A year with the HomePod Mini

Apple

In gift-giving season last year (was it last year?) I got an Apple HomePod Mini, which has been sitting in the kitchen ever since. As gift-giving season approached this year, I wondered if I might want a second of them, so I could use it as a stereo pair, or in multiple rooms. It’s available in multiple colours now, so…

But no. I find I don’t want a second one. In the end, I don’t think it’s as satisfying to own and use as the similarly-sized UE Wonderboom, for several reasons. The main advantage it has over the Wonderboom is that it is an AirPlay speaker (as opposed to Bluetooth); you could include the so-called smart features (built in Siri) as an advantage—but let’s get real.

Siri

Apple has a lot on its plate with Siri. It’s in multiple markets, with multiple languages, and it has a massive installed base of active iPhone users. iPhones are supported by software updates for far longer than rival phones, so the older models get passed down and are still in use. All of that, and yet, we all have to admit it: Siri can be a bit useless. The Siri built into the HomePod Mini can in theory be quite useful. You can set a timer – more than one at a time, too. You can add things to your shopping list, if you get the wording right. You can ask about the weather, set reminders, etc. But you can do all of that on your phone too. And actually, it’s far more convenient to set a timer on my Apple Watch. And realistically, none of these features are life changing. I could live without them, and I often can’t be bothered to use them. As for the smart home integration features, I’ve got no interest in them so far. I’m not spending sixty quid on a light bulb so I can turn into one of the humans in Wall-E.

Music

What the speaker really wants to do is play music from Apple Music. Fine. But it’s a bit shit at that, too. If you say, “Hey Siri, play Band on the Run”, the speaker will play the song Band on the Run, and never the album. And if you can manage to get out, “Hey Siri, play the album Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings” it’ll play Herman’s Hermits Greatest Hits or similar. You give up in the end, and you start things on your phone and throw them over to the speaker, which is how you use a Wonderboom. For other audio (and I listen to a lot of podcasts as older readers will know) it can be pretty flaky, dropping the connection or stopping playback for no particular reason.

And in the end…

I increasingly find myself reluctant to use it. I’ve got it in the kitchen, which is where I do most of my listening, but sometimes I just use the speaker in the phone, or I stick the AirPods in, or other headphones. If it ever gets unplugged, it takes ages to reconnect to the wifi, which is something you never have to put up with when it comes to a Wonderboom. And it is that, finally, that makes it less useful to me – the need for it to be plugged in. If I could pick it up and carry it with me upstairs, or into another room, I’d have it on a lot more, but I’ve never been one for high volumes, so I don’t want to turn it up loud so it can be heard in the room next door.

It’s also a dirt magnet (in the kitchen!), so it looks grubby and the mesh covering is impractical and impossible to clean. I know this is true of most speakers, but a Wonderboom (for example) can be kept switched off, picked up, moved about to keep it away from flying food, and given a wipe down without reacting to every touch. The mildest accidental touch on HomePod Mini will start it playing (whatever it was playing three weeks ago, as usual), so you’d need to unplug it to clean it, which means waiting for it to find the wifi again.

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2 responses to “A year with the HomePod Mini”

  1. Interesting. I wondered if the HomePod was an audio experiment that went bit out of control.

    I settled for SONOS speakers, which are reasonable and which support just about every service (eg Spotify, Apple Music. Plex, My Library etc etc) and also support Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant etc.). The convenience of the speakers outweighs the absolute sound quality and we’ve gradually spread them around so its possible to have synchronised music or different music in different rooms. I do have some home integration too and SONOS with say Alexa can switch on the outdoor lights, start the vacuum etc. which I admit I do because I can rather than because I need to. There’s also a few smart wall switches around that are only as low as a fiver, for controlling lights etc.

    There’s also a subtle use of a different ‘wifi’ channel for SONOS Netchannel so none of the latency or breakup effects that could otherwise occur. However Bluetooth is only available on a couple of units at the moment.

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    • I always end up buying speakers in the just-under-£100 range. I don’t want any Alexa listening in the house, so anything linked to that is out. I’ve read good things about the IKEA speakers with Sonos technology, but I think I’ll hold off on audio upgrades for the next time I buy a TV

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