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The long-awaited HomePod mini is here at last, but the little round speaker still raises a few questions. With its small size, it’s not equipped to partner up with home theater systems the way the larger HomePod was, nor can it fill a whole room with sound in the same way. New buyers looking for a smart speaker may be wondering what sets it apart from other options, including a – now very similarly-shaped – Amazon Echo 4th-gen. However, there are areas where the mini shines. Here are the top roles we’ve found that the HomePod mini excels in – signs that it could be a great fit as an accessory or gift. Take a look!
A Personal Desk Assistant
The HomePod mini’s sound is generally great in smaller spaces – you can’t get too far away from it, and it also has fewer mics to listen to Siri commands than the original HomePod. These aren’t really flaws, though. It just means the mini is designed to function best when it’s up close and by your side. In other words, it’s ideal as a desktop companion, either for your computer desk at home or for your office desk at work.
Positioned close like this, the mini is an ideal companion, able to keep up with your reminders and requests at the drop of a hat (or tap of a button, if you don’t want to say “Hey Siri” all the time). It’s also a great position to play music and other types of casual audio while you work. Plus, it can pair with a Mac computer through your sound settings to become the primary output speaker for your Mac, which may be ideal when working with MacBooks or when you want to route particular audio to a satellite accessory.
A much-lauded feature of the HomePod mini is the “handoff” capabilities from your iPhone, which in practice makes it easy to seamlessly transition from iPhone audio to the HomePod while you go about your business.
For example, let’s say you’re going for a morning jog. You pop in your AirPods and go for your run while listening to your preferred playlist. You get back to your apartment and go inside, where you have your HomePod mini set up as an entry device, then pass your iPhone over the mini: A notification immediately pops up to hand off your music from the AirPods to the mini. You listen to the rest of your playlist while making a smoothie, making sure to get to your favorite song.
Okay, so that’s just one possibility, but the handoff options do make the mini a more versatile speaker when moving from one activity to the next.
Your Morning Briefing
The mini can identify six different voices and profiles, and provide personalized updates for news, weather, traffic, daily reminders, and calendar events. We’re not saying that you need to set up the mini right by your bedside, but these options do make it a great little device to make a part of your morning routine. Maybe the mini would do well on the kitchen counter by the coffee maker, or on a dresser while you pick out your outfit – it’s just a handy accessory for the beginning of the day.
Managing Your Smart Home Network
The HomePod mini also has Thread compatibility, which requires a bit of explanation. Thread is a new open-source protocol that anyone can use, and it functions as a mesh networking standard for your smart devices (a bit like ZigBee, but Thread is designed to work alongside your Wi-Fi network instead of excluding it). You know how smart devices can sometimes drop signals and go silent so they need to be rebooted? Thread is designed to help prevent problems like that, and generally make it easier to manage home automation data without issues.
Only a few devices currently offer support for Thread, but the HomePod mini is one of them. If Thread becomes the next big thing in smart homes – and that’s certainly still an “if” – then the HomePod mini is well-positioned to be an important smart manager – able to act as a sort of satellite router to help keep all your smart devices in line.
Easy Stereo Sound
Like many smart speakers, the mini can pair with other speakers to provide the same audio from different sources – in other words, fill a room with stereo sound. What makes the HomePod mini special is that setting up this stereo sound is entirely effortless. Just set up two minis in the same room. That’s all you need to do! With both minis turned on, you’ll get a notification asking if you want to use them both for stereo audio. Pop one on each end of your desk, and you’ve got a much more impressive audio experience.