Review: HomePod mini

When HomePod mini was first introduced in October, I was excited about the possibilities. It was small, gave me access to Siri, multi-room audio, and, most importantly, I could play music anywhere in the house. My expectations for HomePod mini were high, and in the couple of weeks I’ve been using the two HomePod minis, it didn’t disappoint.

I usually don’t get into specs in my reviews, focusing instead on how the product works, and I will do that. First, it’s important to understand just how technologically advanced the HomePod mini is and what makes it work.

Everything you see with the HomePod mini was designed with a specific purpose—sound quality. Let’s start with the Apple-designed S5 chip.

The S5 is the heart of HomePod mini, allowing the device to use computational audio. This is important because HomePod mini is applying tuning algorithms to the audio at a rate of 180 times per second. It actually listens to the characteristics of the audio being played and adjusts the response accordingly. It adjusts loudness and dynamic range, and it can also predict the driver’s movement in real-time.

Apple also designed an acoustic waveguide for the HomePod mini, channeling audio down and out the device’s bottom. This helps create a consistent 360-degree experience.

Apple also designed the driver to deliver the best bass and high frequencies. Even the mesh covering the HomePod mini was designed for its acoustic properties.

As you can see, the technical aspects of the HomePod mini are incredibly important to how it works in your home. Now, let’s get to the fun stuff.

My Setup

Setting up the HomePod mini was very easy. Just open the Home app on your iPhone, hold it near the device, and answer a few simple questions. Everything you need, including accounts, settings, and Siri, is transferred to the mini, and you’re ready to go in a few minutes.

The most important thing for me with HomePod mini is music. I want it to be crisp and clear and loud when I need it—that’s actually most of the time.

I will admit that when I took it out of the box, I didn’t think it would meet my being “loud” expectations. It just seemed too small to pump out any meaningful sound, and cranking it up may cause some distortion in the audio.

Naturally, the first thing I did was turn the volume up to 100 percent playing Ozzy Osbourne. I actually smiled when the music started playing. It was loud and clear… and loud.

All of that technology I mentioned before was at work, and it sounded great.

I have two HomePods in the living room, but when I try to play music loud enough to hear it in the kitchen, it’s too loud everywhere else.

So, the first HomePod mini I set up was in the kitchen. I wanted to put one in that room for a couple of reasons. First, to play music and podcasts while I cook, and the second is to use Siri for timers and add items to my grocery list.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been cooking, ran out of an ingredient, and forgot to add it to my shopping list. Now, I tell Siri on the HomePod mini to add it and keep going. That may seem like a small thing to some of you, but it’s a big deal when you’re the one making the meals.

The second HomePod mini I setup was outside. I wouldn’t recommend doing this because it could get wet or destroyed outside. Fortunately, I live in California, and I have a covered gazebo, so the HomePod mini is very safe from the weather. Still, please don’t do it.

I spend a lot of my time outside. It’s where I work most days, so having a HomePod mini out there makes perfect sense. I often listen to podcasts or music while working, so what better way to do that than with the mini.

My fiancé and I often meet outside at the end of the day to chat and catch up. Now, I ask Siri on the mini to play some music, and we enjoy a little time together, relaxing and listening to a few songs.

When we’re allowed, I can imagine having a few people over and having a party in the backyard, all powered by HomePod mini. I can see a couple of you wondering if the mini’s volume could handle a party—I say, yes.

Multi-room audio and stereo pairs

One of my favorite aspects of using HomePods is multi-room audio. This feature allows you to play music in different rooms of your house and control it using Siri.

As I mentioned, I often sit outside, listening to podcasts or music during the day. If I’m going inside, I can tell Siri to move the audio from the Gazebo to the kitchen by saying, “Hey Siri, move this to the kitchen.”

Within a couple of seconds, the audio will stop in the Gazebo and pick up where it left off in the kitchen.

If I plan on being in both places, going in and outside, I can tell Siri to play it in both places. In the Gazebo, where the audio is play, I say, “Hey Siri, play this in the kitchen.” With that command, the music plays in both places.

I can also tell Siri to play the audio everywhere in my house by saying, “Hey Siri, play this everywhere.” Then the audio will play in the gazebo, kitchen, and the HomePods in my living room.

You can also stop playing in an individual room from where you are by naming the specific room. “Hey Siri, stop playing this in the kitchen.” The audio will continue to play on the rest of the HomePods.

Of course, you can also play separate music in each room if you want.

It’s a brilliant system for controlling how and where you want to listen to music.

HomePod minis can also be configured as a stereo pair. It’s effortless to do in the Home app once both speakers are setup. Just tap the “Create Stereo Pair…” Button and follow the instructions.

I love the sound of a stereo pair. You can’t setup a stereo pair of HomePod mini and the original HomePod, which makes sense. So if you want a pair, you’ll have to buy two of the same models of the product.

I opted to have a stereo pair of original HomePods in my living room and use the HomePod minis as individual speakers in other areas of the house.

Personal requests and Web searches

Personal requests give the HomePod mini access to your Reminders, Notes, Calendar, Messages, etc.

I have this feature turned on for all devices, so no matter where I am in the house, I can ask Siri to add something to my lists or ask about my upcoming appointments. Personal requests are executed on the device, so as long as my iPhone is on the same Wi-Fi network, HomePod mini can access the information.

You can also control which HomePod minis will be able to access your personal requests. For instance, you may only want the device in your office to respond to personal requests—you can turn this feature on and off in the HomePod mini settings from the Home app on your iPhone.

I didn’t have it on at first, but I find it much more convenient to access all of my information wherever I am in the house.

