A few weeks ago I picked up an Apple HomdPod mini for our home. In this article I wanted to share some first impressions since bringing the mini into our house.
Perceived messaging of HomePod vs HomePod mini
The first time I watched an ad of the original HomePod was the ad by Spike Jonze. When I watched it I was captured by the art of the advertisement, but the impression I got from HomePod as a product, was that it’s a speaker that’s also intelligent.
In other words, I first saw it as a product for those who care about sound quality and music. More so than a digital assistant. Apple always touted that it had Siri, but it never really occurred to me that it was more assistant than speaker.
In Spike Jonze’s video, you’re invited into a story of a young lady, living in the city in a small apartment. Engrossed in the music that HomePod emits as she dances to the music and her apartment transforms in fun and colorful ways.
Contrast to HomePod mini and the introduction video that they debuted. You see a busy family of four all interacting with the HomePod mini. Like its older sibling the larger HomePod it too touts good sound quality, but this time the messaging seemed to be more so over how smart HomePod is as an assistant.
You see multiple family members interacting with HomePod mini and it being able to recognize individuals and provide personalized data based on their voice. With HomePod mini you also have the introduction to Intercom which reminds me of houses growing up which had physical intercoms in each room so family members could communicate with each other across rooms.
For me, the original HomePod wasn’t really an eye catcher. Since the perception I had gotten from Apple was that it was a device for those who enjoyed sound quality and music. While I like music, I don’t consider myself an audiophile.
But when I saw the mini it definitely caught my eye. I had been living with Alexa via an Echo Dot for about a year and knew what having a digital assistant was like. Seeing Apple come out with an assistant that was integrated to their ecosystem that also embodied their principles of privacy. The device made sense to me.
So I bought a HomePod mini to fit into our already growing Apple ecosystem, for privacy and to replace Alexa for Siri.
I really like the look and feel of the HomePod mini. While I wanted the space gray, the only mini that my local Apple store had in stock was the white. I’m actually glad I got the white. The aesthetics is really clean and nice to look at.
The two things about the build of the device that was a surprise to me was first the power adapter and LED controls at the top of the device.
I’m not sure of the original HomePod came with the same power adapter as the mini, but this is an adapter that is completely different than any other Apple device adapters I’ve seen.
The cord itself instead of just a plastic sleeve found on all other Apple power adapter has a nice threaded sheath. This little detail makes the device feel like a high quality device. I’m familiar with Apple power adapters eventually fraying and breaking but this cord felt more durable when I first saw it.
The LED controls at the top is really nice. Coming from a smart assistant that had discreet buttons for the controls seeing this all-in-one LED that shows Siri-esque colors and can respond to different types of taps is nice.
While it does look and feel nice, the few times I have used the controls, it felt like it wasn’t as nearly as responsive as having discreet buttons to do things such as raise and lower the volume.
The first time we heard Siri speak from the HomePod mini, we knew the sound quality was much higher to that of our old Echo Dot.
Then we signed up for a subscription to Apple One and gained a subscription to Apple Music and that’s when it was a game changer as far as music goes.
Previously with Echo Dot we had access to Prime Music through our Prime account. While the music was always a convenience since the kids loved listening to their favorite songs on demand, music was never really a priority for us.
But with Apple Music and HomePod mini, we’re finding ourselves enjoying music a lot more.
I’m not sure if it is because Apple Music has higher sampled music in their library but the sound quality coming from HomePod mini is really nice.
The experience with HomePod mini as an assistant has been mixed.
With Apple’s touting of privacy comes with really obvious trade-offs.
For one, Siri just doesn’t have as much access to information and when it does have the information, it tries to forward it to your phone.
An example of this is, my kids were always asking Alexa about random facts and Alexa would do its best to give us an answer. My son who is super into dinosaurs right now would ask questions and Alexa would share them as it found data on the Internet.
Contrast to Siri, the same questions would be responded to, I’ve found some results for you and now they are on your phone.
