Apple once again has two smart speakers in its product lineup. There’s the $299 HomePod and the $99 HomePod Mini. The two have nearly identical software-based features but are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to hardware, which plays a major role in sound quality.
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Figuring out which HomePod is the right one for you isn’t as complicated as it may seem. But if you’re fretting over the decision, we’re here to help. I personally own several HomePod Minis along with the original HomePod — and I have two second-generation HomePods on my desk right now for testing. They’re all fantastic but have clear uses. Let’s dig in.
|HomePod (2023)||HomePod Mini|
|Audio||Spatial audio with Dolby Atmos||360-degree sound|
|Woofer||1 x 4-inch||1 driver|
|Connectivity||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Thread, Ultra Wideband chip, Matter hub||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Thread, Ultra Wideband chip|
|Size||6.6 inches high, 5.6 inches wide||3.3 inches high, 3.9 inches wide|
|Weight||5.16 pounds||0.76 pound|
|Colors||Midnight, White||White, Yellow, Orange, Blue, Space Gray|
You should buy the HomePod if…
1. Sound quality trumps all
There’s no comparison. The full-size HomePod’s sound quality is as good as it gets when it comes to a smart speaker — not just speakers made by Apple, but I’m also including Amazon’s and Google’s speakers as well.
The HomePod has five tweeters and a single 4-inch woofer that combine to put out impressive sound quality. The HomePod supports Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio. The former means everything is going to sound clear and crisp (and you may even hear parts of songs you didn’t hear before), while the latter adds some depth to what’s playing.
More succinctly put: It just sounds better.
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And that’s just when using a HomePod as a stand-alone speaker. Both the HomePod and the HomePod Mini can be paired with a second of the same model of speaker to create a stereo pair.
You can even pair two speakers together and use them as the default output for an Apple TV, simulating a soundbar-like experience. And if you have an Apple TV 4K, you can use the HomePod (and HomePod Mini) as the eARC default output for the TV and any other devices connected to the TV, like a gaming console.
2. You have a big area to fill with sound
Comparatively, the HomePod is a giant when placed next to the HomePod Mini, towering over it at 6.6 inches high. All of that extra space and weight (it weighs 5.16 pounds compared with 0.76 pound for the Mini) packs a punch when it comes to filling an area with music and sound.
I’ve listened to the HomePod Mini and the 2023 HomePod next to each other in several rooms, and it’s almost comical how much better the HomePod is at filling a space with sound and making it feel as if the speaker is next to you and not across the room.
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Arguably, the HomePod Mini also gets the job done. But in larger spaces like a living room or a kitchen or dining room area, it just doesn’t deliver the same level of volume combined with sound quality that the HomePod does. The HomePod Mini is made for a smaller space like a bedroom, bathroom, or home office.
3. You’re going all in on Matter
The full-size HomePod has a smart home feature that’s currently missing from the HomePod Mini: It can act as a Matter hub for compatible smart home devices and accessories, facilitating faster connections and response times for things like turning lights on and off.
Matter is a new smart home standard that was launched late last year to make it possible to control more smart home devices across more platforms. For instance, devices that support Matter will be controllable using either Apple’s Home app or Google’s Home app, even if the device is designed primarily to work with Apple’s HomeKit.
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And with the HomePod acting as a Matter hub, all of your Matter-enabled accessories will have an easier time communicating with each other within your home’s network.
While the HomePod Mini doesn’t act as a full Matter hub, it does support Thread and acts as a border router for Thread-compatible devices. Not to get too far into the weeds here, but Thread is only one communication protocol that makes up Matter as a whole. So, it’s only going to work with Thread devices, but not all Matter devices. Confusing? I know. It is for me too.
In other words, if you want to future-proof your next smart speaker purchase, and by extension your smart home setup, the HomePod is the better choice because it supports Matter.
You should buy the HomePod Mini if…
1. You want an affordable smart speaker
Smart speakers are convenient to have around the house. Not only can you ask for random facts and information, like the weather forecast or how tall Mount Everest is, but they also help entertain you with things like music and audiobooks while you’re cooking or getting ready in the morning, and they make for fantastic hands-free timers.
But that experience isn’t worth $299 to a lot of people, and I can’t say I blame you, especially when the HomePod Mini exists at $99. Yes, you can buy three of Apple’s smallest smart speakers for the same price as one of the larger speakers.
2. Sound quality is important, but not everything
Above, I wrote a short love note about the HomePod’s sound quality. But don’t get me wrong, the HomePod Mini still sounds good. It may not be great, but it’s darn good.
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I have HomePod Minis placed around my home and use them to listen to all sorts of different content. In my office, the Mini starts playing music as soon as I turn on the lights. In my bedroom, we use a Mini as the audio output for the TV. In those environments, I have no complaints about how the Mini sounds. Would it sound better if I was using the larger, and more expensive, HomePod? Of course! But the Mini’s sound quality isn’t a horrible experience by any means.
Alternatives to consider
Not sold on the HomePod or HomePod Mini? Here are some more ZDNET-recommended alternatives:
The Amazon Echo Studio is big and loud, just like the standard HomePod. And with Alexa built in, you can ask it to do all sorts of things.
Think of Amazon’s Echo Dot as similar to the HomePod Mini. It has good sound quality and a smaller design.
For those who aren’t interested in a smart speaker from Amazon, there’s Google’s Nest Audio. It sounds good and uses Google Assistant for all your voice interaction needs.
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