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Apple HomePod Mini gets cool colours, lossless audio is the big draw


Apple’s HomePod line-up seems to be all about continuity. The smart speaker range, which soldiered on with the original HomePod for years, added the smaller and powerful HomePod Mini last year. Then the original HomePod, albeit unexpectedly, rode off into the sunset. This year, HomePod Mini gets two updates. One is the visual change, which sees the addition of Yellow, Orange and Blue to the White and Black colour options list. The second is the rollout of the HomePod 15.1 software, which adds Lossless Audio support for Apple Music. But not Dolby Atmos.

The HomePod Mini’s price hasn’t changed. It is still sporting a price tag of 9,990. The competition landscape also hasn’t changed much in the past 12 months. Amazon’s Echo speaker (Gen 4) now costs 7,499 after price revisions while Google’s Nest Audio has also seen price corrections down to 7,499. Amazon has been more aggressive with new launches in the Echo category, though more are in the smart display category. Google hasn’t made any moves since the Nest Audio, which has been around for a while now.

Last year, when the HomePod Mini arrived on the scene, it was in many ways a course correction for Apple. The larger HomePod has for long been priced at the extremities of the premium band, for smart speakers specifically. Yet, audio wasn’t to be compromised, was the impression we got. Apple in a way delivered on that, while working around the physics of size and form factor, with extensive focus on what they call computational audio. That works with the full-range audio driver (this uses a neodymium magnet) and the dual passive radiators for bass.

For a compact speaker (it is just 8-centimeters tall), this does make for a pleasant first impression. It is loud, the soundstage is wide and there is a bunch of smarts working overtime to make it sound better than something of this size ideally would. Then there is the Apple S5 chip, which for most intents and purposes is the brain of the HomePod Mini. What all does it do? This ensures the audio tuning algorithms are applied as many as 180 times per second, which becomes relevant if you end up streaming lower bitrate files. It knows what to do when you bring an iPhone near it.

The audio driver is downward facing, and in conjunction with the acoustic waveguide direction, the HomePod Mini streams out the audio from near the bottom of the speaker. The advantage of this is the sound waves have very little distance to travel to a hard surface the speaker may be kept on (a table, most likely), and that reduces the bouncing-off effect significantly.

There is always a bit of trepidation when physics intertwines with the potential of audio output. In the case of the HomePod Mini, the small size doesn’t seem to get in the way. The computational audio support helps with rich audio that sounds like it’s coming from a much larger speaker system. This isn’t the sound for purists, by any stretch of the imagination, but at this price, Apple isn’t appealing to that audience anyway. There is enough lower-end grunt to give you the bass for up-tempo music, and vocals, as well as voice, stays in focus when the spoken word is of the essence.

The Lossless audio files on Apple Music, and the fact that the HomePod Mini can take advantage of the high-resolution audio files, gives it a clear advantage that Amazon and Google’s speakers don’t have. There is that very apparent upgrade in detailing that you’d get with these files when streaming on Apple Music, compared with those that aren’t. It is a pity that the HomePod Mini doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, at least not yet, unless you’ve set this up with an Apple TV 4K.

For most homes, the HomePod Mini works well enough for bedrooms and slightly bigger hall spaces. It can be a nice speaker to have if you have an Apple TV media player—a definite upgrade over your TVs speakers. And this can be the point of control for all the compatible smart home devices you may have, such as smart lights and smart plugs. And if you want to get two of these, they can be used as a stereo pair too.

Siri has grown smarter in the 12 months since the HomePod Mini has been around. It now understands more Indian languages (Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, Malayalam, and Gujarati), which works to the smart speaker’s advantage. You can now command it to play a song or album, tell you the latest news or even answer a web query, in your spoken language. That’s convenient.

The HomePod Mini’s new colourful personality should do well to further its appeal, at a time when smart speakers are becoming more common in homes. There isn’t much for non-Apple users, but anyone with an iPhone or iPad or Mac will find the AirPlay capabilities incredibly convenient. The support for Apple Lossless Audio formats from the Apple Music app, is the biggest update possible, this side of possibly new audio hardware under the hood. The highlight must be that you simply take your iPhone close to the top of the HomePod Mini, and it’ll seamlessly transfer the audio from the iPhone to the HomePod Mini. That’s something to show off to your friends if you haven’t already.



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