Apple HomePod Review | A Promising Start For Apple’s First Smart Speaker
Experiencing the new Apple HomePod was like getting to know a new date. At first you’re drawn to the looks, you love the shape, the interactions are fun and it has distinct qualities. After a few days you start to notice its shortcomings; it doesn’t do a bunch of stuff you want it to, your goals don’t seem aligned and you wonder if it’s the right thing for you. You go back to flirting with some other products to compare them, only to realise that what you have with the HomePod is, despite incomplete, still pretty special.
Just a note to Android users though, you’ll only truly love this smart speaker if you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem. It has such limited functionality at the moment, that if you’re not on Apple Music and you don’t have HomeKit set up, you might as well just a get a normal speaker that will cost less.
At first glance, it’s smooth, refined and minimal; it has all of the traits we love. Weighing in at 2.5kg it’s much heavier than it looks and that’s a good thing because a light speaker isn’t exactly going to produce the kind of sound you’d expect from a pricey speaker. The power cable is wrapped in a nice woven fabric, the first of its kind in an Apple product; hopefully, this is the introduction to a new series of cables that will come with other Apple products. Located on the top of the unit is a touch sensitive surface where the volume adjustment is located and a trippy illuminated Siri indicator.
Setting the speaker up was incredibly easy, in fact, probably the easiest speaker set up of all the speaker devices we’ve tried recently. Instead of ruining the magic we’ll leave you to experience it for yourself.
Turning it on for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the sound. In fact, it had me at the connection jingle. I was so excited when I uttered the words, “Hey Siri, play some music”. At this point, I didn’t have an active Apple Music subscription, so by default it started playing music from Beats Radio. Music started to play from the speaker but I wasn’t convinced. The bass was amazing but the mids and highs weren’t very clear. I then streamed some music from my iPhone on Spotify to the HomePod via Airplay. It still sounded rather dull apart from the bass, and then I noticed that I had it sitting on the floor that was carpeted with no solid walls around the speaker. I moved it onto a table near a corner and then tried again – the result was impressive. None of the smart speakers I have at home have come close to the vibrant punchy sound of the HomePod.
I never really believed in the concept of 360 degrees speakers. How can you truly create awesome sound and have it pretty consistent from any point you stand in the room? Well, apparently the way you do it is by having 7 tweeters pointing circularly outwards with a smart woofer pumping dynamically calibrated bass above it all. Of course it’s never quite as simple as that; the HomePod also has 6 built-in microphones all around the speaker to receive and instantly analyse its own output. It’s like sampling your own breath before a date, if only all dates did that.
At the moment, the HomePod can’t be paired with another to create a multi-room or stereo set-up. However, we did get a chance to experienced a demo of two HomePods being paired for stereo sound and the tunes sounded pretty mind blowing. Stay tuned for that software update later this year.
At home, I’ve got the trifecta of smart speaker assistants. When I walk into my apartment, I ask Siri to “Illuminate”, Google Home to “Turn on the TV” and Alexa to “Cool the room.” It’s a little annoying that one assistant can’t do all these tasks; Google Assistant takes too long to turn on the lights, Alexa can’t turn on the TV, and apart from the lights, Siri doesn’t connect to many other things at the moment.
Having said that, if you’ve ever tried to get Google Home or Alexa to hear what you’re asking of it, while the music is playing at full volume, you’ll love the point I’m about to make. My jaw literally dropped during a demo of tasking the HomePod. Whilst it was playing at full blast, it easily picked up my voice and I was definitely not shouting at it.
There are still some shortcomings with Siri on the Apple HomePod that will hopefully be addressed soon. For one, it can’t read your calendar and tell you what’s on the agenda for the day. You also can’t ask Siri to make a phone call through the speaker but anyone can send a text by voice. You can still use it during a phone call, but you will need to start it on your iPhone first and select the HomePod as the output. It does sound warm and clear as a phone speaker though.
The Wrap-Up – Apple HomePod Review
Despite some shortcomings, I see a beautiful future ahead for me and the Apple HomePod. With impressive sound quality and functionalities that will improve with time, the well-built speaker has found a place in my home. Retailing at $499, it’s well worth checking out if you want a smart speaker and you’re already deeply involved, or are planning to be, in the Apple ecosystem.