Better late than never. HomePod mini, the second generation of Apple’s smart speakers, has finally made its debut in Italy.
The minion version of the classic HomePod is not new to the international market, where it has been active for over a year alongside its older brother, recently sent to the attic after its 2017 debut. However, its arrival in Italy marks the entrance of the Bitten Apple in the Italian smart speaker market and a step forward in the localization process of a device that is now able to communicate also in Italian. After all, the Cupertino-based company still has a few squares to recover in this chessboard compared to the competition, after an unsatisfactory (and late) start.
In an already consolidated but still growing market, with a very rich offer and two leaders who are fiercely competing for the top, what is the place of such a device? And what value does it add to the sector?
THE DESIGN: ALREADY SEEN, ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL
Looking at HomePod mini, the dèjà vu is immediate: in its features, Apple’s smart speaker recalls Amazon’s Echo Dot in an even more Lilliputian version: a sphere with truly reduced dimensions – 84.3 mm in height and 97.9 mm in width – wrapped in a soft mesh fabric covering that culminates in a white glass backlit panel, on which the touch controls are shown. This becomes a kaleidoscope of colors when Siri is called upon and instead remains illuminated in white when the music is playing, with a rather hypnotic (and even a bit tamarrous) final result.
In the package there is a 20 W power supply (the same as the iPads) with USB-C port. There are four colors available: the classic Apple-style white and space gray are flanked by yellow, blue and orange. Fun nuances, perhaps difficult to camouflage in the home environment (unless you have a particular predilection for multicolor) but still different from what you see on the market.
The overall design of Homepod mini pleases the eye, the footprint is minimal and allows the device to adapt to any room in the house.
A full range driver, two passive radiators and four microphones are hidden inside the sphere. Apple had warned us: with Homepod mini they would have bet everything on audio quality, making it the winning card with which to distance themselves from competitors (this explains the choice of the name, which evokes that of one of its most iconic devices).
I can confirm it: for being so compact, the sound is really powerful, especially when the object is placed on a wooden surface that acts as a sounding board. The bass is soft and deep, the mid frequencies well balanced and the high tones crystal clear and ringing.
The result? A dense and elaborate musical plot and a 360 ° enveloping sound that gives its best at maximum volume but that suffers the limitations of the cable, being constrained to a not very central location. Behind this acoustic performance there is the hand of Computational Audio, “orchestrated” by the Apple S5 chip (the brain of the Homepod mini, the same as the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch SE), which also allows Siri to intercept voice commands even with music to the max.
With two Homepod mini then you can decide whether to create a small stereo system, combining them in the same room (highly recommended to also use them as speakers for the Apple TV home theater system), or to have them work separately, in different rooms, using the Multiroom mode. And then there is a particularly interesting trick: by approaching your iPhone (as long as it is equipped with proximity sensors, therefore from 11 onwards) to the Homepod with a song or a podcast playing, after a small vibration the content will be transferred almost instantly on your smartphone. Seamless listening helped.
But not all that glitters is gold. By focusing the lens on the available music streaming services, it is evident that Apple Music is deeply embedded in the device, so much so that, without a premium subscription, it is difficult to take full advantage of its audio qualities. Despite the integration with platforms such as Pandora, Deezer, Netease and other minor services, native support for Spotify is missing, a fact that has already raised general discontent (including myself). If it is true that there is always a solution, and in this case it is called Airplay 2 (with which HomePod mini turns into a speaker to be controlled with iPhone, iPad or Mac) – it is equally true that such an absence remains difficult. to digest, especially in light of the promises made by Cupertino.
Lack of Spotify aside, from my point of view, among the small smart speakers in circulation, Homepod mini is definitely the most suitable for high-quality music listening, I would say flawless, which beats ten to zero what other brands offer.
- Full-range driver, two passive radiators
- Acoustic guide for 360-degree audio
- Acoustic fabric upholstery
- Real-time audio adjustment
- 4 long range microphones
- Multiroom audio with AirPlay 2
- Ability to pair two HomePods for stereo audio
- Audio sources:
- Apple Music, Purchases from Itunes, iCloud Library, Third Party Music Services, Apple Music Radio, Radio Stations from TuneIn, IHeartRadio and Radio.com, Apple Podcasts,
- AirPlay from iPhone / iPad / iPod touch, Apple TV and Mac
Touch controls: play / pause, track change, Siri, volume
- Connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Guest Access, Bluetooth 5.0, UWB Chip for Proximity Sensing, Thread
- Dimensions and weight: 84.3 x 9.7 cm, 345 grams
The new Intercom function is interesting, with which it is possible to ask Siri to transmit a voice message to one or more Homepod mini placed in other rooms of the house or to the Apple devices of other family members – Apple Watch, AirPods, iPad, iPhone and CarPlay. – regardless of where they are (let’s forget the screams from room to room to warn that dinner is ready).
