Features: Alexa voice control, on-device touch control
Dimensions (hwd): 10 x 10 x 8.9cm
Finishes: x3 (charcoal, blue, white)
Verdict: The latest generation of the impressive Echo Dot keeps up the series' high standard thanks to its surprisingly three-dimensional sound at this affordable price, and perhaps the smartest Alexa integration yet.
- Impressively expansive sound
- Great Alexa integration
- Pleasing, understated aesthetic
- Sound distortion at higher frequencies and volume
Features: Siri voice control, AirPlay 2, Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos
Dimensions (hwd): 8.4 x 9.8 x 9.8cm
Finishes: x5 (space grey, white, orange, yellow, blue)
Verdict: The HomePod Mini is full of surprises, and almost all of them are pleasant; it's small, sonically satisfying and, perhaps most gratifyingly of all, not even particularly expensive.
- Sophisticated, engaging sound
- Substantial smart skills
- Impressive music discovery
- Limited third-party service support
- Lacks a full control app
Smart speakers are all the rage right now, and with Amazon recently announcing a raft of new and updated models, including the all-new (and daftly named) Echo Pop, that trend is only likely to continue as our homes become smarter and we, inevitably, become more reliant on trick-laden tech.
Amazon is very much at the forefront of this push through its impressive AI assistant Alexa, but it isn't the only runner in this particular race. Google has its own smart speaker-cum-assistant courtesy of the Google Nest, whereas Apple's Siri-powered HomePod series is keeping this from becoming a Jeff Bezos-controlled monopoly.
It's an interesting match-up, here, too, with the recently-released, five-star Echo Dot undercutting the Award-winning Apple rival by a considerable margin in terms of cost.
Time to see if Siri reigns supreme or whether Alexa is the ultimate AI.
Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) vs Apple HomePod Mini: price
The Award-winning Apple HomePod Mini offers a smaller and more affordable alternative to its larger sibling, the HomePod 2. The Mini's original £99 / $99 / AU$149 pricing has stayed firm, with a tenner or so off during Black Friday or holiday sales seasons, but it's still a surprisingly affordable option from Apple. And it's still a very reasonable outlay for what remains a very impressive little smart speaker.
The Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen), meanwhile, is a much more budget option at £54.99 / $49.99 / AU$79. We've seen discounts popping up for this already – Amazon UK pulled the price down to just £34.99 recently (although it's back up to full price at the time of publishing), but this is one to keep an eye on for big discounts throughout the year. Even at full price, though, the Echo Dot is superb value for money, giving you extensive in-depth Alexa assistance and a solid-sounding speaker to boot.
**Winner: Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen)**
Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) vs Apple HomePod Mini: design
Most smart speakers are not artistic tours de force, instead opting for unobtrusive, muted designs that can slot into your home's general aesthetic without sticking out like a sausage in a trifle.
The fifth generation of the Echo Dot continues its run as a spherical object, with most of the Dot covered by finely-woven speaker mesh and the rest encased in smooth plastic at the unit's base. The Alexa ring, which glows a rather pleasing shade of blue when she's called into action, encircles the bottom rim.
The HomePod Mini is rather similar, although there are some key differences. While it's broadly a spherical design, the top and bottom are cut off to accommodate the base and upper control panel respectively, while the speaker mesh is a little wider and loser than that found on the Dot. The top panel does swirl around attractively with multiple colours when you call for Siri's assistance (and when she replies) – it's a more premium finish, too.
You can also tap on the top panel for music playback controls and volume up/down. However, where tapping on the top panel will wake up Siri (apart from just using your voice), Amazon boasts that you can tap the Echo Dot pretty much anywhere and get a response from Alexa.
Aesthetically, though, there's not much to choose from, although the HomePod Mini does come in more colourful shades than the Echo Dot. This is very much a question of taste, though, so we'll consider it a tie here.
Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) vs Apple HomePod Mini: features
In terms of physical connectivity, the fifth-generation Echo does see a downgrade as it no longer supports a 3.5mm input, so there's no longer any way to connect a wired source – that could well be a dealbreaker for some. However, it's the same case for the HomePod Mini, which has never offered a wired connection.
Connection to both speakers will have to be done wirelessly, then, with Bluetooth for Amazon and AirPlay 2 for Apple coming in handy alongside the home wi-fi network connection.
The HomePod Mini comes fully loaded with Apple's Siri, well-known to anyone who's ever owned an iPhone or pretty much any other Apple product that wasn't the original iPod. Siri's a decent assistant to have around the house – smart, capable and attentive to your questions.
