How To Make Smart Speakers Portable (Alexa, Google Home, And Homepod)
Smart speakers are becoming common household items that we find convenient and useful. Many of these Smart speakers are designed to be connected to mains power, limiting their portability and use outside of the home. How can you make your Smart speaker portable so that you can enjoy them anywhere?
Alexa, Google Home, and Homepod Smart speakers can be made portable by purchasing battery bases for the speaker model you have. These battery bases are rechargeable and will power your speakers for several hours while you are not in range of a mains power supply. Power banks can also be used.
Smart speakers are an integral part of creating a Smart home, and in many cases, the Smart speaker is the first Smart item people purchase when exploring Smart home technology. These speakers are compact in design, which begs the question, why they are not made portable? Imagine your camping trip, or weekend at the cabin, or a day at the park with the convenience of your Smart speaker on hand.
Can You Make Smart Speakers Portable?
Smart speakers constantly require power to keep all their Smart features active and ready, waiting for your next command.
This need for constant power limits the portability of these speakers since most are designed to plug into the mains power of your home. This immediately limits the use of your Smart speaker to a location where you can access mains power.
Alexa, Google Home, and Homepod are popular Smart speaker choices, so we will examine each of these product lines for portability and whether they can be converted to be portable.
One caveat that should be mentioned regarding making Smart speakers portable is that they still need a Wi-Fi connection to the internet before they will function.
Taking the Smart speaker out of the range of your home Wi-Fi network will effectively prevent the speaker from operating. The only way to bypass this would be to enable your mobile phone hotspot and connect your Smart speaker to this as the Wi-Fi connectivity source for the speaker.
Are Alexa Smart Speakers Portable?
Alexa is the voice assistant integrated into Amazon Echo devices. You can control other Smart devices in your home by issuing commands to the Echo speakers.
Most of the Alexa Echo range of Smart speakers such as the Echo and Echo Dot can be converted to be portable by purchasing a custom, rechargeable battery base for the speaker. These battery bases can be charged and unplugged when needed to allow you to take your Alexa Smart speaker anywhere.
An example of this is the GMM Battery Base for Echo Dot 4th Generation compatible with the Echo Dot 4th Generation Smart Speaker.
This portable battery base will power the Echo dot for up to 16-hours from a full charge.
Can Google Home Smart Speakers Run Without Being Plugged In?
Google Home Smart speakers are another popular choice of speakers used where the Smart tech in the home is powered by Google.
Google Home Smart speakers cannot run when they are not plugged in. Like any other Smart speaker, they need a constant power source to listen and respond to voice commands. Even when the speaker is in standby mode, it will draw a small level of power to keep the mic and sensors active.
The only way to make Google Home Smart speakers portable is to provide them with source of battery power to keep them powered.
As with other Smart speakers, Google Home speakers come in a range of sizes, and portable battery bases are available for most versions, allowing the speakers to become portable.
The JOT Portable Battery Base for Google Home Mini is an example of such a portable power source for your Google Home Mini Smart speakers.
This portable battery base will power this speaker for up to 8-hours of continuous run time and even longer on standby.
My HomePod mini Experience: Portability, Intercom, and Dr. Mac’s Conclusions
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.
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.
thoughts on “ My HomePod mini Experience: Portability, Intercom, and Dr. Mac’s Conclusions ”
I, for one, have now installed a HomePod mini in several rooms of our home, apart from the paired original HomePods in the master bedroom for our mini home theatre set up for those days when either we don’t feel like going down to the basement home theatre, or one of our kids have claimed first dibs on the latter.
I have done this not simply to enjoy content in multiple locations, as well as pipe content throughout the house, but expressly to use the intercom system, which I now do with abandon. The satisfying thing is, I now KNOW that they can hear me when I call out to a family member. Better still, I don’t need to bellow like a skin-clad barbarian between floor levels, or rely simply on text messages (which my kids will claim they didn’t see – right). Now, I can highjack a speaker right in front of their no longer little faces and speak my piece in ‘vox normalis’ – a voice from the aether.
Although I have yet to try using the intercom function from different devices whilst out of the house, your report of spotty behaviour is noteworthy, and undoubtedly Apple are aware of it. A fix should be simple enough, assuming that it is not Wi-Fi network dependent.
In the meantime, I revel in strategically piping Saturday Matinee Met Opera whilst doing chores, sharing playlists with my family in different rooms, and treating my wife and myself to our little mini home theatre for two, at will.
