Initial orders of Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker will arrive on doorsteps and in Apple stores beginning Friday in the US, UK, and Australia. Today, reviews were published by several media outlets that have had about a week to test the HomePod. Apple also invited several journalists for a tour of its audio labs in Cupertino with Phil Schiller, hardware VP Kate Bergeron, and senior director of audio design and engineering Gary Greaves.
The consensus of the first wave of reviews is that the HomePod sounds fantastic. Apple has brought its engineering expertise and computing power to bear in a way that reviewers say produces remarkable sound for the HomePod’s size and price.
However, Siri’s limitations and the lack of support for third-party music streaming services also mean that the HomePod’s voice assistant features lag behind those of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. As a result, the HomePod’s appeal will likely be limited to people who already subscribe to Apple Music, use iOS devices, and care about high-quality audio.
Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch:
Apple’s HomePod is easily the best sounding mainstream smart speaker ever. It’s got better separation and bass response than anything else in its size and boasts a nuance and subtlety of sound that pays off the 7 years Apple has been working on it.
As a smart speaker, it offers best-in-class voice recognition, vastly outstripping the ability of other smart speakers to hear you trying to trigger a command at a distance or while music is playing, but its overall flexibility is limited by the limited command sets that the Siri protocol offers.
Buy a HomePod if you already have Apple Music or you want to have it and you’re in the market for a single incredibly over-designed and radically impressive speaker that will give you really great sound with basically no tuning, fussing, measuring or tweaking.
Nilay Patel sums up what that means for everyone else:
The Apple engineers I talked to were very proud of how the HomePod sounds, and for good reason: Apple’s audio engineering team did something really clever and new with the HomePod, and it really works. I’m not sure there’s anything out there that sounds better for the price, or even several times the price.
Unfortunately, Apple’s audio engineering team wasn’t in charge of just putting out a speaker. It was in charge of the audio components of a smart speaker, one that simply isn’t as smart as its competitors.
That’s really the crux of it: the HomePod sounds incredible, but not so world-bendingly amazing that you should switch away from Spotify, or accept Siri’s frustrating limitations as compared to Alexa.