The $350 HomePod smart speaker is Apple’s extremely-late answer to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home voice assistant speakers, but is it a product that’s worth your hard-earned cash?
Before I get too far in, it’s important to know that the HomePod technically doesn’t compete against the Echo or Home, but it’s really easy to want to compare the three in the same category, and that’s completely justified—all three of them are voice-controlled smart speakers more or less. However, Apple is pretty much marketing the HomePod as a speaker first and a voice assistant second. Whereas the Echo and Home are voice assistants first and speakers second. This gives the HomePod a lot of unique pros and cons.
The Audio Quality Is Absolutely Incredible
For its size and price, the HomePod sounds amazing. Compared to the Echo, Google Home, and some other pretty decent speakers I have around the house, the HomePod blows them all out of the water.
The bass response is amazing (but it’s not so much that it muddies the audio) and the highs and mids are super crisp and clear. The HomePod even comes with a “smart” EQ of sorts, where it uses its 360-degree microphones to sense walls and obstacles, and then adjusts the EQ accordingly so that you’ll have the best possible sound no matter where you place the speaker.
Don’t get me wrong, the Echo and the Google Home sound pretty good themsleves, but even if you’re not a huge audiophile, you’ll be surprised at just how much better the HomePod sounds.
It Uses Siri
As for the HomePod’s voice assistant capabilities, they’re pretty lacking. For starters, it uses Siri, and anyone with an Apple product can attest to Siri’s shortcomings.
On top of that, there are a lot of other limitations as far as what you can use voice controls for. You can only have one timer running at a time. You can only control HomeKit smarthome devices. You can’t look up recipes and other simple tasks. The list goes on. You can, however, have Siri read back your latest text messages, which is kind of cool, even if it does come with its own caveats.
Compared to Alexa or Google Assistant, Siri is in the minor leagues of voice assistants. So if you’re thinking about getting a smart speaker mainly for its voice control capabilities, go ahead and skip the HomePod.
It’s Locked Into Apple’s Ecosystem
As with pretty much everything else made by Apple, the HomePod is locked into the company’s own ecosystem. It requires that the user have an iPhone to even set it up in the first place.
On top of that, the only music streaming service that you can control with your voice is Apple Music. If you don’t have an Apple Music subscription, then it just defaults to playing Beats 1 Radio and all you can do is play and pause it with your voice.
You can, however, AirPlay pretty much anything to the HomePod from your iPhone or iPad. So if you’re a Spotify user, you can play music from the Spotify app on your mobile device and beam it to your HomePod over AirPlay. It’s not the best solution, but it’s all you’ve got if you don’t use Apple Music.
And of course, as mentioned above, you can control your smarthome devices using Hey Siri on the HomePod, but only if those devices are HomeKit-compatible.
There’s No Bluetooth
Speaking of beaming audio to your HomePod from your mobile device, the HomePod doesn’t have Bluetooth. It does have a Bluetooth chip on the inside, but it’s only there for AirPlay purposes.
This means that you can’t use Android devices or anything other than Apple products with the HomePod ( and interestingly, Macs aren’t supported). So, if you have a friend over who uses an Android phone and he wants to play his own music on the HomePod, he’s SOL.
Maybe Apple will open up the HomePod’s Bluetooth chip in the future at some point, but you shouldn’t count on it.
So Who Should Buy This Exactly?
The HomePod is a strange specimen for sure, but it’s a speaker that’s aimed at a specific user base. In short, the HomePod is the perfect fit for you if:
- You want the best possible audio quality for its form factor
- You have an iPhone
- You use Apple Music
The HomePod can still be okay if you don’t use Apple Music, but the lack of voice control for other music options is pretty limiting (other than pausing and switching to the next song, etc.).
If audio quality isn’t super important to you, but you still want a smart speaker, you’re much better off just going with the Amazon Echo or Google Home, or even something like the Sonos Play:1, which has Alexa built in. Sonos has a reputation for excellent audio quality, and the Echo and Home both sound pretty decent, as well. Plus , they’re a lot cheaper than the $350 HomePod.
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