Review: Apple HomePod smart speaker-digital assistant


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Erin Lawrence

apple home pod review

Apple is definitely late to the party when it comes to smart home digital assistants, but now that the HomePod is here Apple fans are rejoicing. But one of the downsides of coming in last, is that there’s plenty of competition that’s owned the market to compare the new kid to.

Apple’s smart speaker with Siri built in is designed to play wireless music, mainly via Apple’s Music app and to automate many at home tasks using voice control. When it comes to the music and speaker aspect, HomePod is standout; the audio quality and the looks will blow you away, but how does it hold up doing other tasks? I had a chance to test out a HomePod in my home for a couple of weeks.

apple home pod reviewWhat should I know about Apple HomePod?

Apple HomePod is only compatible with Apple devices. Right now that means only the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. No laptops, no Android devices. Beware of those limitations before you buy.

Apple HomePod looks & styling

When it comes to looks, Apple HomePod is sexy as all hell. The sleek looks, and the soft cylinder shape is minimalist and attractive. It’s much softer looking with more rounded edges than Amazon’s Echo line, and compares somewhat to Google’s Home device. HomePod is shorter and more squat than Echo, but it’s wrapped in a full fabric wrap, unlike Google Home which gets just a half wrap.

Apple’s Pod is all speaker, unlike Google Home, where the speaker appears set in the bottom of the base, and the sound here is designed to emanate from 360 degrees to fill your room. I can definitely say it does that.

How’s the set up for Apple HomePod?

Getting HomePod set up is a treat.  Really. Plug it in and it basically sets itself up. You’ll get a pop up on your screen asking you to pair it to your phone, in my case the Apple iPhone X. In a second it was ready to go. Since I already live in the Apple ecosystem, this was definitely the easiest smart speaker/digital assistant I’ve set up.

HomePod lifts Wi-Fi passwords from your iPhone

I brought it to another location for a TV appearance. With other smart speakers, you need to re-pair or reconnect and that process can be tedious. But Home Pod just swapped the Wi-Fi connection automatically by getting the new one from my iPhone and it worked at the new location without me having to do a single thing. Again, swapping those connections when at a new location  with Google or Amazon has been a chore and taken an hour.

HomePod has touch control, mic can be on or off

apple home pod review

With Homepod, you can control the speaker using the touch controls on top. Want to turn off the HomePod’s microphone? Just say “Hey Siri, turn off ‘Hey Siri’.” Once Hey Siri is turned off, you can activate Siri at any time with a simple tap and hold gesture on the top of the device. You can also stop Siri from listening by turning Hey Siri off in the settings for HomePod in the Home app.

Touting high quality audio: Apple Homepod

Apple makes a lot out of the build quality and the acoustic capabilities of the HomePod.

“A custom-designed array of seven beamforming tweeters, each with its own amplifier, creates tremendous directional control. Placed around the base and using a folded-horn design, they send the flow of music toward the centre and then out the bottom in a 360-degree pattern, resulting in an all-encompassing sense of space. This virtually eliminates early table reflections and allows for consistent high-definition sound.

An Apple-designed A8 chip orchestrates all the audio innovations inside HomePod, like advanced signal processing so Siri can hear you over the music. Real-time studio-level processing that maximizes the bass while minimizing distortion. Buffering that’s even faster than real time. And upmixing of both direct and ambient audio. You get amazing sound, every single time.”

HomePod feels solid and well builtapple home pod review white ring

The speaker definitely feels well built; it’s heavy and solid, and the cord is securely affixed to the base, and it’s also fabric wrapped. Some writers have made a big deal out of the fact the cord isn’t removable, but in my experience, once this device is set up in your home, it never moves, and there’s really no need to worry about repeatedly removing and reattaching the power cord from the Pod.

White Ring appears on wood furniture

When I was getting HomePod set up I did have an issue where that dreaded ‘white ring’ that’s plagued many users appeared on my antique teak table. It looks almost like a burn-in or a stain and definitely looked permanent when I noticed it.

How to remove ‘white ring’ caused by Apple HomePod?

Initially I was ticked about the white ring, and Apple’s had enough issues with this that there’s a whole page on their website devoted to what to do about it. I’m happy to say that while the ring looked permanent, it disappeared completely on it’s own after about 3 days. Apple also suggests a damp cloth or some appropriate furniture cleaner might work. So it turns out the white ring thing is not a big deal.

Siri has a split personality

For the most part, even with my iPhone and the HomePod in the room, when I asked Siri a command, the HomePod  would take over, but now and then, the iPhone would answer, playing music or replying over the phone.

How’s the sound quality of Apple HomePod?

