John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Apple Homepod Mini

A while back I played with an Amazon echo a friend leant me. I liked it BUT, given I bought into the Apple ecosystem a while back when I moved from Android there is not a chance I was going to buy an Amazon echo. Each of the digital assistants have subtle different ways they need to be asked anything and the idea that I would need to adapt to talking one way to SIRI and another to Alexa was more bother than it was worth to me. Apple had a smart speaker called a HomePod that was astronomically priced $400, not a chance I was buying that, I’d give the money to charity and feel better for it first. Late in the fall Apple saw the issue and introduced the Apple HomePod Mini at $129 it’s a lot more reasonable but still expensive compared to the cheapest Echo at $55 regular price, making it harder to have multiple devices throughout the home. I’d have to be head over heels to keep this device let alone buy more than one. So with that, here we go … I pre-ordered one and it arrived just before Christmas. the device is an attractive, round black ball with a cable hanging out the back looking like a tail.

There is a small light on top as well as a volume controls. As a bizarre choice, Apple, the company that IMHO has been SUPER slow to accept USB-C has used a USB-C cable of fixed length hard tethered to the back of the HomePod that then plugs into a wall charger. If the cable isn’t long enough your stuck buying a USB-C extension cable or using a standard Ac extension cable.

Initial setup was classic Apple, brilliantly done. Once powered on, my iPhone saw the new HomePod and guided me to quickly getting it setup, adding it to my home app once labelling the room it’s in. To state the obvious, HomePods are really intended for people in the Apple ecosystem. I had never used the Home app before so had to figure out that is where the HomePod got put. Oddly, Home settings is where you can check to see if the HomePod is current (firmware). WIFI was setup from the iPhone. Once on your network the HomePod does respond to pings, but little else, it does not have a web server etc, in fact does not respond to the most common ports when I did a port scan of it. Once the initial user has the HomePod setup then comes the head scratching how do I add the other members of the house to it, since the HomePod is supposed to be able recognize numerous people’s voices. Well this was, to me, not obvious and took a trip over to Dr google who prescribed adding user to my Home? shrug … Ok well once that was done it was easy enough. Apple do not have anyway to add guests into your home for the HomePod, they are part of your home, or NOT. And if you have multiple homes, well that would be interesting to sort out, luckily (or not) I don’t have multiple homes 😦

Running for days on standby I saw a legendarily low average of a little over 1W, with it peaking at 5W during power on. This is really quite impressive, even music playback did not see this jump much at all. The light on the top, which for the most part is hard if not impossible to see, comes on when SIRI is listening for you to say something. Tapping on the top of the HomePod toggled play pause.

Invoking SIRI is a FLAWED approach. No matter what, no matter how far away you are from the HomePod, no matter how close your phone is, no matter what background noise exists, surely if you call up SIRI the HomePod, not your phone that’s right in front of you ought to answer? To say this is problematic is an understatement. I have no idea what Apple are thinking. This does mean your HomePod needs to be as centrally located as possible with no TV, radio or other conversations going on. The ONLY way around this is to manually call up SIRI on your phone rather than heh SIRI. Totally idiotic decision. I can only hope at some point the idiot that decided this gets fired, the decision gets reversed and the device with the clearest/loudest reception of Heh SIRI answers. If there is a reason I will return the HomePod, this just may be it, I just don’t do stupid, and definitely not at this price point. Moving on.

SIRI itself worked pretty well. Requests to add notes, add reminders all went properly to my phone as they ought to. Starting a timer got started somewhere in the cloud with no way to see how much time is remaining, another oddity of this device. Other SIRI request work pretty much as expected, assuming it can hear you. If it’s unsure who is speaking, it will ask, which it even did when only one person was setup on it?

So other than SIRI what other tricks are up it’s sleeve … Well it can play music, interestingly enough when it first started playing music, in spite of the iPhone having a local library the HomePod started playing some Tunein radio station. How it chose the radio station I have no idea. I later went back to the HomePod and unpaused it and once again some radio station, this time not even my language started playing. I can manually start music from my phone and direct it out the HomePod and this works and seems to go over WIFI Vs Bluetooth. So as long as you are on the same WIFI network it keeps playing. Sound quality is good with nice base, but this is a mono approach. For those with more money than brains you can choose to buy two and make it stereo, ya I have a great stereo, I don’t think so. I suppose a use case is you could take this HomePod wherever you want and listen to music that way, oh wait, there’s no battery in it, and the cable is pretty short, so that ain’t happening. Hmmmmmm. Oh and in case it crosses your mind to use your HomePod paired with ANYTHING other than Apple, ah that ain’t happening, there’s no way to pair say an Android tablet or phone, or a PC with the HomePod. Surely everyone in your home are part of the Apple ecosystem right? Oh, you can stream audio content from you Mac like any other AirPlay compatible device, so i guess there’s that (if I owned a Mac).

The HomePod can be used like a speaker phone for your iPhone so everyone in the house can join in on your conversation. For some this will be a killer feature, for others it will be oh no that idiot is using the HomePod and we get to listen to their call yet again. If you’ve ever worked in an open concept workplace speaker phones are a scourge that only the most inconsiderate TOADs use, that or the person that walks in say a conservation area using their speakerphone so you all can join in on the call rather than listen to nature. I digress … AGAIN.

Apple have included an intercom function into the HomePod, well sort of, it’s more like a walkie talkie than a two way conversation. From anywhere (in the house, out of the house) you can have the HomePod say something with your voice and that will be sent digitally and played. Then someone in earshod can say reply. It kind, sorta works.

In the movie Home Alone the hotel person get’s asked what kind of idiots do you have working here? Only the finest, and this HomePod clearly shows Apple dumbest group are working in the HomePod section of the business. Amazon and Google have nothing to fear and I can only imagine them rolling on the floor laughing at Apple entry into this space. So will I keep this device? To say I’m thoroughly disappointed is an understatement of EPIC proportions. If the ONLY thing I hoped for was a local SIRI device that looked nice, and drew little power then this device fits the bill, albeit expensively, but this is Apple and if you expected cheap, or even competitive pricing your delusional. Should you buy one, well that’s about expectations, if all you want is a kinda ok SIRI experience at a high price, have at it. Otherwise if your expecting another innovative product from Apple that will change and enhance your life, well this just might not be what you were hoping for.

If you want a ghetto version of this, take your old iPhone 6 that is of no use now, plug it in and voila you have a free heh SIRI device 🙂

December 30, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment