Amazon Echo 4th-gen v Apple HomePod Mini: Smart speaker hub face-off

$99 speakers both want a spot on your bookshelf but which one is right for you?

Amazon Echo 4 v HomePod Mini
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Over the past few months, Amazon and Apple have both updated their smart speaker lineups with new bargain-busting models.

Costing less than $100, Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo and Apple’s HomePod Mini are two of the cheapest and most popular smart speakers on the market today.

But which speaker is better, and which should you buy?

Below, we test and compare the Echo 4th-gen and HomePod Mini in areas such as design, features, sound quality, and price to help you choose the best smart speaker out of the two.

Ambient full verdicts: Amazon Echo 4 | Apple HomePod Mini

Apple HomePod Mini white design

Amazon Echo 4th-gen v Apple HomePod Mini: Design

In terms of design, the 4th-generation Echo has an entirely fresh look compared to previous models.

The tall, cylinder form-factor is gone and has been replaced with a brand new round design. Amazon has decided to keep the same fabric outer material that we’ve seen in the past, making the Echo 4 feel great to touch.

You’ll find the controls at the top of the speaker, which allow you to do things like increase, decrease, or mute volume, while the plastic covering is now at the back and acts as a circular base.

You’ll still find Alexa’s famed LED ring, but it’s now integrated into the bottom of the device.

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Unlike previous models, the Echo 4 looks better suited to living rooms and bedrooms thanks to its sleek and modern design. You can get the speaker in three colors: Glacier White, Charcoal, and Twilight Blue. We also noticed that the power cable is now white, and the plug is thinner. Meanwhile, the speaker’s connections are the same.

Donning a spherical form-factor, the HomePod Mini is noticeably similar to the fourth-generation Echo. With a height of 3.3 inches, it’s a lot smaller than the first-generation HomePod (6.8 inches).

Amazon Echo 4th-gen white

Amazon’s latest Echo speaker is slightly bigger than the HomePod Mini, with a height of 5.2 inches and a width of 5.7 inches. Thanks to its tiny size, HomePod Mini can be neatly hidden on a shelf or cupboard.

Similar to Echo 4, it sports a soft mesh fabric outer layer. It comes in two colors (space grey and white) instead of the three offered by Echo 4.

At the top of the speaker, you’ll find a backlit touch panel that allows you to physically control the HomePod Mini. The controls are for things like increasing and decreasing volume, playing or pausing songs, and skipping to a different song.

If you say “Hey Siri”, the panel lights up in a neon color - just like you’d expect on iPhone or iPad. Sadly, there isn’t an aux-in port on the Homepod Mini, and despite featuring Bluetooth, it doesn’t actually allow you to use it as a Bluetooth speaker. This is just for setting up the speaker.

As with other Echo smart speakers, the latest Echo can be paired as a Bluetooth device.

Amazon Echo 4th-gen aux port

Amazon Echo 4 v HomePod Mini: Features

As has always been the case with Echo speakers, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is at the heart of Echo 4. It’s been improved thanks to the new AZ1 Neural Edge processor, which is described by Amazon as "an all-new silicon module that’s purpose-built for accelerating machine learning applications."

Basically, Alexa is more powerful than ever before. The processor uses AI for managing speech requests locally, so you can expect super quick responses.

You can tell it to do things like “Alexa, set a timer for 35 minutes”,“Alexa, what does my calendar look like for tomorrow”,“Alexa, play Christmas hits” or pretty much anything else, and you’ll get a response in milliseconds.

Thanks to the new chip, you can also use new features like Natural Turn Taking, Kids Mode, Care Hub, Guard Plus, and lots more. Overall, Alexa is much better at understanding different voices. But if it didn’t understand a command, it’ll cleverly set up a Routine to avoid making the same mistake again in the future.

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What’s more, the Echo 4 now takes the function of a bridge device for Amazon Sidewalk. This means you can easily use Ring lighting products and many other smart devices with your Echo speaker, and there’s no need to buy an individual bridge.

You’re also able to connect smart lights, motion sensors, smart plugs, smart locks and other devices without a standalone bridge. So, the 2020 Echo makes it much easier and quicker to set up and use different smart home devices. As for other features, there’s a tap-to-snooze function and a temperature sensor.

