Apple HomePod review: The iPhone of smart speakers packs a punch but shirks on the smarts

Apple HomePod
  • Apple HomePod
  • Apple HomePod
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Sounds great
  • Super easy to set up

Cons

  • Siri offers pretty limited functionality compared to the competition
  • Restricts you to Apple Music

Bottom Line

The HomePod is a phenomenal sounding speaker let down by the limitations of the Apple ecosystem.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

Best of luck to Samsung and their rumored Bixby speaker, because it feels like this category probably isn’t going to be able to support another major voice assistant. At least, in any meaningful, mainstream and mass-scale sense. With the arrival of Apple to the smart speaker arena, it feels like the bandwidth of the potential consumers involved is nearing a breaking point.

[Related: Which 2018 Smart Speaker Should I Buy]

[Related: Hands On: Pitting the Apple HomePod against the Sonos One]

The biggest names in tech are openly duking it out for consumers’ dollars and, once the dust settles, we’ll find ourselves locked into a new status quo. The only alternative might for these same companies to actually sit down, hash out their differences and sever their software from their hardware. Allow consumers to pick out the speaker they want and then choose which smart assistant they want with it. Better yet, allow smart assistants to more easily speak to one another.

Of course, the former is the far more likely scenario and, at this stage, it’s either Amazon or Google who will likely come away with the crown. That said, Apple have had a penchant for disruption in the past. The iMac. The Macbook Air. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad. Historically speaking, Apple have a strong track record for delivering innovative and highly-polished products that don’t just change the company's own fortunes but shape the future direction of these categories as a whole.

Is it so crazy to imagine the HomePod could have that same kind of impact?

Specs

The Apple HomePod is a Siri-powered connected speaker boasting a high excursion woofer with a customer amplifier, an array of seven horn-loaded tweeters (each with their own custom amps), six far-field microphones plus a single internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, the HomePod also packs in direct and ambient audio beamforming and transparent studio-grade dynamic processing. It’s other specs include:

Weight: 2.5kg

Dimensions: 170 mm × 140 mm

Frequency Response: 40Hz to 20,000Hz

CPU: Apple A8

RAM: 1GB LPDDR3 RAM

Internal Storage: 16 GB

Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0

Voice Assistants: Siri

Colors: White and Space Grey

Price: $499

Design

Even in a category known for its sleek minimalism, Apple really have gone the extra mile here. The HomePod is a featureless, sleek, almost-spherical speaker with fabric-covered sides and an LED matrix display (272 x 340 resolution) mounted atop it.

The centre of this display lights up whenever Siri is invoked. There’s also a set of haptic-sensitive volume buttons that emerge when music is played. Otherwise, it remains as dark and misty as the sluiced heart of an  8-ball.

Setup

Though the HomePod does have its shortcomings - more on them later - the setup process is not one of them.

Assuming you’ve got either and at least an iPhone (5s or later), iPad (either Pro, 5th gen, Air, Mini 2 or later) or iPod touch (6th generation) running iOS 11.2.5 or later, the process is touch-and-go in the best possible sense.

Apple’s ability to own a user’s whole product ecosystem pays dividends here. You open up the box, plug the single, connected power cable into a wall socket, give it a moment to power up and then tap your iPhone or iPad to the speaker like you’re paying for your morning coffee. You’ll then get a prompt on your Apple-branded smart device, ticks a few boxes, connect your Apple Music account and you’re ready to go.

Even compared to the relatively-hassle-free setups of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod excels here. That said, it is worth noting that you will also need both a local Wi-Fi connection with internet access and an active Apple Music subscription if you want to get the most out of the HomePod.

Next Page: Performance and The Bottom Line

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