2020-11-27

★ The HomePod Mini

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This won’t take long.

That’s the thought in my head, surprisingly often, when I sit down to start reviewing a new product. I have a fundamental synopsis in my head, an encapsulated summary, and I feel like it won’t take many words to get out. I’m usually wrong. This time I’m nearly certain I’m right.

The HomePod Mini is a delightful smart speaker, and a good value at $100.

Apple sent me a pair of HomePod Minis to review a little over a week ago. I’ve used them both set up as a stereo pair in the same room, and as individual speakers in separate rooms. They’re easy to set up and sound great for the price — and to my non-audiophile ears, sound remarkable for their size.

Do they sound as good as the full-size $300 HomePods? No, of course not. But they sound really good for $100, and in smaller rooms, I’m not sure there’s a reason to worry about the difference. Music sounds great, and they do smart dynamic on-the-fly tricks to adjust to the type of music (or audio) that’s playing, just like their big siblings.

Also just like the full-size HomePod, HomePod Mini does a great job hearing and parsing your voice commands even while music is playing.

One HomePod Mini sounds really good, and while I’m not going to say it sounds like stereo, it doesn’t sound like everything is coming from a tiny softball-sized speaker. It sounds bigger. Two paired Minis — again, just like with the full-size version — sound more than twice as good. It’s really quite a thing to hear, and they’re clearly doing more than splitting audio into left/right channels. They’re working together to fill a room with great sound.

How does the sound quality compare to $100-ish smart speakers from Amazon or Google? I can’t really say. I’ve got a cylindrical Amazon Echo from 2016, and the HomePod Mini makes that sound like a tin can, but that’s not a fair comparison. If you’re looking for a “which smart speaker sounds best” comparison, this isn’t it.

What I do know is that the HomePod Mini seems like just what everyone has been asking for from Apple — a much lower-priced HomePod that still sounds great. Now, you can say, “Well wait, the new Amazon Dot is just $50.” I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Apple to make a $50 anything. The HomePod Mini might be the nicest device Apple has ever made for $100. I don’t even know what to compare it against, price-wise — I guess the iPod Shuffle, which started as low as $99 when it debuted and dropped to $50 by the fourth and final generation in 2010.

The HomePod Mini even includes a 20W power adapter (which it needs — the hazy touch panel “display” on top just pulses orange if you plug it into an adapter that provides less than 20W of power). I’m not saying Apple should have even considered selling the HomePod Mini without the power adapter — I’m just saying it’s hard to imagine Apple selling it for less than $100 when the power adapter alone costs $20.

All the normal HomePod stuff works exactly like it does it on the big HomePod. The big HomePod now has the ability to serve as home theater audio output for Apple TV 4K — that’s a new feature exclusive to the full-size HomePods. But in every other way, the HomePod Mini is a HomePod.

I dig it.