Speaking of being responsive, Siri's knack of always knowing which device is being addressed is particularly clever, especially when you have multiple Apple products knocking around the house. Alexa, meanwhile, can often get confused as to who is speaking and who is being addressed, leading to occasional moments of frustration.
The usual raft of Siri-powered smart functions are all present and correct, including controlling HomeKit-compatible devices, setting timers and alarms, creating reminders, sending messages, making phone calls – the usual stuff, but it's worth bearing in mind that third-party support is still sparse, with Apple prioritising its own ecosystem here. Siri can also make announcements to one or all other HomePods in the house using the new Intercom feature, something that Alexa can also do.
Alexa, in fact, can do pretty much anything the HomePod can do and more, not to mention offering a wider variety of third-party app support and, in some cases, being a bit responsive to questions. In addition to everything listed above (control for compatible smart devices will vary), Alexa has a range of apps, known as "Skills", which allow the Echo Dot to become anything you want. Want to play a game? Ask Alexa to boot up a Harry Potter quiz. Want to have some karaoke fun? Easy. Want Alexa to make a variety of fart noises? You need to grow up, but yes, she's happy to oblige.
All of this can be customised and set up in the Alexa app, an interface that beats the HomePod's rather sparse, bland Home app hands down. Where Apple claws its points back, though, is via its excellent music curation using Apple Music, learning your tastes and responding to the phrase “Play something I'll like” by streaming a new, unheard collection of songs that fit into your habits. Alexa can't compete with that.
This depends on what you'll be using your smart speaker primarily for. If it's smart skills you want, go for the Echo Dot. If music playback is the higher priority, we'd recommend the HomePod Mini.
Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) vs Apple HomePod Mini: sound
While this could have been the weakest area for both performers, it's actually ended up as both models' greatest strength. We're at the point now at which audio manufacturers can get impressive amounts of wallop out of the smallest of units (just look at JBL and the portable speaker market), and while nothing will compare to your bespoke hi-fi setup (or a really good dedicated wireless speaker), this is one area in which smart speakers continue to improve.
Amazon promised the fifth generation would be the best-sounding Echo Dot, and it's a promise well kept. Considering the Echo’s small size and big bag of tricks, the sonic experience delivered is remarkable for the price. Rock, hip-hop, even orchestral numbers, the Dot has a seriously impressive crack at it all.
Apple's effort, however, is simply outstanding for its price and size. The sound presentation of the Mini is refreshingly mature, solid and authoritative, while its well-formed bass is seamlessly integrated into the overall picture. There’s even superb tonal balance and consistency, with no frequencies over-exaggerated or colouring the broader ensemble.
The clincher, though, is that the HomePod Mini will support playback of Apple's spatial audio with Dolby Atmos format when connected to an Apple TV 4K. The Mini also supports lossless audio and will play various tracks in up to 24-bit/48kHz quality via Apple Music.
While the Echo Dot is a perfectly pleasant performer, the HomePod Mini offers the more sophisticated sound quality.
**Winner: Apple HomePod Mini**
Amazon Echo Dot (5th gen) vs Apple HomePod Mini: verdict
Amazon and Apple have managed to pull some seriously impressive smart speakers out of the bag. Both the new Echo Dot and the HomePod Mini look stylish and well-made, they're both simple to use and a breeze to set up, and while sound could have been an issue, each manages to deliver enough heft and nuance to justify its existence as a music player as well as a smart assistant.
Ultimately, your choice may boil down to whether you're more into Apple than Amazon, or vice versa. Anyone who's more au fait with Siri's way of doing things and the wider Apple ecosystem as a whole (and is a firm Apple Music subscriber) will be more inclined towards the charming HomePod Mini, while Amazon devotees will find little to dislike with Alexa's stellar integration with the fifth generation of the Echo Dot. For real music aficionados, though, Siri's fantastic curation abilities may be enough to tip the scales in the HomePod Mini's favour, as will the implementation of Dolby Atmos for certain tracks.
In reality, though, it's a very close call, especially considering the Dot's measly cost. Taking both speakers at their full price, the Echo Dot and the HomePod Mini are both fairly priced for what you're getting, but if you manage to get the Dot at a discount, it may be hard to resist a five-star performer.
Read the full Echo Dot (5th Generation) review
These are the best smart speakers money can buy
Check out our original HomePod Mini review
Apple HomePod vs HomePod 2: which is better?