Apple HomePod review
APPLE HOMEPOD – £319 • Available Friday February
- PROS – Incredible Sound • Ultimate Easy Setup For iPhone Users • Full Apple Music Compatibility • Good Smart Features
- CONS – Not For Android Users – Even Those With Apple Music Subscriptions • Siri Can’t Play Radio Stations • Expensive
Apple’s very first smart speaker is finally here and it sounds like it was certainly worth the wait.
The HomePod joins the ever-growing list of voice-controlled audio devices, taking aim squarely at the likes of Amazon, Sonos and Google – who all launched similarly intelligent devices last year.
But the HomePod isn’t just about being smart, with Apple making it very clear that audio quality is top of their agenda.
The US technology firm has brought together an experienced team to help create its new speaker with a dedicated audio lab at their headquarters in Cupertino helping to perfect the HomePod’s sound credentials.
Focusing on audio is well judged as one of the biggest issues with many rival smart speakers is that they don’t sound very good.
But can the HomePod really change that?
Express.co.uk has been putting Apple’s all-new smart speaker through its paces and here’s our full review.
Covered in a unique mesh fabric, and with simple touch controls on the top, the HomePod looks sleek
We’re starting with the HomePod’s audio quality as this is, without doubt, its standout feature.
With many intelligent speakers struggling to provide a superior audio experience it’s a very smart move from Apple to focus on the way the HomePod sounds.
Tucked inside this new device is a clever 360-degree speaker design that includes seven tweeters and a high-excursion woofer.
This basically means wherever you stand in your room you get the same exceptional audio quality.
In fact, this technology is so impressive it’s hard to believe the sound is coming from a single speaker.
It’s unbelievably immersive, with music following you around the room like magic.
The HomePod is also able to produce rich and deep bass without affecting the midrange and vocals.
Everything sounds separate from one another, meaning you hear each part of the track with ultimate clarity.
Siri springs into life when you mention its name
We know it’s a massive cliché to say the musician could be in the room with you but it’s honestly that good.
This is even the case when you reduce the volume, with the HomePod somehow producing incredible depth without being obtrusive.
Along with the speakers performing their magic there’s also a clever A8 processor tucked inside the HomePod which is able analyse each track and continuously tweak what’s being produced so you get the very best experience.
Finally the speaker’s intelligent spatial awareness means it is able to automatically sense its location in a room, then analyse and adjust the audio to provide the perfect listening experience -no matter where it is placed.
Apple is making big noises about the way the HomePod sounds and, during our extensive tests, it seems they have every right to be pleased.
This speaker performs impeccably and it makes some of its cheaper rivals sound embarrassingly poor.
Apple has opted for a minimalistic approach to its speaker with a design that aims to blend in with your home.
Covered in a unique mesh fabric, and with simple touch controls on the top, the HomePod looks sleek and unpretentious.
When you first set eyes on it you may actually be surprised by just how compact it is.
In fact, measuring in at just 172mm tall the HomePod will easily fit on a shelf, table or kitchen worktop without looking out of place.
Our one criticism about the design is the long cable that trails out of the rear of the speaker.
We had our HomePod set-up beside a plug socket and its cable ended up being coiled behind the speaker – not the most attractive of looks when everything else about this speaker is so refined.
Since the cable can’t be detached, Apple needs to provide enough length to give it the flexibility to plugged in away from a socket. But we wish they had offered cables of different lengths – like MacBook chargers – so customers could choose the right fit for their set-up.
Hidden touch controls appear when when you tap the top of the HomePod
Our other moan with HomePod is around the touch controls.
These are hidden until you speak to Siri or tap the glossy black disk that sits proudly on the top of the speaker.
When the controls do spring into life, Apple has chosen to only show the volume buttons but not the option to play/pause or skip tracks.
This is fine once you know the interactive controls, such as tapping once in the middle to pause or double tap to skip songs, but it can be confusing if you’ve never used it before.
These touch controls are also pretty sensitive and we have found ourselves pausing/playing music on the odd occasion by mistake.
Setup is simple with users just holding their iOS device nearby for instant access
SETTING HOMEPOD UP
Apple has a well-earned reputation for making products that are simple to use.
And the HomePod continues this user-friendly tradition, taking just a few stress-free minutes to get up and running.
Simply take the speaker out of its box, plug it in, hold your iPhone nearby and it does the rest.
This includes instantly logging into your Apple ID, setting up a WiFi connection and accessing your Apple Music account.
It’s so incredibly simple and certainly beats the usual nightmare of switching between apps, typing in usernames and trying to remember your internet router’s instantly forgettable password.
Every smart speaker we’ve tried in the past needs a certain amount of patience to setup but the HomePod takes all the pain out of this laborious task.
Once up and running the HomePod can be controlled via voice or directly from your iPhone or iPad with the in-depth settings found in Apple’s Home App.
Digging deep into these controls is relatively straightforward, with the ability to customise the Siri settings and even stop the speaker from playing songs with explicit lyrics all a tap away.
