetClock

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