I detailed some of my experiences testing a pair of Apple’s HomePod mini smart speakers in my last column. I am impressed with the sound quality, which is as good as or better than any other similarly sized speaker I’ve tried. I liked that Siri worked flawlessly with the HomePod minis regardless of whether any of my other Siri-enabled devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, Apple Watch) were nearby and/or listening. Finally, I liked being able to “hand-off” music from my iPhone to the HomePod mini by merely bringing the iPhone close to the speaker.
Intercom Feature: Fascinating and Frustrating
It was all good until I tried the Intercom feature, which is supposed to let you use two or more HomePod or HomePod minis to communicate with other HomePods via voice messages. In theory, you ask Siri to send a message to a specific HomePod (i.e., kitchen, office, den, etc.) or all HomePods at once. And, in theory, whoever hears your message on the HomePod can respond by voice.
It worked great when I used it from one HomePod to another. Still, the feature I was most excited to try—sending voice messages to HomePods from my other Apple devices—only worked sporadically.
For example, I was out for a walk and tried to send an Intercom voice message to my kitchen HomePod mini from my Apple Watch; an alert informed me that, “There was a problem with Intercom. Please try again later.”
I tried again later and got a different alert, which said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t take requests right now. Please try again in a bit.” But when I tried again in a bit, it still didn’t work. I’m sure Apple will get this sorted out soon, but I had high hopes for Intercom and was sorely disappointed.
My House Favors Alexa
Furthermore, many of my smart home devices are not compatible with HomeKit, so I can’t control them by talking to my HomePod minis. Interestingly, I can control most of those devices using Alexa with the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot speakers sprinkled around my house.
What? No Battery?
Finally, HomePods aren’t rechargeable—they must always be connected to a power source. For a speaker this size, I prefer one that’s rechargeable so I can move it from room to room (or outdoors) at will. That may not matter to you, but I prefer little speakers that are rechargeable and portable.
Besides, I’ve used Siri for years (on my iPhone or Apple Watch) to play songs, albums, playlists, or podcasts on rechargeable Bluetooth speakers. I don’t really need a smarter speaker for that.
The bottom line is that if you use other Apple products—HomeKit smart home devices, iPhones, Apple Watches, and so on—HomePod mini could be the right $99 speaker for you. On the other hand, there are plenty of great-sounding speakers with attractive features and reasonable prices.