Articles

Apple HomePod

We got an Apple HomePod. I had fought a battle against any technology that required me to speak to it since I first heard about Bill Gates’s smart home in the late nineties, but the realization had set in that a legacy of pride and arrogance was getting in the way of something good. Ridiculous of a moniker as smart speaker may be, it is a conceptually sound concept, I feel like I can finally admit that now.

For Team Droulsen, the HomePod was a fairly simple choice. It has a soft design that tranquilly blends into the living room, and it puts the emphasis on being more speaker than smart. The sound quality is by some accounts comparable to traditional home audio setups that run around a grand, which should put HomePod’s otherwise steep $299 (plus a recommended $39 AppleCare+ plan) into some perspective. I may not be an audiophile, but even those of us with a mortal’s ear can appreciate HomePod’s output quality.

As is to be expected from Apple, the further invested you are in its ecosystem, the more of an advantage HomePod will give you. Apple’s eponymous music service is the only one that can be voice controlled through the speaker, although you can stream Spotify and similar services to it from your phone. Likewise, Apple TV users can wirelessly connect the set-top box to multiple HomePods. Even with only one speaker, the immersion and depth make it feel like you’re sitting in a small theater; with three — and I did have the pleasure of watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier this way — it’s an all-out trip.

HomePod in living room #1HomePod in living room #2HomePod in living room #3
HomePod: The perfect accoutrement for your shelfie!

Siri on HomePod is, as it is on other devices, a mixed bag. We have reached a general parity amongst smart assistants — check out Loup Ventures for more — but it could be argued that Apple isn’t focusing on the features the general public is interested in for speakers. For example, unlike Amazon’s Alexa, there is no way yet of setting up routines with Siri. That is, you cannot create a custom command like good morning to list weather, news, and traffic conditions. Siri can do all three, but, at least for now, you have to ask for each item separately.

There are also no apps — skills in the parlance of Alexa — so whatever Apple decides to give you through Siri is all you get.

The forthcoming iOS 13’s Shortcuts feature should fix the lack of routines this Autumn, though apps have not yet been announced. Apple does seem to be taking an incremental approach to HomePod’s software, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw something in a year or so.

In fairness, Siri does do certain things better than other assistants, particularly related to music. Ask which song topped the chart on June 15th, 1991, and it will correctly identify Paula Abdul’s tearjerker, Rush Rush. Less mercifully, Siri can also play the song straight off the bat. Alexa settles with listing a few songs that charted on the date you feed it.

Should you not approve of a song, artist, or music style, you can let Siri know, and you will hear them less frequently. It seems to work well: We’ve yet to be further exposed to Michael Bublé after asking Siri to never, ever play his music again.

Where to put the thing

HomePod is a sturdy piece of engineering, and while the eight encapsulated speakers give the sound a hefty oomph, they do not make moving the unit between rooms particularly practical.

Living Room Dining Room Bedroom Kitchen Bathroom Outside
Yes Yes Yes No No No

As mentioned, the speaker is perfect for any living area — seemingly its primary design — and Apple has several curated sleep sound playlists, which are great for the bedroom. As for the kitchen, I’m not sure it’s an optimal spot for a HomePod unless you spend a lot of time there and in need of top-quality sound. Something with a screen, like Amazon’s Echo Show 5 would make more sense. HomePod isn’t able to read you recipes, while the Show will actually display them for you.

Chancing to get the speaker wet is a bit of a gamble, and HomePod is not particularly well suited for the bathroom or the porch. For the latter, something portable (and cheap) would make more sense, like Ultimate Ears’s Roll 2. It is waterproof, though it also faces instantly disqualification thanks to some suspect Zune-like marketing.

Roll 2 adZune ad

Zune, we hardly knew ye.

Summing it all up

Deciding which smart speaker is best for your needs comes with a lot of caveats. From the speakers I’ve been exposed to, HomePod is a great choice if your priorities are sound and aesthetics. Objectively, within those bounds, it is as good as it gets within its price range, provided you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem. Start adding other admonitions — price, smart assistant, size, etc. — and your mileage may vary.

Subjectively, HomePod is our pick for living room audio, but we are willing to be convinced otherwise.

Purchase HomePod from Apple’s website for $299. Keep in mind it can often be found for $50, and even $100, less from Best Buy and Target.

Home