At long last, Apple’s HomePod is here—or reviews of it are, at least. The HomePod, Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, begins shipping on Friday, but early reviews of the $349 smart home speaker began making the rounds Tuesday morning. The initial verdict, it would appear, is decidedly mixed.
The smart speaker faces stiff competition from Amazon and Google’s product lines, which have both been available for multiple years and experienced booming sales in recent months. However, Apple has positioned its entrant as not just a voice-based smart home assistant but as a high-end audio device and musical companion. While you can use Siri to answer queries and control other smart devices in your home, she’s supposed to learn your musical tastes and recommend new tunes you may enjoy. However, all of her smarts are vastly limited by the walls of Apple’s product and services ecosystem.
Is the HomePod a logical buy? Here’s what reviewers had to say.
It’s Apple Music or Bust
Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:
[I]f you don’t like Apple Music, don’t buy a HomePod.
The HomePod sounds great but on the surface, it’s debatable whether it’s great enough to justify the limitations of its smart features when compared purely on those merits and not as a component of the Apple ecosystem.
However, if you’re an Apple Music subscriber, the equation instantly plops in the other direction: it’s near useless to buy any other speaker and this one sounds great, so why not.
Megan Wollerton, CNET:
[B]uying a HomePod means you’re signing up for a speaker that’s limited to Apple’s music services, smart home products, and operating system. For example, you can’t play Spotify and other third-party music services straight from the HomePod. You have to send that audio to your Apple speaker from your phone. You really need to be OK with that to justify buying one right now unless you don’t care about anything but its stellar sound quality.
Siri’s Song Identification Isn’t Great
Edward C. Baig, USA Today:
When it comes to music, Google, and for that matter Amazon, can help you play a song in which you can’t recall the title and only remember a few lyrics. Siri can’t do that. Nor can Siri identify your voice as opposed to another family member’s voice, something the other assistants can do.
… and Neither Are Her Song-Recommending Smarts
Brian X. Chen, the New York Times:
[A]fter a week—during which I asked HomePod to play my favorite tunes from artists like Beck, Talking Heads and David Bowie—the smart speaker still did not learn. Instead, like a stubborn D.J., Siri kept playing music by artists outside my music palette: Taylor Swift and Leroy Frances, to name just two.
That leads to my conclusion: The $349 HomePod, which costs roughly three times its competitors and arrives in stores on Friday, is tough to recommend to you, dear reader.
However, She Is Good at Understanding Her Wake Word
Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed News:
I found the speaker to be exceptionally good at hearing the wake phrase (“Hey Siri,” just like on an iPhone) and at understanding what I was saying.
Siri could hear me while I was wearing my retainers (“Hayy Sheeree, remind me teh bring mah headphonez toomerow”), brushing my teeth, or cooking with the overhead vent turned on. Best of all, Siri knew what I meant when I said, “Play SZA” (!!!), pronounced “sizza.” Alexa plays John Philip Sousa or Sizzla instead. You’d think the most nominated female artist of the year would have earned some more RESPECT from the most popular chatty speaker bot.
If You’re Truly Just About the Music, It May Be Worth It
Joanna Stern, the Wall Street Journal:
It really comes down to what you want your speaker to do. If you want the smartest smart speaker, this isn’t it. But if you prize music above everything else, the HomePod isn’t a dumb choice.
Om Malik, Om.co:
I didn’t have an Apple Music subscription, but I have iTunes Match so I can stream some music from Apple. However, my first action was to AirPlay my favorite music tunes from Spotify. I have the premium version of Spotify, and the high-quality stream sounded perfect. Well, almost as perfect as a 384 kbps stream can sound. Next, I AirPlayed my FLAC files using the FLACBox app on my iPad.
And boy that is when I realized Apple had built something spectacular. The hi-res version of Peter Gabriel’s So sounded almost like my CD player. The mid-range and vocals were smooth and silky. The bass—thanks to a top firing woofer was tight and filled the room without sounding jarring and rattling the cutlery. Next up: Moon safari by Air. My FLAC collection is in love with its new friend.
But It’s Not Necessarily a “Household” Device
James Titcomb, the Telegraph:
In fact, the HomePod just doesn’t seem designed for multi-user households: there’s no support for multiple accounts, or for other people’s Apple Music playlists or news preferences. To me, smart speakers are very much a household device, so this seems strange.
And Don’t Forget to Keep It Away From … Cats?
Nilay Patel, the Verge:
Nothing about the HomePod when you see it in person is what you’d expect. It’s been both smaller and larger than people I’ve shown it to have thought, as it’s so minimally designed that it’s hard to get a sense of scale from photographs. It’s also heavier than it looks, and it doesn’t feel at all like other speakers: the outside is wrapped in a custom spongy mesh fabric Apple proudly told me was developed by its “soft materials team.” I do not know if that team has any cats, but I suspect cats are going to love the HomePod.