Similar features have already been seen on other smart speakers (an example is Alexa’s DropIn) but they are still useful, especially if the house is large and if the family unit is particularly large.
HomePod mini also seems quite reliable on the privacy front: Apple ensures that the device listens to the user only when the hot word “Hey Siri” is spoken, so no personal information is intercepted by the device if Siri is not listening. Furthermore, the command addressed to the voice assistant is associated with a random identifier and not with your Apple ID, while personal data is processed directly on the device without therefore being sent to the company’s servers.
HEY SIRI, WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE ART?
The real protagonist of smart speakers, as we know, is the voice assistant caged inside them, capable of significantly affecting the experience of using the device. Siri, a pioneer of all smart assistants, has however lagged behind the competition over the years (ten since its launch), despite the fact that the company continues to invest in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to refine its performance.
Over time, with the recent launch of iOS 15, Siri has made not a few progress in terms of performance, localization and reliability and using Homepod mini it is quite easy to notice. With just the use of your voice you can make calls and send messages, search online, access news, music, reminders, traffic, jokes, weather forecasts, translations, and much more.
However, the more elaborate commands remain smoky, the baggage of pre-set phrases is still thin and the response times too dilated. Furthermore, unlike the models available on other markets, the integration with third-party apps is rather limited (WhatsApp and Telegram still need the intermediation of the iPhone) and some services have not yet been localized.
However, some merits must also be recognized: I appreciated the responsiveness of the smart assistant in understanding which Apple device the command is addressed to. For example, direct inputs to Homepod mini with an iPhone in hand are received by the device without interference. Furthermore, with the Where is function, it becomes even easier to track down lost items, whether they are an iPhone or a wallet with AirTag in tow: when the skill is activated vocally, HomePod mini instantly plays a sound to the tracked devices and accessories. in Dov’è, in order to find them even more easily within the home.
Net of these considerations, it is undeniable that competition remains one step ahead.
SMART HOME: THE ROAD IS STILL LONG
HomePod mini is also conceived as a hub for the smart home with which it is possible to control household appliances or other smart devices compatible with Apple Homekit, the Apple branded home automation protocol “governed” through the official app, Casa (which, unlike the competition , is also open to third-party management apps). For configuration, just start the Home app from the iPhone or iPad and perform a couple of simple steps, the daily management is based on the voice interface.
From the point of view of home automation, however, there are still strong limitations: the availability of accessories compatible with the platform is still limited compared to those that can be controlled through the Alexa and Google Home systems. To work, moreover, Homekit implies the use of Apple devices, as opposed to the two competing systems, which can be managed indiscriminately by Android and iPhone users. These are evidences that have contributed to making the Homekit platform less versatile – and less widespread. At least for now.
The future is in fact still to be written and support for the new IoT Thread standard, which involves the main producers in the sector, could expand the range of possibilities of the HomePod mini as a home hub and of the entire Apple smarthome.
For sure, the arrival of a new access key to Apple’s smart home creates a third polarity that could attract the attention of companies and accelerate the process of universal integration of the proprietary framework.
The second generation smart speaker of the bitten Apple is available on the Apple Store and authorized stores at a cost of 99 euros. A slightly higher price than its competitors, but definitely lower than the average of Apple products. After all, one of the reasons for the timid success of the first Homepod was precisely the high cost (349 dollars) which, despite the cut on the price list (299 dollars), has discouraged its diffusion.
HomePod mini is not a device designed for everyone: it is designed for the faithful members of the Bitten Apple clan (of which I am also a moderately part): those, that is, who collect every piece of its dense, sparkling ecosystem and move comfortably in the inside. To fully exploit the potential of this smart speaker, it is necessary to possess certain requirements, such as a subscription to Apple Music (priority), an iPhone or iPad in your hands and a crowd of compatible third party services and devices so that it can be used as a hub for smart home.
Reformulating the initial questions, did such a product serve the market? More than anything else, the feeling is that Apple needed more to be able to carve out a space in that market segment. It has succeeded, even well, because for its admirers HomePod is a real gem: it fits perfectly into the Apple ecosystem, has a remarkable audio quality (audiophiles will prefer more, however), a pleasant appearance and very small size.
For us, therefore, it is a big yes. For everyone else, maybe not.
EXCELLENT AUDIO QUALITY
VALUE FOR MONEY
AESTHETICS AND DIMENSIONS
GOOD INTEGRATION WITH THE APPLE ECOSYSTEM
SIRI IS STILL BEHIND
HOMEKIT IS LITTLE SPREAD AMONG THE THIRD PARTIES
LENDS ITSELF TO APPLE-CENTRISM