Web searches have become much smarter with the latest release of HomePod software. You can now search the Web for items and show the results on your iPhone if it is nearby.

In my testing, you have to be very specific about the phrase you use to do these searches, so please note the exact phrase before trying this.

“Hey Siri, search the Web for…”

You can search for images of hockey sticks, videos of how to cut a mango, or information on a band like Van Halen, but you have to start the phrase as I did above for it to work.

The results came from three different sources when I tried it. The videos came from YouTube, the images from Bing, and the information from Google.

It worked really well for me, and not getting the Siri response, “I’m not able to do that here,” is a welcome change.

Personal requests also extend to Maps. If you ask HomePod mini for information about a business nearby, for example, what time it closes, HomePod mini will give you the answer and also send a Siri suggestion to your iPhone for CarPlay. When you get in your car, directions to the business is in Maps and ready to go.

Allowing updated listening history

The HomePod mini can update your Apple Music listening history as you play music or podcasts on the device. If you allow this, it will affect the For You section of Apple Music, which I found can be good and bad.

I have my HomePods set to allow it to recognize anyone’s voice. This is the easiest way for people to come over and use the system to play music.

The downside is that whatever music they choose affects my account. If they play Smooth Jazz or another genre I don’t like, all of a sudden, Apple Music is recommending that type of music for me.

That’s exactly how it should work; I’m not arguing that, but I don’t want my recommendations affected by other people.

Of course, there is another side to that argument. If you don’t allow HomePod mini to update your history, you don’t get updated song plays, and for me, podcasts that I played were not marked as played on my iPhone.

This setting is clearly a personal choice, but I would rather it not update and be able to control my Apple Music recommendations.

You can turn this feature on per HomePod, but I decided to leave it off altogether.

Using your iPhone with HomePod mini

HomePod mini is designed to be used with Siri. It can control most things you want to do on the device, from playing to music to accessing your personal requests.

However, there are times when your iPhone can come in handy. Of course, you need your iPhone to change the HomePod mini settings, but you can also use it to play music.

Let’s say you are in the car listening to a great playlist. When you get home, you want to keep listening without restarting the playlist on your HomePod mini. You can transfer music to your mini when you get home.

There are a couple of easy ways to do this. First, you can walk up to the HomePod mini you want to play the music on and hold the iPhone close to it. A message will appear that it is transferring the music to the HomePod.

You can also use Siri on your iPhone and say, “Play this in the kitchen,” and the music will switch to the HomePod mini. Or you can use the AirPlay 2 control on your iPhone and choose the HomePod mini you want to play the music.

The reverse is also true. If you are listening to that same playlist on HomePod mini and are leaving to go for a drive, you can hold the iPhone near the mini, and the music will transfer playing to your iPhone.

There is one thing to note here. If you transfer music from your iPhone to your HomePod mini, it is still playing the music from your iPhone. In other words, the iPhone is using AirPlay 2 to play the music on HomePod, and the two will remain connected until you physically remove the connection.

Even if you ask Siri to play different music on your HomePod mini, it will still be connected to your iPhone. You need to use the AirPlay controls on the iPhone to separate the two devices.

Not a big deal but worth noting as you begin using the devices together.

Siri commands and multiple timers

With no screen, it’s obvious that HomePod mini is meant to be controlled using Siri. The HomePod mini does have controls on top of the device that allow you to play, pause, skip tracks and invoke Siri, but I found just using “Hey Siri” worked great on the HomePod mini.

I would recommend learning a few simple Siri commands to get you started and then add to those basic ones as you become more comfortable.

In addition to playing music, I also use Siri quite a bit for timers in the kitchen. When cooking, I often have several timers going simultaneously, but keeping track of them with HomePod mini is easy.

“Hey Siri, set a timer named carrots for 15 minutes.” “Hey Siri, set a timer named potatoes for 12 minutes.”

If you want to know how much time is left, say, “Hey Siri, how much time is left,” and Siri will tell you how much time remains on each timer.

When a timer is complete, Siri will tell you the timer’s name, so you know exactly where to go on the stove.

If you don’t name the first timer and try to start a second, Siri will suggest that you give it a name, so it is actively trying to help you.

Other useful commands I found was adding the current song to one of my Playlists.

“Hey Siri, add this song to my Mellow Rock Favs playlist.”

Adjust the volume.

“Hey Siri, turn it up.” “Hey Siri, turn it up, 5%.”

If you’re listening to a podcast and someone starts talking, you don’t need to stop playing; you can say:

“Hey Siri, pause.” “Hey Siri, continue,” and it will start playing where you left off.

Intercom

Intercom is one of those features that everyone is talking about. I gave it a try, but I didn’t use it a lot.

I have a small house, so when I tried Intercom and said:

“Hey Siri, intercom, can you bring me a Heineken?”

My fiancé poked her head out of the kitchen door and said, “no.” No real need for the intercom feature there.

While I didn’t use it much, I can see how useful intercom could be in a larger house. The feature will work on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, CarPlay, and AirPods, so you’re able to send intercom messages across devices and whether or not you’re physically in the house.

Conclusion

I love the HomePod mini. It’s useful in accessing my personal information like lists, notes, and calendars, and it allows me the flexibility to play music wherever I want.

The sound quality of the music is really good for such a small speaker—or any speaker. HomePod mini fits almost anywhere you want to put it, and it looks great.

I currently have the two HomePod minis, but I’m getting another one for the master bathroom. If I had a bigger house, I would get more and have one in every room. At $99, the HomePod mini is a fantastic bargain for what it provides.