The Apple HomePod has been available for sale for several weeks, and even if you can only buy it in the US, Britain, and Australia for now, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring one home with me on my last trip to California. In the past few days, I’ve been able to put the Apple speaker through some extensive testing.
HomePod Design – Pretty, Big, and Heavy
Since I’ve already had Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home speaker at home for a while, I was really surprised when I picked up the HomePod the first time. Even if it was still in its packaging, its weight didn’t change much after taking it out. At 2.6 kilos (5.73 lbs.), it’s definitely a heavyweight. In addition, I noticed how big it was compared to other smart speakers or even the Sonos One. But the other thing I noticed was that the workmanship on the HomePod is very high-quality and, as is typical of Apple products, comes across as high-end. What’s nothing more than plastic on the competition’s products is a cloth-like material on the HomePod. Anyone who’s familiar with Apple products will also quickly realize that the power cable has a cloth covering, which is otherwise not standard.
Operation – Easy, As Usual
Since I could hardly wait to start using my HomePod, I unpacked it and put it through its first test while still in California. As I was already used to this from the AirPods, I just held my iPhone X next to the HomePod, and it recognized and installed it immediately. After a quick question by the “Home app” about which room the HomePod was located in, Siri also already wanted to do a couple of language exercises to show me how easy it is to use them.
Sound Quality – Gets First Place
At home, I currently have a Sonos One, Google Home, and Alexa sitting around in addition to the HomePod. In terms of comparing the sound from the four brands, the HomePod is the clear winner, followed by the Sonos One and Alexa. As far as the Google Home is concerned, I have to say that I was really disappointed from the very start. One Friday, I took the liberty of turning the volume on the HomePod all the way up to 100%, and every piece of music—whether with lots of bass or high notes—played back perfectly even then. To read more about the HomePod’s sound, check out this in-depth AppleInsider post.
HomePod and AppleTV – The Perfect Combo
Since the HomePod speaker is so good, I didn’t hesitate to connect it to the AppleTV. With the Audio setting, you can set up the HomePod as an output source and listen to movies or TV shows through the speaker.
In my case, the speaker is so much better than the one that’s built in to the TV that for the moment I’m very happy with my HomePod, even if it only simulates stereo. If AirPlay 2 becomes available through an update, you would also then be able to use Multiroom to simultaneously control several HomePods, or just place one to the left and one to the right of the TV to get a real stereo sound.
Siri – Not the Perfect Voice-Recognition Assistant
A lot of us already know that Siri is not the best voice-recognition assistant, because there’s just no match for Google. Siri does a good job answering simple questions and even has funny expressions down, like on the iPhone or iPad.
I was amazed at how well Siri can listen. At almost normal volume, Siri—while sitting in the living room—could hear me from the bedroom, and I was able to get the music to play. What initially annoyed me somewhat about the playback volume was the voice control. With Google or Alexa, you have “Volume 1–10,” while the HomePod has “Volume 1–100.”
The Apple Ecosystem with HomePod
One of the criticisms you always hear about Apple is that its ecosystem has no room for other manufacturers or services. With the HomePod, for the moment I’m missing some radio stations that I enjoy listening to on my Sonos. The only way you can manage Tuneln is via the iPhone app. Spotify fans also won’t be able to do any voice commands. Luckily, I switched to Apple Music two years ago and am completely aware of and used to the Apple ecosystem so that it’s now no longer an issue.
My Upshot for the HomePod
With the HomePod, Apple has demonstrated its love for music. Five years of development have made it possible for Apple to put an awesome and great-looking product on the market—one that I really like.
Even if Siri is not as good as the Google or Alexa assistants, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a software update. At a price of $349, the HomePod is definitely not one of the cheapest smart speakers, but when compared with the big players on the speaker market, it can hold its own in terms of price and great sound quality. If future updates also manage to add multi-user support and AirPlay 2, then the HomePod would be perfect in combination with Apple TV or for a family.
When the HomePod will show up in Switzerland is still an open question. In the spring (so now, actually) it will be available for sale in Germany and then probably also in Switzerland through Digitec.