Apple’s HomePod finally arrives on Feb. 9, but is it worth the extra cost over an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker?
The early verdict from reviewers, who had about a week to test it, is mixed. If you’re an iOS user and subscribe to Apple Music, HomePod is the perfect home companion. But if you use Android or prefer any third-party music services like Spotify or Pandora, don’t even bother.
We’ll have our own thorough review of the HomePod in the coming days, but for now, here’s what reviewers are saying.
But HomePod, like the audio vacuum it was tested and developed in, exists in a silo that doesn’t seem to take into account how people actually use smart speakers. It works supremely well within Apple’s orbit, but not outside of that. The HomePod’s software, in its current iteration, doesn’t work where many people live — on Android phones or in Spotify — and that keeps a good smart speaker from being a great one.
The $349 HomePod, which costs roughly three times its competitors and arrives in stores on Friday, is tough to recommend to you, dear reader.
Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it. Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Siri doesn’t even work as well on HomePod as it does on the iPhone.
If you’re an Apple Music user, the HomePod is the best matching speaker. There is a very close second though. The Sonos One now comes with Alexa, and Google Assistant is expected to arrive this year. It already plays Apple Music via the Sonos app. And Sonos is now offering two Ones for the price of a HomePod.
It really comes down to what you want your speaker to do. If you want the smartest smart speaker, this isn’t it. But if you prize music above everything else, the HomePod isn’t a dumb choice.
Buy a HomePod if you already have Apple Music or you want to have it and you’re in the market for a single incredibly over-designed and radically impressive speaker that will give you really great sound with basically no tuning, fussing, measuring or tweaking.
The HomePod is a remarkable new kind of audio device. It does more to make music sound better than any other speaker of this kind has ever done before, and it really, truly works. But unless you live entirely inside Apple’s walled garden and prioritize sound quality over everything else, I think you’re better served by other smart speakers that sound almost as good and offer the services and capabilities that actually fit your life.
Siri is behind Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple’s voice AI can’t tell jokes, play games or turn on an Apple TV — or your favorite Netflix show. It doesn’t support making direct calls (you have to transfer it from your phone to the HomePod) or calendar appointments and forget about using it with Android devices. We’re also waiting for two upcoming but not-yet-released HomePod features: stereo and AirPlay 2 multiroom audio.
It’s certainly not perfect, at least not yet. There are severe limits to the services it integrates with and the assistance it provides. So much so that HomePod will really only appeal to customers already deeply enmeshed in the Apple ecosystem. But for those customers, it absolutely nails exactly what Apple set out to deliver: a speaker that can be placed almost anywhere in the home, is simple to set up, and sounds incredible no matter where it’s placed.
If we were grading the HomePod on its sound performance alone it would be a slam dunk…But we aren’t grading it on just its sound quality and neither will anyone else – and that’s where it all starts to disappoint. The HomePod is just not smart enough when pitched against the likes of the cheap little Amazon Echo or Google Home, Siri is not refined enough and even the experience between the iPhone and the HomePod feels confused.