Apple HomePod Impressions

Easily one of the most aesthetic, beautiful smart speakers on the market.

Enter Apple HomePod.

Let’s start off by saying that Apple is marketing this as a device that is “speaker first”, meaning that they are aiming to provide a device that gives you excellent sound quality with a voice interface, which is controlled by Siri.  That doesn’t necessarily make it a smart speaker right?  Well, it sort of does, especially when you can control HomeKit devices, send iMessages and play music — all tell tale signs of smart speakers. So although Apple doesn’t want the comparisons — there will be and I’d argue that there should be and is, based off of what this device does.

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Apple HomePod (white), pictured in Apple Store.

Background

Apple has noted that HomePod has been in development for 6 years. That being said, this product aims to mesh together the worlds of audio, smart assistants and more in a pint sized package.

Design

As I noted, the design of the Apple HomePod is nothing short of fantastic.  It is a hefty, yet small speaker featuring a soft mesh outer covering housing the many speakers, tweeters and microphones crammed inside.  There are two colors that HomePod comes in, white, which gets dirty quickly and space gray.  When it comes to ports on the device — there are none, with the only thing coming from the HomePod is it’s power cable, which is of exceptionally high quality featuring a woven covering.  Note that are no other ports on the device, no aux in, no USB, which should be fine for most, as we are moving to a predominately wireless world.

Sound

I was able to get in a solid test, standing fairly close and moving my head all around in a local Apple Store and I was thoroughly blown away.  The key thing to remember about how this sounds is “sound separation”, a listener can literally hear all of the sounds coming from the speakers, every instrument, every differentiating aspect of the song is clear and very crisp.  This is one of the biggest differences when comparing to a Google Home, which I currently own, or Amazon Alexa.  Google Home in comparison sounds slightly muffled and sounds mesh together, while HomePod seems to produce the music in a very accurate way. However, when it comes to overall volume, the Google Home Max still takes the cake in this department — that thing is just loud with very good bass.

See a sound test below comparing the HomePod to other smart speakers as well as Sonos Play (which I believe has an edge over HomePod, with Google Home Max being louder but lacking the auidble clarity due to distortion at higher volumes):

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/oImOYg_dSl0

On the other hand, the only sound that you can ask Siri for is for music from Apple Music.  No Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, Tidal (laughs) or others unless you choose to AirPlay them, which somewhat takes the intuitiveness out of it.  If I have to grab my phone, go to an audio source and Air Play that source to the HomePod — then what are we doing? It’s simply too much effort when voice is my supposed interface. In fact, to set the device up, you must have an iOS device running iOS 11.2.5.  So all of the Android users that utilize Apple Music — you cannot setup this device.

Note:  Since this review and hands-on was done in store, I was unable to test “Hey Siri” functionality.

Ecosystem

This device is heavily integrated into the Apple ecosystem and it’s thought process on devices and services you should have.  With that being said, the lock-in here is huge with only Apple Music being at the forefront with no other alternatives even being available to control via voice unless you’re noting for it to move to the next track.

Privacy

Unfortunately, at this time, Siri cannot support multiple users.  An example is that if you ask it to read personal details such as text messages and your notes, it will read those items off to anyone that issues the “Hey Siri” command to it.  This is especially odd, since Apple touts this device as being very private and other Apple-centric analysts on podcasts are quoted as saying, “I’d never have a Google or Amazon speaker in my house due to privacy“.  Siri can differentiate between voices on your iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, but can’t on HomePod.  This is a huge miss and being someone, who is privacy focused and someone who deletes my voice data weekly from Google Home, I understand the need for differentiation of voices on smart devices — yet this goes full circle to Siri not being that smart and the fact that there are multiple versions of Siri spread across Apple’s ecosystem.  You have Siri on iPhone and iPad, which are identical, then you have the gimped versions on Apple Watch, Mac OS, Apple TV and finally HomePod.  So let’s not talk about “privacy” (this is talking to you, Rene Ritchie from Vector) until Siri can stop being so fragmented across devices made by the same company. Additionally, HomePod doesn’t offer a mute switch for the microphone either, which is featured on Google Home and Amazon Echo devices — instead, you must ask Siri to mute the microphone using a command.


Overall

If you are engrossed in the Apple ecosystem and are in the market for a speaker that can deliver excellent sound quality, HomePod may be right for you.  However, no product comes without it’s limitations, as Apple simply isn’t open to many other companies when it comes to HomeKit integrations or third party music platforms and if you’re accepting of that, this could be right for you.  AirPlay 2, stereo pairing with other HomePod devices and other features are slated to be released to the devices later in 2018. Siri capabilities are quite a disappointment as Siri on your iPhone can do more than on the HomePod.

At the end of the day, if an only if you’re committed to everything Apple would I recommend this.

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