In late 2020, Apple introduced the new HomePod mini (never "Mini"), a US$99 smart speaker supporting Siri, HomeKit, and Thread.
The HomePod mini lives up to its small-sounding name, and it sounds excellent for its size, but it is a step down in quality from its (much) bigger brethren. The sound difference is just Apple hitting the limits of audio science — a small device can only move so much air.
Another new feature added to the HomePod Mini is the addition of the Apple U1 chip for Ultra-Wideband (UWB) support. This chip enables the HomePod mini to locate other devices with the Apple U1 chip — such as the iPhone 11+ or Apple Watch S6+ — with very high precision, including distance, direction, and how fast the device moves. So, theoretically, it could be used by the HomePod mini to understand the physical location of both a user (based on their phone/watch) and other devices nearby, to enable futuristic-seeming interactions with your smart home. But, unfortunately, Apple only uses it to support Hand-Off between your phone and the HomePod mini.
At almost one-quarter the price, it's a great alternative to the original (which has now been discontinued). It's also somewhat portable if you happen to have a portable 20W USB-C power source.
Like the original HomePod, the HomePod mini only supports AirPlay for audio (no Bluetooth streaming), but you can stream to many simultaneously and pair two together, allowing for Stereo sound. When paired with an AppleTV in Home Theater mode, a stereo pair are an upgrade on most TV built-in speakers. However, unlike the original HomePod, there is no Atmos support.
Before the release of the HomePod mini, I would often call out to Siri, and the singular HomePod that was too far away for me to hear would respond. While this is a testament to the excellent microphones on the device, Siri announcing to my empty office the current time in Singapore doesn't help me very much in the kitchen where I'm standing, expecting my iPhone to answer.
To solve this problem, I wanted more HomePods, but at US$349, it just wasn't feasible. Enter the HomePod mini, and for the price of a Stereo Pair of HomePods, I now have a HomePod mini in most rooms in my house, including my kitchen, guest bedroom, and main bathroom.
It isn't all good news with the HomePod mini. Most critically, Apple downgraded the WiFi support to 802.11n, the slower predecessor to the 802.11ac standard supported by the original HomePod.
Apple also chose to use the Apple S5 chip from the Apple Watch, which uses less power but is only marginally faster than the 2-year-old Apple A8 in the original HomePod, and it has the same 1GB of memory.
The HomePod mini is Apple's response to the ubiquitous Echo Dot from Amazon, enabling whole-home smart speaker support but doing it better.
Power: 20W via USB-C
- Priced at US$99
- Small unobtrusive design
- Thread Support
- Bluetooth 5.0 Support
- Now available in five colors
- Underwhelming specs
- Unused Apple U1/UWB capabilities
- Not a true successor to the original HomePod
The Apple HomePod mini's only fault is having to follow in the footsteps of its bigger predecessor. At just US$99, it's the right price for whole-home deployment while providing excellent sound for its size and top-tier HomeKit Hub features. If you're not planning to adopt an AppleTV 4K, this is the one to get.