Apple HomePod review: Price, performance and features compared
Quick verdict: Apple's HomePod offers superlative sound for its price, but it struggles to really be a "smart" speaker.
- Simple to use
- Excellent audio quality
- A lot of potential
- Limited smart functionality
- Limited compatibility
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Apple is often a latecomer to markets that it ends up dominating, as any phone manufacturer could readily tell you. Its latest effort, the Apple HomePod meshes Apple's existing commitment to music with the world of smart speakers, but the results are very mixed.
- More attractive than most other smart speakers
- Heavy and robust construction
- Very easy to set up
- Top-notch audio quality
- Handles high volumes without distortion
- Highly accurate voice detection
- Smart functionality is disappointingly limited
- An excellent speaker for folks invested in Apple
- But not as smart as it could be
Should you buy it?
Whether the HomePod is right for you very much depends on what you want from a smart speaker. If you're happily ensconced within the Apple ecosystem with an Apple Music subscription and you're looking for a high quality single speaker solution, it's an easy recommendation. Apple rarely makes its products hard to use, and the HomePod is no exception.
That being said, once you get past the music playback, there's an awful lot of what the HomePod does that ultimately isn't that smart. It lags badly behind in smart integration compared to Google Home or Amazon Echo at a much higher price.
HomePod only talks music to Apple Music, so if you're already in, say, the Spotify listening world, you'd be stuck just sending tracks to it from your phone, at which point you may as well just buy a standard Bluetooth speaker and leave the smart control to your existing smartphone.
The Apple HomePod has a lot of potential, and clearly Apple has plans to expand it via software alone, with the AirPlay 2 update set to get it talking properly to Apple TV as well as providing stereo and multi-room options as long as you're happy to buy multiple HomePods. However, that's all for the future, and right now, the HomePod doesn't quite do enough to justify itself to a broader audience. For the Apple faithful, it's a much better music speaker than the Home or the Echo families, but for the everyday consumer, it's not smart enough or flexible enough to have genuine appeal.
Testing out the HomePod reminded me that while Apple does a lot of iteration and testing on products, its version one products are rarely all that great. The iPhone might be the bestselling individual model in the world now, but that first generation iPhone was 2G only and had no app support whatsoever. You wouldn't even consider it a "smart" phone these days.
The first iPad was derided as a "big iPod Touch", and compared to an iPad Pro or even a 2017 iPad, it's horribly clunky and heavy. The first MacBook Air may have been an engineering marvel, but it cost way too much to be worthwhile.
That's where the Apple HomePod is right now because while it has its moments of brilliance, and a lot of promise, right now, it's still too early to generally recommend. Even if you're keen, there's little reason not to hold off and wait for updates to actually make the Apple HomePod smart.
Again, your choice of alternatives depends on what you're after. In the streaming-music high-quality space, one of Sonos's systems would be the obvious alternative to a HomePod, although until Sonos gets its Google Assistant/Alexa integration into place, those aren't entirely "smart" speakers.
In the actual smart speaker space, you could consider the Google Home speaker, which has a much wider array of voice capabilities, albeit with much weaker music audio. Google does have a high-end offering in the Google Home Max, but that unit isn't currently available in Australia, so the best you'd get locally in audio terms would be the Google Home.
In the Echo family, the Amazon Echo Plus sits at the top of the family tree, although as we found in our Echo Plus review, it's not quite smart enough to justify its purchase price. What you could do with the Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot, however, is pair them up to a set of good quality speakers via their 3.5mm output jacks for an effective HomePod competitor.
What the other reviewers say
|AFR||"We've only had Apple's new HomePod in the Labs for three days, but already we want to take to it with a screwdriver, pull Siri out and tell her to SHUT UP AND JUST PLAY THE DAMNED MUSIC."||N/A|
|Forbes||"Big league sound, minor league smarts"||N/A|
|TechRadar||"Superb sound, so-so smart speaker"||3.5/5|
|What HiFi||"The best-sounding, most music-oriented smart speaker currently available."||5/5|
|9to5 Mac||"For all that the HomePod does right in the area of sound quality, it’s noticeably lacking in areas that competing smart speakers have mastered by now."||N/A|
|Gizmodo||"A great piece of hardware, hampered by some seriously restrictive software."||N/A|
|CNET||"Great sound, but it's trapped in Apple's world."||4/5|