Hello Ben, as you probably know by now, (sorry for the late response), yes you can connect the HomePod mini to a power bank, preferably made by Apple and rated 20W (9V = 2.22A). Otherwise, you may encounter issues such as an orange flashing light: https://www.macobserver.com/tips/how-to/homepod-mini-flashing-orange-heres-how-to-fix-it/
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Hardware Apple HomePod mini
The regular HomePod is characterized by its extensive hardware specifications. With seven tweeters and a woofer. the regular HomePod gives impressive sound. The smaller HomePod mini doesn’t fit all that hardware, which is why there is one speaker with a full-range driver that sends the sound in the right direction. The two passive radiators provide the lower bass tones.
The brain of the HomePod mini is the S5 chip, which we know from the Apple Watch Series 5. Apple has therefore switched from the A chip in the HomePod (it still had an A8 chip) to the S chip in the HomePod mini. The reason for this is somewhat unclear. In any case, you won’t notice it in use, because the HomePod mini responds just as quickly with processing Siri requests and starting music as the regular HomePod.
The HomePod mini also has four microphones that are responsible for understanding your commands. In the regular HomePod, there were seven more, six of which were used for Siri commands. In our test, the HomePod mini can always hear you well, even if the sound is loud or if it is noisy in the room where the speaker is located. He can even hear you from another room without any problems, provided the doors are open. Despite the fact that there are fewer microphones in it than in the regular HomePod, we did not notice any difference in use.
The HomePod mini has the same kind of braided cable as the regular HomePod. This is a pretty sturdy cable that won’t break just like that. Fortunately, because you cannot replace the cable. The power cable has a length of more than one and a half meters, which is long enough in our opinion. The advantage of the HomePod mini’s cable is that the end is a regular USB-C plug. You plug it into the included 20W adapter. You can also use your own adapter of at least 20W. Connecting to a MacBook is unfortunately not possible and if you want to use a power bank, you will need one with a decent capacity.
HomePod mini features: music and more
The HomePod mini is, just like the regular HomePod, suitable for various functions. Its main application is listening to music. By default, the HomePod mini has Apple Music built-in. When setting up you link the HomePod mini to your account, so that you can play music directly from your own Apple Music account and your library. At the moment, the HomePod mini only works with Apple Music by default and in the US with Pandora. Apple has added support for external music services, so in theory Spotify can work closely with the HomePod mini. Unfortunately, this has not yet been the case.
If you want to listen to another streaming service or play your own music on it, you can always use AirPlay 2. You stream the music from your iPhone or iPad to the HomePod mini. You can also ask Siri on your iPhone to play music via Spotify in the room where the HomePod is located. But you always need your iPhone or iPad, which is an extra stumbling block.
A handy extra is the HomePod ‘s Handoff function. This means that you only have to hold your iPhone with music above the HomePod, after which the music is transferred. That also works with Spotify and other services. Incidentally, Apple promises that a future software update will make this function even better thanks to the U1 chip in the HomePod mini, but we have not been able to test that at this time.
The HomePod mini really comes into its own when you only use Apple services. That also applies to your Smart home.
The HomePod mini is part of HomeKit. You can set it up via the Home app and thanks to AirPlay 2 you can control automations (for example, play music when you get home). The HomePod mini also acts as a home hub for HomeKit. allowing you to control your devices remotely. We only use HomeKit products at home, but if you use a combination of multiple Smart home platforms (Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, etcetera), that can be a bit inconvenient. If you choose HomeKit completely, the HomePod mini will fit perfectly in your home.
You can easily use the HomePod mini to operate your HomeKit devices. Although Siri on the HomePod still cannot speak Dutch, you can say HomeKit commands partly in Dutch. The HomePod looks at the name you have given to scenes, rooms and accessories. So you can just say “Turn on the lights in the living room”. That works quite well, although you sometimes have to articulate well.
Another new feature worth highlighting is the HomePod ‘s Intercom feature. You use this function to address everyone in the house, for example to say that dinner is ready or that it is time to leave. Say to the HomePod mini “Hey Siri, intercom”, followed by your Dutch audio message. This audio message will then be played one-on-one on other HomePods in the house or on the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch of the people in the house. Even when someone is on the road, he or she can hear the audio message via CarPlay. We think this is a handy and ingenious feature, although it is only really useful if you live in a larger house.
Less versatile than competitors
Compared to other speakers, the HomePod mini is a bit less versatile. Just like with the regular HomePod, you can’t just use it as a Bluetooth speaker. It only works with AirPlay 2 and therefore you cannot easily connect the speaker to a computer or television. You can send the audio to the HomePod mini from a Mac. but that all works with AirPlay 2. In our experience, this is not so smooth and you also have to adjust this often.
