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Apple has, as expected, announced the Homepod mini, a tiny version of its smart speaker that’s easier to place around the house and far more affordable than the larger version. But Amazon has also announced a 4th generation model of its popular standard Echo speaker – and wouldn’t you know, the two happen to look at whole lot alike. If you’re trying to choose between the two of them, you probably want to know what the big differences are. Let’s dive in.
Design and Sound
Yes, the HomePod mini has a pleasant spherical shape – but Amazon completely reinvented its standard Echo model to also make it look like an orb. Both companies did this to help reinforce the idea of 360-degree sound that can fill a room.
The big difference is that Apple’s LED screen control surface is on the top, while the Echo sticks to an LED ring on the bottom (its controls are still on the top though).
The HomePod mini is significantly smaller at 3.5 inches high, while the Echo is 5.7 inches high, but they’re both easy to put on a counter, shelf, or table.
But here’s the thing – the design isn’t nearly so important as what’s going on underneath. The HomePod mini has one full-range driver and two passive radiators to help spread out the sound – a fairly unique design for a smart speaker. The new Amazon Echo has one 3-inch woofer and dual 0.8-inch tweeters. That makes it look like Apple is aiming for close-up sound volume and strong middle-range quality, while Amazon is focusing on the best room-filling sound and high-quality bass and treble.
There’s no big winner here, although it could mean that Apple’s speaker will sound better close (like as a desktop companion) while Amazon’s will be better for bigger 360-degree sound from a distance.
Voice Assistant and Smart Home Control
The HomePod mini will, of course, use Siri, while the 4th-gen Echo will continue to use Alexa. This is an easy one because Alexa wins hands down.
Siri may be quite useful for brief tasks on your iPhone, but can’t come close to the many answers, games, and more that Alexa can provide.
Alexa is also compatible with far more smart home devices, while Siri is generally limited to the devices that work with Apple’s Homekit, a far smaller number.
Plus, the Echo 4th-gen is one of the few smart speakers that still offers Zigbee compatibility for older smart devices around the home that may need it.
Amazon has also done a great job of using the Echo’s capabilities in combination with Alexa to offer unique services that the HomePod mini doesn’t have. Alexa Guard, for example, listens for suspicious sounds like glass breaking or alarms, and sends alerts right to your phone so you can make a call or even listen to audio right from your Echo.
You can also make direct calls to any other Echo, while the HomePod mini requires an iPhone for calls.
The HomePod mini is compatible with Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn, and of course whatever you want to play from your iPhone or iPad (plus AirPlay 2 support).
The Echo, via Alexa, supports Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, SiriusXM, and Audible.
This mostly comes down to which music apps you like to use. We will note that both speakers support Apple Music, so Apple fans with subscriptions won’t have to worry about either device not working with their music.
The HomePod mini has several very neat tricks it can do with an iPhone. Newer iPhones will be able to trigger haptic feedback when you move them close to the speaker, which feels cool and opens up the possibility for interactive games based on iPhone motions. The mini can also work with Find My to help you locate your iPhone quickly if it’s lost around the house. You can set quick responses with Siri to provide specific news or weather information from the mini, too, which is a handy bit of customization. There’s also an Intercom feature that lets you send voice messages through any Apple device in the house, allowing you to quickly communicate with a whole family of Apple users.
The new Echo can only do that last intercom feature, and then only with other Echo devices, which means iPhone users will get quite a few extra abilities with the mini that the Echo doesn’t provide.
Both speakers are $99, so price isn’t really a factor. It’s more important to think about what you’re getting for that price. Both Apple and Amazon have trade-in options to save money, too. Apple’s trade-in program is extremely easy to use, but focused largely on deals for Apple devices. Amazon lets you trade in all kinds of things, but you may not get as much money.
Think about where and how you will be using the smart speaker before buying. The HomePod mini looks like it was designed to be a close-range speaker that can do a lot of extra things when it’s also close to an iPhone. The Echo 4th-gen is more of a room-wide device with better overall smart home compatibility. If you’re already in the Alexa-ecosystem, there’s no significant reason to leave it.