This is Apple’s HomePod. It’s Apple’s response to the google home and amazon Alexa, it’s their smart speaker featuring Siri and after a couple months of delays the $349 speaker is here and ready to answer almost all of your questions. I’ve been using mine for the last couple of days, putting it through its paces and seeing how it integrates in my day to day to life. The general consensus for HomePod seems to be that it’s really good in some aspects and really limited in others and I have to agree with that. I think HomePod has the potential to really excel as a smart speaker, but for right now it does fall behind its competitors and in this video I’m going to go over all the things it can do and all the things it can’t so you can get a better understanding of HomePod and if it might be right for you.
The HomePod itself is a nice size speaker it’s about 7 inches tall and pretty beefy but compact enough to be tucked away if needed. It also looks and feels really nice with sort of this mesh cloth like material covering the whole thing. There’s no physical buttons or a display, just a single touch panel up top with some LED indicators. And there’s also no ports or inputs, no USB, no auxilery, no lighting, just a single power cable coming from HomePod that can actually be removed if you pull hard enough.
As far as setup goes, homepod isn’t exactly a standard Bluetooth speaker. And what I mean by that is, it can only be setup and used with an iOS device and that right there is its first major limitation. You can only setup and use HomePod with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, it can’t be connected via Bluetooth to an android device or anything else. And that’s because the speaker primarily connects to your WiFi network and syncs with all devices on your iCloud account. So if you don’t even own an Apple product, you can’t use HomePod to begin with.
During setup, you also need to make sure you have the Apple Music app installed on your phone, the Home App, and have 2 factor authentication enabled through iCloud. Those are all things I learned the hard way when I was going through the process.
After HomePod is setup, the primary way you’ll interact with it is by saying Hey Siri when you’re near it, but you can also tap on the top portion of the speaker to play, pause, skip and repeat music and increase or decrease the volume. And you can also activate Siri by tapping and holding the center of the touch area.
Half of what the HomePod is all about is of course music. Now since HomePod is specifically made for iOS users, Apple assumes you’re an Apple Music junkie and have a subscription, so the HomePod’s default way of playing music is through Apple Music. And that makes sense, but what if you’re like me and use Spotify or Tidal or something else? Fortunately you aren’t totally out of luck, but you are limited once again. You can stream music from most other services using AirPlay, and for just listening to music it’s fine, but Siri functionality sort of stops at playing and pausing music and changing the volume. She can’t recognize your playlists or play a specific song that you ask her to, and that’s kind of a bummer.
However, one of the biggest positive aspects of HomePod is the sound quality you get from the speaker. Now I’m not going to say that this thing is going to change your life, but it’s easily one of if not the best sounding speaker on the market right now. Apple put a lot of effort behind the design and functionality of HomePod to ensure that it sounds great no matter where it is, so if it’s against a wall or in a corner, if it’s in a small room or a big room, HomePod will understand its surroundings and adjust its output for the optimal listening experience. And if you move HomePod, it has an accelerator inside that detects that and will re-evaluate it’s new surroundings again. This all translates to really excellent sound no matter where your listening, and here’s some samples so you can get an idea.
The sound itself is very well balanced, there’s great bass without any distortion, vocals are crystal clear, there’s a lot of detail in the high end, and it also can get very loud. A vast majority of people have considered this the best speaker they’ve ever listened to, and I can definitely agree that you won’t be disappointed with the listening experience.
The other half of HomePod’s functionality is of course as a smart speaker / personal assistant with Siri. Now before we get into the pros and cons of Siri, I just want to point out that HomePod does an amazing job at recognizing your voice. If the music is at 100% volume, the six array microphone will still pick up your voice even if you’re talking kind of quietly, it’s scary good.
So to start off, when you’re playing music using Apple Music of course, you can ask Siri to change the volume skip a song, play a specific song, album, artist, or genre, play one of your playlists, or even generate some songs depending on a mood, like chill music or romantic music or music to dance to. You can have Siri create a radio station based on a band or have her add a new song to a playlist, and you can even ask Siri for information on songs, albums or artists like when something was released, who the drummer of a band is, and so on. Coupled with Apple Music specifically, there isn’t a lot Siri can’t do, so if you’re really into music, if you’re engulfed in Apple Music already, you’re going to get a lot out of Siri with the HomePod.
On the personal assistant side, this is where Siri is definitely not up to par with Alexa or Google Assistant, and I think this is where most people’s complaints lie. Siri can do a lot of the basic stuff really well like tell you the time and the weather, list off news headlines, look up sports scores, read through places nearby like if you wanted to look up a restaurant. You can also set a timer, reminders and create notes. And coupled with an iOS device like your iPhone, Siri can also read back any unread iMessages you have and also create a reply. But there are some things Siri should be able to do but can’t, like reading calendar events for example, or checking email or even setting more than 1 timer. HomePod also doesn’t recognize more than 1 voice, so theoretically anyone can have Siri read back your recent iMessages from your phone just by asking her, there’s no personalization options whatsoever. And when it comes to a straight up comparison between Alexa and google assistant, in a recent test by loop ventures, Siri was able to handle 52% of questions and commands compared to 81% on google home and 64% on Alexa. While Siri on the iPhone can at least bring search the web and launch some google results if she doesn’t know the answer, you can’t do that with homepod.
And finally, if you’ve got some HomeKit enabled devices like smart bulbs or smart locks, Siri can control all of that which is awesome, so turning off lights or locking the doors can be done easily and there are countless HomeKit enabled devices now that will work seamlessly with HomePod
Right now, I think the biggest drawback with HomePod is Siri’s limitations. For being the oldest smart assistant on the market, she hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in recent years with updates or new features, and I’m hoping we see something fresh from WWDC. I think a lot of people are also quick to complain about the lack of outright Bluetooth support and use with non-Apple devices, or homepods dependency on Apple Music, but you have to keep in mind that that’s just what Apple does. For the same reasons that iMessage is only on iOS devices, Apple wants you to use this speaker with their products and their services. That’s how Apple is, it’s nothing new. They assume if you’re in the Apple ecosystem already, this speaker will fit seamlessly with everything else you already have. For me, with Spotify, that’s not necessarily the case, but for a lot of other people, for Apple Music lovers, this is the speaker for them. Now Apple just needs to invest the time and energy in improving Siri and they’ll have themselves a really solid product.