Apple‘s new HomePod smart speaker sounds great, but most folks should probably just buy a Sonos instead.
The HomePod is Apple’s first foray into the speaker market. With Apple’s Siri voice assistant built in, the device is Apple’s $350 response to the Amazon Echo and Google Home and it’s made only for iPhone and iPad users. If you use an Android phone, this isn’t for you.
While the audio performance is superior to that of its rivals, Siri isn’t as smart as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. And if audio if your primary concern, you can save a ton of money buying a Sonos.
The Apple HomePod, available in black or white, looks, feels and sounds like a premium product. It’s easy to set up: just plug it in, bring an iPhone nearby, and you’ll be listening to music in minutes. It also has a lot of smarts built inside that allow it to automatically detect where it is inside of a room so that it can push out the best audio. It’ll know if it’s in a corner as opposed to on a side table, for example.
I listened to all sorts of artists, including Duke Ellington, Ludovico Einaudi and Drake. The HomePod was the best out of the Echo, Google Home, and Sonos at creating a rich sound even at high volumes without ruining parts of the song. It also has really great bass.
Apple Music is the only service that’s supported if you want to walk by the speaker and say, “Siri, play jazz.” However, if you have a smartphone with another service such as Spotify, you can play that through the HomePod using Apple AirPlay.
HomePod has Siri inside, so I was able to ask for the weather, the time of the next Villanova basketball game and could even add notes to my iPhone. The device can also compose and send text messages or give you a daily news briefing.
I also like that HomePod acts as a smart home hub, so you can use Siri to control your lights, smart shades, a connected garage door opener or any other gadget that works with Apple Home. However, you can’t ask Siri to play a movie or TV show on your Apple TV, which is something you can do with an Amazon Echo and Fire TV or Google Home and Chromecast combination.
The HomePod only works with one user’s phone, so if you want to place a text message you have to be the person who set up the HomePod. There’s no family sharing support, so only one person’s music preferences are saved through a single Apple Music account. Unlike Google Home, the device can’t distinguish who’s speaking, so there’s no personalization.
It also doesn’t work well with iPhones. You can’t just ask Siri to call someone, for example, as you can with the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Instead, you need to initiate the call on your phone and then hand it off to the HomePod as a speaker.
While the features will come later this year through a software update, you can’t currently play music across two Apple HomePods in different rooms at once, or set up two units to operate in stereo mode. Echo, Sonos and Google Home all offer multi-room support.
Finally, it’s really expensive. At $350, it’s more than three times the price of the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Those speakers don’t sound as good, but Alexa and Google Assistant are much smarter. They can provide recipes and call friends, and they’re much better at natural language support — you don’t have to be very specific in your word choices to get an answer.
Should you buy it?
The HomePod sounds excellent, but you should only buy it if you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem and use an iPhone. It’s not for anyone else.
If it’s the good speaker you want, then I recommend picking up two Sonos One units. The Sonos One sounds great, and two units can be purchased for the same price as an Apple HomePod. Plus, it has Amazon Alexa built in, with support for Google Assistant coming later, and works with both iPhones and Android devices.
You can place Sonos speakers in separate rooms and hear the same (or different songs), and also play music from Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and more. Or just get one and save $150 over the HomePod.