Why you can trust ZDNET
:ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.Our process
'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
The HomePod mini is a smart speaker that brings Siri into your home in all her light. With a simple and attractive design, the HomePod mini works as a hub for your smart devices to connect to, while moonlighting as a rich, full-bodied speaker that will surprise you with its quality. But is it a good choice for your smart home journey?
After testing the Apple-made speaker for the past month, I'd say that while the HomePod mini is a great choice for a speaker, it's only ideal for home control if you're a fan of living within the Apple ecosystem.
3.3" H by 3.9" W
Siri; four-microphone for far-field listening
360-degree sound field, S5 chip for computational audio
802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Thread, Ultra Wideband chip for beaming
White, yellow, orange, blue, space gray
Backlit touch circular display at the top
Designed by Apple
The HomePod mini is a small, spherical-shaped smart speaker featuring Apple's voice assistant, Siri. It's about three inches tall with a circular screen at the top that lights up when Siri is listening or when the device is playing music or engaged in a phone call.
By design, the HomePod mini is a sleek, inconspicuous device that fits right in with most home decor styles, thanks in part because it comes in a choice of five colors: space gray, blue, white, yellow, and orange.
When you buy a HomePod mini, you'll find the speaker and the cable in the box; it comes with a permanently-attached power cable and a USB-C power brick. A detachable cable would have been great, but the overall design is discrete enough for the speaker to be set aside and left unbothered.
The best feature of the HomePod mini, in my opinion, is the sound quality. The fact that it works as a smart home hub is just a bonus.
The original HomePod was a high-end smart speaker that -- though it had incredible sound quality -- attracted ridicule from potential consumers for its lofty $300 price tag.
On the other hand, the HomePod mini can be considered Apple's Goldilocks speaker for its combination of quality and $99 price. It's much more affordable than the original and sounds excellent. A combination of a full-range driver and dual passive radiators results in a pretty deep bass that, thanks to force cancelation, doesn't rattle any surface that the HomePod mini is on.
This is all to say that the sound on the HomePod mini is crisp and clear, with rich bass. It's become my go-to speaker for home listening, and pairing two of them makes for a stereo experience. With several more stationed across different rooms, you can enable multi-room synchronized playing.
Though the HomePod mini has a look reminiscent of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, the sound quality far exceeds its competition -- at least from what I've heard. The Siri-enabled speaker's spherical shape makes 360-degree audio possible, filling any room with sound.
If you have an iPhone 11 or later model, you can also use the Beam feature with your HomePod mini. When there's music playing on your iPhone that you want to hear on your speaker, a simple tap on the side of the HomePod mini with the iPhone will magically transfer its audio to it, going from your stereo setup to a 360-degree music show.
Unfortunately, HomeKit isn't the most popular smart home system on the market, so many users may have already adapted to Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, or even Samsung's SmartThings. Apple also has high standards for who and what products can gain access to its users' data. This is partly why a HomePod mini is a great thing for those who are deep within the Apple ecosystem; it requires commitment.
People tend to buy smart home hubs, like the HomePod mini, as one of their first steps into the smart home journey. However, since only a few smart devices are natively compatible with HomeKit, you'll be limited in brands and products that can be added to your home -- unless you're willing to use a home bridge service to close that gap.
Because I didn't want to be tied down to a limited number of brands for smart home devices, my household uses Homebridge on a Raspberry Pi to integrate products like the Eufy video doorbell, myQ Chamberlain garage opener, and some of my smart lights, though I long for the day when there's a more unified system of smart home products and services. It's just a matter of time.
The Home app is available on all Apple devices, including the Apple Watch. It's a simple, user-friendly application where you can easily add devices, then control them and organize them by rooms, set up scenes, and run automations and schedules. Users can add their favorite devices to the control center on an iPhone or iPad so that they're available by swiping down on the right side of the home screen.
Is Siri really a smart voice assistant?
A HomePod mini gives you voice control over your entire Apple ecosystem, so dialing into Siri won't be limited by phone or watch.
To be honest, Siri isn't my favorite voice assistant. I've found her to be unreliable and fickle since the day we met. Sure, Siri's improved since her debut more than a decade ago, but the AI still leaves a lot to be desired in how she follows commands and answers questions. Meanwhile, competitors like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant remain a tier above thanks to their expansive feature sets and search capabilities.
Still, I remain hopeful. I keep buying Apple devices and continue to ask Siri questions -- hoping that one day she'll smarten up and actually give me the weather instead of the definition of the word "feather." I've customized the voice so the wrong answers are delivered in a smooth Australian male voice, so that's a plus.
With all things said, Siri can be pretty reliable at controlling smart home devices through HomeKit. By saying, "Hey, Siri" into the HomePod mini, you can ask her to play music from Apple Music or Pandora, play podcasts, find your AirTags or Apple devices, turn your lights on or off, change the temperature on a thermostat, or trigger scenes that control multiple devices at once. You can even ask her to start or update lists that will automatically update on your personal devices, send text messages, call someone, or ask for directions.
The best part is that you don't have to be right next to the HomePod mini to ask Siri a question. With four microphones for far-field listening, There was a time when I whispered to the smart speaker from a floor above to turn off the lights and it actually heard me.
Intercom is arguably the most 'ultimate Apple ecosystem' feature on the HomePod mini and I've thoroughly enjoyed using it. By simply saying "Hey Siri, Intercom" into your HomePod mini, the speaker will let you share a message to all the other Apple devices in your home, or to a particular room if you have more than one HomePod mini.
The HomePod mini can recognize up to six different family members and set personalized profiles for each. That means that Siri can be taught to recognize voices so it knows who is making an Intercom request and who to relay messages and reminders to.
The HomePod mini is a fantastic pick-up for any smart home enthusiast who is also an Apple user. Though it's not the absolute best compact speaker on the market, its capabilities and audio quality help it stand out from other smart speakers, and features like Intercome and Beam are pretty unique to the HomePod experience.
Outstanding audio aside, determining if a HomePod mini is the best smart home companion for you will depend on how committed you are to HomeKit and if you're willing to either sacrifice some brands in favor of compatible products or do some tinkering with a home bridge.
Alternatives to consider
Besides the HomePod mini, here are some worthy alternatives that make for great additions to your smart home.