HomePod vs. HomePod Mini: Which Apple speaker is best?

Now, here in the year 2020, we have two Apple smart speakers to choose from. The Apple HomePod is still for sale and scheduled to get several updates. The HomePod Mini was announced earlier this fall and it’s the smaller, more affordable model. The HomePod Mini is currently available for preorder, shipping Nov. 16. 

Which Apple speaker should you buy? That likely depends on whether or not you’re on a budget, as well as if you’re focused more on great audio or smart home skills. While Apple is updating the HomePod to include many of the HomePod Mini’s features, there are some key differences between the two models. 

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The HomePod wasn’t the smash hit some thought it might be when Apple released it in 2018. Originally priced at $349, it was expensive. Today, it’s down to $299, but that’s still a lot to pay for a smart speaker considering Echo Studio is currently $199. The Google Home Max also costs $299. 

We were impressed with the HomePod’s sound quality. It’s such a large speaker at 6.8 inches tall and 5.5 pounds, there’s plenty of room for its seven tweeters, six far-field microphones and an excursion woofer with a bass-EQ microphone that analyzes the effect of a room on bass.

All that processing is powered by Apple’s A8 processor. The HomePod’s room-sensing tech turned out to be very good, and if you’re fully committed to the Apple world you will be happy with this speaker.

Siri can control all your HomeKit devices, phone calls can be transferred to HomePod and it supports surround sound for AppleTV. Now that the HomePod Mini exists, you can also pair that speaker with a HomePod for stereo sound. Read our HomePod review.

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After nearly two years of wondering whether Apple would deliver a smaller smart speaker, the HomePod Mini is here. At $99, it’s about as affordable as Apple products get. That’s the same price as the larger Amazon Echo and Nest Audio. 

Just 3.3 inches tall, the HomePod Mini is closest in size to the Echo Dot or Nest Mini, both priced at $50. What do you get for twice the money? A Siri-powered smart home and Apple sound quality. Four microphones listen for your “Hey, Siri” and provide noise-canceling feedback. Like the HomePod, the HomePod Mini can be paired in stereo and used for sound with your AppleTV. 

The HomePod Mini is powered by Apple’s A5 processor, so you won’t get the room-sensing tech of the HomePod in the Mini. Sound quality in the original HomePod was impressive, but the Mini’s sound quality is more in line with its competitors’ smaller offerings, the Echo Dot and Google Nest Mini.

The HomePod Mini includes Apple’s U1 chip for Ultra Wideband technology (see below). While Apple didn’t have much to say about how that might improve the HomeKit experience, it’s likely that future updates will make use of the highly accurate device-tracking technology. Read our HomePod Mini review.


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Best smart speaker?

What makes this comparison interesting is that the HomePod and the HomePod Mini will function very similarly when it comes to smarts. Both speakers now include Apple’s new Intercom feature, AirPlay 2 multiroom audio and more. The big difference is the HomePod Mini’s U1 chip.

That U1 chip, also in iPhones 11 and newer as well as the Apple Watch Series 6, has UWB technology, which allows a device to find and track other equipped devices with radio waves more accurately than Bluetooth or even Wi-Fi.

Currently, Apple has only mentioned the use of U1 when it comes to the improved handoff experience on the HomePod Mini, but there’s potentially a lot more there when it comes to communicating with other smart home devices. If you’re hoping to build a Siri-enabled smart home, the HomePod Mini gets the leg up for that speculative reason. 

The HomePod is aimed more at audiophiles willing to spend bigger bucks for better sound. Because it’s going to get several of the latest updates that come out of the box with the HomePod Mini, like the Intercom feature and broader music streaming services, it still makes a capable smart speaker. 

For most people, Apple’s HomePod Mini will strike a balance between sound, smarts and affordability. 

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