HomePod Mini no aux input

The HomePod Mini is also controlled by a voice assistant, Apple’s Siri. It works perfectly as your own personal DJ, allowing you to issue commands like “Play songs from the 80s”, “Play some Beatles songs” and “Who sings this song?”. Siri is pretty good at responding to commands, even when the volume is turned up to the maximum.

Should you live with others, you can enable Siri to pick up more than one voice. That way, everyone can use the HomePod Mini for accessing custom playlists and playing their favorite artists.

We’d recommend setting up an Apple Music account if you were to buy a HomePod Mini, but Apple is planning to bring other streaming services to the speaker. In the US, HomePod users can currently play music via Pandora, and Spotify previously revealed to us that Apple "would love to work with Spotify."

Little and large: Apple HomePod vs HomePod Mini

Of course, Siri isn’t just capable of playing music. It’s also a great personal assistant, offering the ability to read the latest news headlines, organize your calendar, tell you the weather, offer traffic updates, remind you to do things, translate words, and many other helpful abilities.

Like the Echo 4, HomePod Mini also has lots of advanced smart home capabilities up its sleeves. You're able to use HomePod Mini as a HomeKit Hub, and it now sports a Thread Radio.

In theory, this tech makes it easier to connect and manage different smart devices. But it’s still new, and there aren’t a lot of Thread-based products on the market just yet. That said, the Nanoleaf Essentials smart light bulbs are a good example of where Thread innovation is going.

Amazon Echo 4th-gen v Apple HomePod Mini: Smart speaker hub face-off

Amazon Echo v Apple HomePod Mini: Sound quality

One of the most important areas of any speaker is sound quality, so how do Echo 4 and HomePod Mini perform in this area? Considering that an Echo 4 costs less than $100, it delivers great stereo sound thanks to a 3.0-inch woofer and two 0.8-inch tweeters. What’s more, there’s Dolby processing, which makes audio sound even better.

The Echo also has the ability to detect room acoustics and enhance audio playback. If you happen to own a separate sound system, you can connect it to the smart speaker via its 3.5mm audio in/out connection. This means you can control other sound systems with Alexa.

At a similar price point to the Echo 4, HomePod Mini also surprised us when we tested its sound quality. Despite being a lot smaller than the original HomePod, it actually provides impeccable audio. The speaker packs a full-range driver, dual force-canceling passive radiators.

It’s powered by Apple’s S5 chip, which the tech giant says can “analyse the unique characteristics of the music and apply complex tuning models to optimise loudness, adjust the dynamic range, and control the movement of the driver and passive radiators in real time.” Essentially, it’s pretty smart computer tech that makes audio sound crystal clear.

When compared to the Echo 4, a HomePod Mini isn’t as loud and has less rich bass. But to be fair, Amazon’s new speaker is slightly larger.

It’s worth mentioning that you can put two HomePod Minis or Amazon Echo speakers together to get an improved sound experience, although this will obviously cost more money.

Both are also capable of forming part of a multi-room audio setup within their respective ecosystems.

Amazon Echo 4th-gen v HomePod Mini: Price

The Amazon Echo 4th-gen costs $99 in the States, £89 in the UK, but is often discounted by the retail giant.

The Apple HomePod is a $99 device.

Amazon Echo 4th-gen v Apple HomePod Mini: Smart speaker hub face-off

Amazon Echo 4 v HomePod Mini: Which is the best?

Which is the best speaker overall, you’re probably wondering? Out of the both, Apple’s HomePod Mini is the better speaker thanks to its sleek design, impressive sound quality, impressive computing power and advanced smart home capabilities.

If you’re a diehard Apple fan who owns an iPhone, iPad, Macbook or any other device made by the Cupertino tech giant, you’re going to love the HomePod Mini.

Oh, and unlike the original HomePod, which still costs around $299, it’s more affordable for the masses.

Although the HomePod Mini has the edge on the new Echo, that doesn’t mean Amazon’s latest smart speaker should be disregarded.

Amazon has genuinely done an excellent job with its fourth-generation Echo smart speaker. It’s improved the Alexa voice assistant, audio, design and processor of the device and would be an impressive addition to any Alexa smart home.

TAGGED    smart speakers    apple home    amazon alexa

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