The same also applies to your television. If you were planning to use the HomePod mini (or the regular HomePod) as some kind of Sonos alternative, you will be disappointed. You cannot just connect a HomePod to your television, even if it is a television with AirPlay 2 or HomeKit. You can, however, send the sound via an Apple TV to a HomePod or HomePod mini. If you only watch television via the Apple TV. then that is an option. Unfortunately, the HomePod mini does not support the home cinema option that the regular HomePod offers since the 14.2 update.
Sound quality HomePod mini: stands its ground
Apple’s standard HomePod was mainly praised for its high sound quality. Apple promises that the HomePod mini also sounds good and after our test we can confirm that. Yet you do notice a difference, although that is not surprising when you consider that the HomePod is in a completely different class in terms of technology and price. The HomePod mini sounds less full than the regular HomePod. but we are nevertheless impressed with the sound quality. The speaker sounds a lot better than, for example, the Google Home mini and the Echo Dot from Amazon. At times we find the speaker coming close to the Sonos One.
We find all music styles come into their own with the HomePod mini. Whether you like rock or classical music. The bass is never too much present and does not rattle through in the sound. There are sometimes speakers where the bass is so emphatically present that the rest of the sound is, as it were, blocked, but we have not noticed that with the HomePod mini.
As with the regular HomePod, the equalizer is automatically adjusted. So you do not have the options to adjust the equalizer to your own taste. For some users this may be a loss, but we do not find this disturbing.
The HomePod mini also has 360-degree audio, so it doesn’t matter how you place the speaker. The sound sounds equally good from every side and we think that is quite good for a speaker of such a small size. The HomePod mini does not support the spatial awareness function of the regular HomePod. Where that speaker adjusts the sound to where it is in the room (by listening to the reflections of the sound), the HomePod mini does not.
We are also satisfied with the volume of the speaker. We never actually set the speaker to its loudest, because at half the volume it sounds more than loud enough. But if for whatever reason you want to set the volume to 100%, the music will never be distorted and it will sound just as good as at a lower volume. Even in an average living room, the HomePod mini manages to fill the space well. If you still want a bit fuller sound for a larger room, the regular HomePod or another larger speaker is recommended.
We therefore find the HomePod mini ideal for the bedroom or office. These are often spaces where you do not have to listen to music at the highest volume and the small size makes it easy to place it anywhere.
If you need a little more volume because of the larger space, you can also set the HomePod mini as a stereo pair. The left and right audio channel then sounds from the respective speaker, so that the overall experience with listening to music is slightly better. We certainly don’t think this is a must, but if you have the space, this is an option to keep in mind.
Who is the HomePod mini for?
We think the HomePod mini is best suited if you already have a lot of Apple products at home. If you are completely in the Apple ecosystem, everyone in the house has an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch and you make full use of Apple Music and HomeKit. the HomePod mini will fit seamlessly into your setup. In fact, in that case we think the HomePod mini is a no-brainer. It is therefore an extra pity that the HomePod mini is not officially available in the Netherlands.
Would you really like to use everything in Dutch and do you want more options from a Smart speaker? Then there are also other (cheaper) alternatives. The Google Nest speakers are best known. You can get a Google Nest mini for less than three bucks. while the Google Nest Audio is sold for the same price as the HomePod mini ( € 99 ).
JBL Boombox 3
JBL is an American company that manufactures various audio equipment, including loudspeakers and headphones. They have a wide selection of speakers, so you can choose the products that best meet your unique needs. For example, if you’re looking for a large party speaker, you can check out models from the PartyBox lineup, like the JBL PartyBox 710. If you’re looking for a smaller clip-on model to take on the go, something like the JBL Clip 4 may be more to your tastes. Larger speakers tend to cost more, of course, while you can find smaller models are more wallet-friendly prices. The flexibility is part of what makes JBL one of the best brands we’ve tested. The JBL Boombox 3 is one of the manufacturer’s more premium models, and its versatile performance can please many different listeners. As its name implies, this speaker has a boombox-like design with a built-in handle to take your tunes on the go. It’s a mighty speaker with great sound quality, so you enjoy a deep and thumpy bass with EDM and hip-hop tracks and clear and accurate vocals and instruments in the mids. Customization is easy thanks to the graphic EQ in the JBL Portable app. This Bluetooth speaker gets loud, too, and with a battery life of over 29 hours, it’s a great way to take the party late into the night.