There’s no denying the quality of this speaker; it sounds fantastic. The bass is solid and there’s no hint of distortion. The cymbals and snare comes through crisply with no buzz. Even the higher end isn’t tinny or raspy. Overall the sound quality is outstanding. The volume levels too are powerful, you can crank this baby to an unbearable level and still have room to turn it up. All the while it sounds clean. Even placed against a wall it can fill a space with ease.

Do I need an Apple Music subscription for HomePod?

apple home pod reviewIt’s been said you need an Apple Music subscription to get the most from HomePod. Maybe so, but since I have a tonne of downloaded music on my iPhone X, it’s plenty for me for now. There’s also a three month free trial of Apple Music, so there’s really no excuse to face any limitations, particularly early on.

What else can Apple HomePod do?

HomePod will perform a variety of tasks. You can say, “Hey Siri, play some music.” You can ask for music by artist, genre and more.

HomePod limitations

You can have Siri read your iMessages, but she can’t handle emails for some reason. She’ll just tell you, “Wish I could, but I can’t help with emails here.”

You can ask for weather info and to have Siri do calculations or set timers.

It’s here where I’ll say, what Siri can do she does admirably. But Siri as a digital assistant is inferior to both Google and Amazon’s virtual helpers.

If you ask Siri a question, more often than not, she hands you a website by way of answer. Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa will both skip the searching and just deliver the info. Frequently, Siri says she ‘can’t help with that’.

I conducted a variety of tests on each of the speakers I have at home to see who can handle what.

‘How much is 6 tablespoons of butter in cups?’ Siri couldn’t supply an answer. ‘Add milk to my shopping list’ she did with ease. Checking weather and capital cities was no problem, nor was finding me a local pizza restaurant. It seems Siri has the most problems with less common questions.

How do I change Siri’s voice on HomePod?

I asked Siri if I can change her voice, and she won’t do it on the HomePod, but tells me I can on the Home app. Inside the app I could find nothing to adjust it. In my iPhone X’s settings menu, where I’ve previously changed the voice, (Settings>Siri> Siri Voice) you can change from male to female and choose and American, British or Aussie accent. When I changed it on the iPhone, it immediately changed it on the HomePod.

Setting up smart home accessories to work with HomePod

When it comes to getting smart home gadgets set up, it is and it’s not as convenient as other gadgets. For starters, the smart home accessories, like light bulbs, door locks and more must be Home Kit enabled. If not, you’re not likely to get them set up easily if at all. If they are, it’s a breeze.

I tried to add some LIFX lights, and while LIFX is compatible, I’d lost the code for these particular light strips. As a result, there was no way to add them easily. Even the “hold the phone near your accessory” option didn’t work. Fortunately on the power controller I found the 8-digit home kit code and input it manually.

How to have multiple users with Apple HomePod?

I was able to get functionality with two users on HomePod; both myself and my husband. We’re both Apple users and on Home Sharing, so I’m not sure if that’s how we got multi-user support, or if Siri just recognizes multiple voices, but we were pretty happy about that option.

apple home pod review

Does HomePod work with Spotify? Kinda.

If you want to use Spotify, you can, but there are some limitations right now. You can’t just ask Siri to play music from Spotify, but you can Airplay Spotify from your phone, then select the Home Pod as the output speaker. Then you can ask Siri to skip tracks or adjust the volume, but you won’t get true, full voice control to request specific songs – at least not yet.

A recent update to HomePod brought in stereo pairing and multiroom audio support. Since I didn’t have two devices to test these capabilities with, I can’t report on how well they work.

How much is HomePod, and how does it compare?

Let’s address price: Apple’s HomePod is expensive. It’s the costliest of the smart home assistant-speakers on the market and over twice the price of its competitors. For the budget conscious, it’s completely out of reach.

  • Apple HomePod: $449
  • Google Home: $179
  • Google Home Max: $499
  • Amazon Echo Plus: $199

If you’re an Apple devotee, you may find the functionality of having another Apple device is worth the price. But given that you can get most if not all of the functionality from Amazon Echo or Google Home (my review here) even as an iPhone user, the price still seems like a lot to justify.

Overall review of Apple HomePod

As an Apple user I have very few complaints about HomePod. While there are some things it’s not great at, there’s plenty of stuff it is. My chief complaints about HomePod have to do with Siri’s lack of abilities as a smart digital assistant, which is a well documented complaint among Apple users.

The sound quality of the speaker is outstanding, it looks great and it integrates seamlessly into my Apple household. Set up couldn’t be simpler and it also controls all my HomeKit devices too.

If I have another complaint, it’s the price. At $449 it’s not an insignificant investment.

But overall if you’re all about Apple, and want to keep all your devices integrated, you won’t be sorry about getting a HomePod. If you’re straddling the Apple and Android worlds or your household is, you may experience some frustrations.

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