Apple's latest smart speaker, the HomePod Mini, has a $100 price to match the flagship models from Google and Amazon. The Google Nest Audio and the fourth-gen Amazon Echo also hit stores within the past couple of months and all three have improved sound quality to go along with the voice activated help you'd expect from a smart speaker.
Obviously, then, the HomePod Mini feels ripe for, but beyond the price, its size and sound quality are more in line with the entry-level models from those companies. We tested the HomePod Mini's sound quality against the Nest Audio and the Amazon Echo to see if it could outclass its size. The test didn't go well for Apple's smaller smart speaker, so price aside, it's an entry-level model.
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That's not necessarily a bad thing. The other entry-level smart speakers -- the Nest Mini and the Echo Dot -- are two of our favorite smart speakers. They offer the same smarts as their bigger siblings for less and are great entry points into the smart home. The HomePod Mini does a better job of keeping up with this competition, and all three models are competent and could be the best one for you depending on your preferences.
Thankfully, the HomePod Mini helps justify the premium over the other two mini smart speakers with excellent sound quality. In a head-to-head comparison, the HomePod Mini sounded the best across multiple music genres. The HomePod Mini automatically adapts the audio to the room it's in and uses a full range driver and dual force canceling radiators to pump out music that sounds loud and crisp.
The original $300 HomePod also has great sound quality, but like the original, the HomePod Mini lacks some of the versatility of the competition. You can't stream from as many music services -- Spotify is the most notable omission.
On the smart home front, Apple works with significantly fewer devices than Amazon and Google. That's an intentional choice -- Apple vets compatible products rigorously to try to maintain security in its walled garden -- but it also allows you less flexibility. The built-in digital assistant Siri also isn't as good at answering random questions as the competition.
If you're happy in Apple's walled garden, though, the HomePod Mini could be the perfect choice for you. It debuted alongside a unique new feature where you could hand-off music from your phone to the speaker and back with a simple tap. Get home from a jog, and you can immediately transfer your music to the speaker which will pick up where it was playing.
You can set up synced playback if you have multiple Apple smart speakers and set up two HomePod Minis for stereo sound. The HomePod can also act as a speaker for the Apple TV. It can send directions to your car through CarPlay. You can make an announcement from one speaker to the next. These are handy extras, but not unique as both Amazon and Google have their own ecosystem of gadgets with similar interoperability.
Like the new Amazon Echo, the recently debuted fourth-generation Dot sports a spherical shape. Previous versions looked more like a hockey puck. The new aesthetic is nice, but it didn't blow me away to the extent that Amazon might have been hoping.
The fourth-gen Dot also didn't do much to innovate over previous versions. The sound quality is slightly improved, but it's otherwise the same as it was before. That's disappointing given that Amazon added a few extras like a Zigbee receiver to the full-size model.
Nevertheless, the Dot has long been one of our favorite smart speakers and the latest Dot didn't do anything to lose that title. The sound quality does distort a little at high volumes, but is otherwise great for its size. It's just not at the same level as the HomePod Mini.
Amazon's assistant, Alexa, is much more competent than Siri. Alexa responds to a wider variety of questions and Amazon works with the most smart home gadgets of any of the three platforms. Amazon also works with the most music streaming services, making the Echo Dot the most versatile of the bunch.
I'm disappointed the Dot doesn't do more. It doesn't have a wall mount, and you have to pay $10 more for a version with a clock, but I'm only really disappointed because Amazon sets expectations so high. As you'd expect, it works great with other Amazon products, including synced audio and stereo playback with multiple Amazon speakers and playing the sound for Amazon's Fire TV.
In general, the Dot is a great choice if you're not already committed to Apple's or Google's ecosystem.
Unlike the other two, the Nest Mini isn't brand-new. It debuted late last year. It's also the only one of the three that isn't spherical. On the plus side, because it's a little older, you can regularly find it on sale for $30, so it's the best choice if you're hunting for value or if you're invested in Google's ecosystem.
As far as sound quality, it's the weakest of the trio, but it's still not bad. It's just a little quiet and lacks some bass power, but it doesn't distort at high levels like the Echo Dot. It does have a unique trick when you're playing podcasts: if the ambient noise in the room rises, it'll automatically increase the volume of the podcast. So if you turn on a hairdryer, you'll still be able to hear the current episode of My Favorite Murder.
The Nest Mini also has a machine learning chip so it can learn your common commands and respond quickly. It works with almost as many smart home devices as Amazon -- and both work with so many that the difference will be irrelevant to most.
Google Assistant is also the best of the three assistants when it comes to responding to intuitive commands and questions. Amazon has closed the gap here significantly over the past year or so, and both are still well ahead of Apple.
As you'd expect, the Nest Mini works especially well with other Google products, including synced audio with other speakers and creating a stereo pair with another Nest Mini. The Nest Mini might be the least exciting of the trio, but it's a well-rounded, solid choice.