The on boarding experience was magical! Just like it was the first time I saw my wife pair her phone to her Apple Watch for the first time. Being part of the Apple ecosystem it’s been nothing short of magic being able to see the devices working seamlessly together.
And pairing the device was no different.
You bring your phone close to the device and it pops up on your phone. Which by then it starts to pair.
We also noticed that HomePod mini picks up command prompts really, really well. I’m not sure if this is some magic either with having other Apple products around, but I’m able to sit quite a bit away from HomePod mini in a room and yell, “Hey Siri” and I’m impressed by the distance it is able to achieve in responding to my prompt.
One of the questions my wife had with Siri was how does it know which device to respond with. While not perfect, I do think it is getting there. I’ve “Hey Siri”-ed while close to both my phone and the HomePod mini and I think somehow the HomePod just knows to take precedence over the phone.
I’ve seen Siri on my phone light up and look like it was going to respond, but it lights off just as quick and Siri from HomePod mini ends up responding.
As I’ve shared above, I’ve never been much of a music listener. While I do listen to music, I never made it a point to pay for a service for music. I often went to YouTube for music or just listened to the limited library on Prime Music.
Since getting HomePod mini, we signed up for Apple One which Apple Music comes bundled with it. The kids love listening to “Let It Go”, “Baby Shark”, Andrea Bocelli and “Eye of the Tiger” so I had to get a music service that worked if I was to replace their beloved Alexa.
And I’m glad I did. Being apart of the Apple ecosystem it’s nice that a single service is seamless across so many other devices that I own. I now listen to more music from my MacBook Pro when I’m working.
I also listen to a lot of Apple Music in my car with my phone connected to our car’s audio system. It is also an added bonus that I can DJ my kids’ favorite songs with a “Hey Siri”.
One of the things that I didn’t quite understand why Apple had done it this way is putting the controls of Apple HomePod in the Home app. While I understand it is a smart device, I find it a little cumbersome to get to some of its controls only through the Home app through several taps.
Another smart device from the Apple ecosystem that we frequently use in our family is the Apple TV. And even has its own dedicated app, if not two — Apple TV and Remote. I would’ve liked if the HomePod also got that treatment. It feels weird that an update to the device could only happen through the Home app.
Contrast to the Apple Watch and the Watch even has a dedicated app and it is the means in which updates happen. In putting the controls in Home, the HomePod’s experience to me feels like it’s been put in the back seat.
The integration of HomePod mini to your family’s phone is also a double edged sword to me right now. While Siri on HomePod mini doesn’t have any problems recognizing my voice, it has a hard time differentiating between my 5 year old’s voice and my wife. For that reason, Siri on HomePod mini is able to do things on her account that my wife probably wouldn’t really want. While I think the convenience is stellar in having a dedicated device that lets you do things like add reminders and such from your phone, not being able to tell the difference between my wife and our daughter has been a little concerning. I’m hoping with software updates, this will get better.
One of the newer features that came to HomePod when the mini was released is Intercom. I think Intercom is appropriately named. In that the feature is more for one-way broadcasting instead of two-way like a walkie talkie. Which was my first impression when I had seen it in the announcement video.
When you Intercom, the message gets relayed to your entire family and the HomePods you designate. While on the HomePod the message you Intercom plays automatically, the message shows up on your devices as a audio recording in which you have to play manually.
I thought that was clever since I don’t think I’d want my kids Intercom-ing me all day while working.
I have found Intercom to be useful in giving my family a heads up if I’m driving. Like I’ve been on the road and Intercom-med to the HomePod mini at home for the family to put on shoes and meet me at the door in 2 mins. Like magic, as I was pulling into our drive way I saw my family meeting me outside.
While there are definitely trade-offs in investing in the more privacy-focused Apple smart device, I’ve found the things my family and I have gained from it a net positive. The device looks great and I like how HomePod integrates so well to the Apple ecosystem of devices we have in our home.