Technophile

Apple HomePod Mini: Small but powerful

Kishore Bhargava | Updated on March 01, 2021

A pair of these smart speakers could liven up the space around you with excellent sound

Apple has been a late entrant to the smart speaker market. They launched the HomePod in 2018 and many would argue that it wasn’t really a smart speaker because Apple has focused on good sound quality for music on the HomePod speakers. To start with, Siri had limited capabilities and HomeKit products that were controllable with the assistant were few and far between. But then, the one thing that nobody would deny is the excellent sound of the HomePod. It’s truly a great sounding speaker that not only sounded better than all the other smart speakers but also better than some regular speakers, giving them a real run for their money.

In late 2020, when Apple announced the HomePod Mini, people were curious to see what Apple had changed from the larger sibling. For a person invested in the Apple ecosystem, the changes were all very welcome. For a start, the HomePod Mini has a very attractive price. Just under $100 and similar pricing in other markets, in India this is priced at ₹9,900. Siri does a lot more and several features were added to her, making it a very easy choice for an Apple user.

Apple’s HomePod: This smart speaker is all about music

The HomePod Mini is like an oversized cricket ball which has a flat top and bottom. It is covered with a fabric mesh and sitting on a shelf or a table it looks rather nice. One would have thought the fabric may mute sounds or muffle them, but here is where Apple uses its magic sauce. The HomePod Mini has a very distinct clear sound with surprising depth for that size. The top of the Mini is glass and has no buttons but just a faint marking for increasing or decreasing the volume. It is also how you interact with Siri on the speaker with various options like tap, double-tap, etc. Of course, the best way to interact with the speaker is via voice, just call out “Hey Siri” and the glass glows in the all-familiar colourful spiral that is also there on other devices like the phone, the iPad and the MacBook.

Setting up the HomePod is a breeze, since it is equipped with the U1 chip. A nearby iPhone will be detected and it will guide you through the set-up process in a few minutes. iPhone 11/12 series can also do a very neat handoff in both directions simply by bringing the phone close to the HomePod. What’s playing on the phone could very easily be transferred to the HomePod or vice-versa.

The HomePod does not have a separate app to control it but rather it is managed via the Home app. This is where you would name the speaker, select the primary user, Siri language preferences, etc. This is also where you would go to set up a stereo pair if you happen to have a pair of Minis. In fact, the Minis really come into their own when paired and sound even better together. Setting them up is easy as all you have to do is add them as a group in the Home app.

Music experience, smart home control top reasons to buy smart speakers in non-metros: Study

Amazing clarity

The new features the HomePod Mini now has also include an “intercom” option. If you have a few spread across your home you can use them for conversations much like The Echo’s “drop-in” feature. The added advantage here is that you can also use it to send messages to the family and it would be sent to all phones in the family group.

While the HomePod Mini is really mini and can be placed very easily anywhere, a bookshelf, a table top, or any nook and corner of the house you would want to place them in an open area. The sound is, after all, 360° and to benefit from that it should be away from walls or other reflective surfaces. I landed up setting them across from my chair on my work desk. The amazing thing is the clarity of these little speakers. Honestly, while listening to podcasts I felt the presenter was sitting across me and talking and the beauty is while they do get loud they don’t distort. Of course, Siri will warn you if you try and set the volume to 100 per cent.

Listening to music was also a pleasure. The genres that I tried were essentially Jazz, Classic Rock, Blues, and Hindustani Classical. All rendered very well. I am sure the younger ears would want more Bass but for me they were ideal.

 

So, is it all positive on the HomePod mini? Well, it seems to be a definite improvement over the larger HomePod but still leaves a lot to be desired. No Bluetooth, no Spotify Connect, and still very few products that work with HomeKit. It is one of the first devices to support Thread networking and the products that are available seem to work much better and faster than conventional HomeKit and even the other home automation options. Maybe the next generation will see some more changes.

In the meantime, for an Apple user, AirPlay would work from almost anywhere. I connected a MacBook, an iPad, an Apple TV and an iPhone to the stereo pair and it was fairly seamless. With four microphones it detects commands very easily; even when you have Siri enabled on multiple devices it somehow figures out which one you are talking too! With the phone in my pocket and the speaker across the room if I asked Siri to change the music, rather than phone responding the speaker did.

Price: ₹9,900/-

Pros: Great sound, seamless operation, compact size, good price.

Cons: Dependant on Apple ecosystem, still relatively limited capabilities of Siri and HomeKit

Published on March 01, 2021

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