The HomePod Smart Speaker Shows The Best and Worst of Apple
HomePod is Apple’s first smart speaker. It is controlled mostly through Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled assistant although there are volume buttons on the top.
It boasts astonishing sound quality and automatically ‘scans’ the room to improve the audio quality of what’s playing.
You can request songs, albums and even ask complex musical questions but all of this requires an Apple Music subscription.
You can control smart home gadgets, but they have to be compatible with Apple’s HomeKit which again, feels closed-off.
The Apple HomePod is the company’s first smart speaker and is designed to compete with the likes of the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos One.
Where it immediately surpasses them both is with setup. You literally hold your phone near HomePod and follow the instructions that appear on screen. Apple at its absolute best - making the enormously complex seem effortlessly simple.
Then there’s the sound. HomePod reportedly took six years to make. Listen to just five minutes of music from it and you’ll see why. This is without doubt one of the best-sounding speakers I’ve probably heard. As we mentioned in our first-look review, music from this speaker sounds as though it’s being performed live in front of you.
Every instrument, every layer has its place within the track and HomePod expertly places those instruments around your room. But it seems as though few of us may get the chance to hear this sound because sadly HomePod won’t play nice with others.
Here’s why: HomePod responds perfectly to some pretty advanced questions around music – “Hey Siri, play me the Brit nominations this year?” or “Hey Siri, play me the live version of this song” – but the reason it does this is because it only works with Apple Music.
Unlike Amazon’s Echo, Google Home or even the Sonos One, this is Apple’s party and Apple’s party alone. You can’t add additional streaming accounts like Spotify, Audible, Amazon Prime Music or TuneIn. Instead if you want to play from these sources it has to be through AirPlay on another Apple device.
Having a speaker that knows music and understands it is great, but as a smart speaker that’s just one part of what it’s being used for. HomePod also can’t play the radio, nor can it set multiple timers for cooking. It also can’t understand different people, so you can’t add multiple accounts to it.
Yes those aren’t complex tasks, but they’re tasks that people actually use every day. People aren’t asking what the number 1 song in 1973 is every day.
It can control smart home gadgets that support HomeKit and while the list does include some big names such as Netatmo and Philips Hue, it’s still smaller than its rivals and doesn’t include companies like Nest or Hive.
Finally there’s Siri itself. It has come a long way, but I did encounter one small but annoying issue. Every time I said the wake words “Hey Siri” I found my iPhone, Apple Watch and HomePod would all wake up and have a small argument over who was going to deal with the request.
Nine times out of ten HomePod would win but every now and then I’d ask HomePod to play a song and my watch would start playing music. Not ideal.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
The HomePod is a perfect microcosm for everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong about Apple.
Its staggering audio quality and easy setup are perfect examples of the company’s meticulous attention to detail, this really is one of the best-sounding speakers I’ve heard. But its exclusive compatibility with Apple Music and HomeKit make it feel isolated compared to the comparatively open approach that other smart speakers are offering.
It’s a shame, and maybe Apple will open HomePod up to other services later this year, but for the moment it means that unless you’re a music fanatic who’s also an Apple Music user, this probably won’t be the speaker for you.