Sony is one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world, and they produce products like headphones and a wide range of speaker models that can appeal to many different users. They produce everything from wired home speakers like the Sony SRS-RA3000 to booming party speakers like the Sony SRS-XP700. Their portable Bluetooth speakers are a great way to get good sound quality at an affordable price, and you’ll find models available at a wide array of price points, so even budget-conscious shoppers can get good sound quality. While their speakers don’t tend to be voice-enabled, some of them are compatible with the voice assistant on your paired smartphone. The Sony SRS-XG500 is a versatile pick that’s ideal for different listeners. It’s a premium device with a boombox-like design, and its IP66 rating for dust and water resistance helps to protect it when you listen to your favorite songs outside. This speaker is customizable, too. You can set its built-in RGB lights to the colors and patterns you like in the Sony Music Center app. Plus, thanks to the graphic EQ and presets also found in the app, you can customize the speaker’s sound. Even without these tools, you still enjoy great sound out-of-the-box, thanks to Sony’s ClearAudio feature that corrects the audio based on your room’s acoustics. It also lasts over 25 hours off a single charge, which is impressive.
Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM
Ultimate Ears is an American manufacturer that’s a subsidiary of Logitech. They produce various audio products, including headphones, in-ear monitors, and wireless Bluetooth speakers. They generally produce well-built portable speakers available at different price points, and their budget-friendly models are some of the best we’ve tested in the lower price ranges. With these speakers, you can bring your favorite tunes outside, and their wide array of customization tools gives you lots of control over their sound. You won’t find integrated voice assistant support like with other manufacturers, though, and you may need to pair up your smartphone if you want to control their speakers with your voice. Still, the Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM is a premium speaker that’s worth a look. It’s a portable Bluetooth device with a built-in carrying strap, meaning you can bring it on the go. While larger than some of the manufacturer’s other models, it can bring more thump and rumble in the bass range, so you feel the energy in bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop. It gets loud, too, and its battery life of over 23 hours lets you continue the party as long as you like. Plus, the graphic EQ and presets in the Ultimate Ears app let you customize its sound to your liking, which is a cool touch. Budget-conscious shoppers can check out alternatives like the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3, which doesn’t bring the same high-quality sound, but still does a great job for the price.
What Is Fast Charging?
Another factor to consider is how quickly a power bank can charge your device. Battery output is measured in voltage and amperage. Amperage (or current) is the amount of electricity that flows from the battery to the connected device, while voltage is the amount of potential energy. Multiplying volts by amps gives you wattage, the measure of total power. To make devices charge faster, most manufacturers either vary the voltage or boost the amperage.
Today’s devices support a wide range of Rapid-charging technology, such as Qualcomm QuickCharge, USB Power Delivery, or proprietary fast-charge systems.
Quick Charge works by increasing voltage rather than amperage. This standard typically allows you to charge supported phones to 50 percent capacity in 30 minutes, which is especially helpful when you need power in a pinch.
Power Delivery is a newer protocol in which two compatible devices negotiate on the fastest charging option available based on the charger, cable, and circuitry. It also allows for power to flow both ways.
The most common devices (Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies) support charging rates of 27W and 45W, respectively. It’s best to look for batteries that can support charging in that range.
Is Pass-Through Charging Safe and Useful?
Pass-through charging is another feature to consider; with it, you can charge devices and the portable power bank simultaneously. That’s convenient if both your phone and backup battery are running on empty. You shouldn’t encounter any safety issues if the manufacturer of the portable battery you buy advertises pass-through charging as a feature, but the power output might be slower in this mode.
Wireless charging has become popular because it allows you to power up compatible devices without a cable. Qi is the dominant standard for compatible Android phones (up to 18W) while Apple iPhones rely on MagSafe charging (up to 15W). iPhones will charge wirelessly on Qi chargers, but only at 7.5W.
Some battery makers have built Qi or MagSafe-compatible wireless charging into the surfaces of their portable batteries. Such batteries mean you can leave the cables at home.
Should You Buy a Battery Case Instead of a Power Bank?
If you find that you often forget to carry your backup battery when you need it most, you should consider a dedicated battery case instead. These combine the portability and protection of a case with additional battery capacity to keep your phone topped off at all times.
There are several drawbacks. First, they have limited additional capacity on board. Second, they are limited in terms of the number of phones they support (mostly just iPhones, Galaxies, and Pixels). Third, you can’t charge much else with them.