You need Apple Music to make the most of the HomePod
The HomePod has long cable which can be difficult to hide
APPLE MUSIC SOUNDS GREAT BUT FORGET THE RADIO
The HomePod is built around the US technology firm’s unique ecosystem and, if you’re all-in on Apple, you are going to love every minute of using it.
Six microphones inside the HomePod mean a simple “Hey Siri” voice command will instantly spring the speaker into action with playlists, albums and even curated music based on your previous searches, all available without touching the device.
Apple’s service has over 40 million songs at its disposal plus the HomePod can access any music stored on iCloud, bought via iTunes or synced across devices with iTunes Match.
With the HomePod currently the only smart speaker that features voice compatibility with Apple Music (Sonos users still need to use the app) it should certainly be top of the list for anyone who subscribes to the £9.99 per month service.
The whole music experience is very impressive and you’ll never have any issues finding something to listen to.
Except if you like listening to the radio, that is.
Speaking to Siri will allow you to listen to any stations that are included with Apple Music, such as Beats 1, but it won’t play anything else via the Siri voice search.
Most other smart speakers are instantly compatible with services such as TuneIn radio which means you can simply ask to listen to many of the biggest radio stations including the BBC.
To do this on this HomePod you’ll need to launch the relevant app – such as iPlayer – on your iPhone and then AirPlay the station to the speaker.
It’s not a deal-breaker but it’s simply not as convenient as saying “Hey Siri play BBC Radio One.”
Apple HomePod review
HOMEPOD’S SMART CREDENTIALS
Despite the focus on premium sound quality, this is still supposed to be a smart speaker – so how clever is the HomePod?
Apple’s intelligent music maker does everything you’d expect it to do.
Using the phrase “Hey Siri” allows you to ask the HomePod to set timers, alerts, alarms and create instant shopping lists.
Local weather reports, latest news, sports scores and how long it will take to drive to a destination are also included.
And we found Siri’s knowledge of our local area pretty impressive as well, with opening times of shops and restaurants plus telephone numbers all available just by asking.
Like most smart home devices, the HomePod can also be used to switch on lights, turn up the heating and even get the kettle boiling simply by talking to it.
It’s very impressive and there’s been very little Apple’s offering hasn’t been able to answer.
Of course, one of the biggest searches made on smart speakers is for music and Apple’s HomePod will find any tracks, albums or playlists you have in your library.
Apple HomePod review
Songs can also be paused, volume turned up/down and tracks skipped via your voice.
There’s also a nice feature which allows text messages to be sent and read by the HomePod and you can also use it as a giant speaker phone.
Some people may raise privacy concerns about having an always-listening microphone in the house but Apple is pretty clear on the issue.
The firm says that privacy and security are of utmost importance to its customers with Siri on HomePod equally as private and secure as it is on other devices.
The detection of “Hey Siri” happens on device, so nothing is sent to Apple until that trigger is detected and the Siri waveform lights up.
At that time, the request is sent to Apple using an anonymous Siri ID, and, of course, that communication is all encrypted.
SORRY, IT’S NOT FOR ANDROID
Apple is making no attempt to hide the fact that the HomePod is only for iPhone and iPad owners.
The HomePod does not even feature Bluetooth technology, so you can’t beam songs to it from rival devices such as Android.
Even if you subscribe to Apple Music on an Android smartphone, this speaker will be an expensive ornament as it needs an iPhone or iPad to get it up and running.
WHERE’S THE MULTI-ROOM?
Unlike speakers such as Sonos, the HomePod can’t pair with another HomePod for a multi-room experience…just yet.
Apple says this is coming in a software upgrade later in the year but there’s currently no official release for this feature.
It’s an annoyance that pairing HomePods isn’t ready at release but hopefully there will be more news on this in the coming months.
Tucked inside this new device is a clever 360-degree speaker design
The HomePod might sound incredible but you’re going to have to pay for the privilege of listening to it.
This speaker will set you back £319 and, to get the ultimate experience, you’ll need to add an Apple Music subscription which costs another £9.99 per month on top.
If you love your music this price can probably be overlooked but when you compare the HomePod to its rivals it does appear very expensive.
You can currently pick up two Sonos Ones for just £40 more than a single HomePod and, if you really don’t care about audio quality an Amazon Echo costs just £69.
Apple says that its speaker is expensive as it offers superior sound and we certainly don’t disagree.
But at £319 this is clearly not an impulse buy.
Apple’s HomePod has left a seriously good impression on us.
It looks great, has a vast array of useful smart features and can finally bring Apple Music to your living room via voice control.
However, its biggest selling point is simply the way it sounds.
It outshines all of the competition with an audio quality that’s rich, booming with bass yet packed full of the finest audio detail.
When the HomePod is in full swing it’s hard to believe such sensational sound is coming from a device that’s so small.
Even at low volumes, this new speaker still manages to punch out sound that its closest competition can only dream of.
It’s also a breeze to setup and simple to use with Siri doing everything on the first time of asking.
We’re pretty smitten with the HomePod but we do have some niggles with this new smart speaker, including the fact there’s no way to ask Siri to play popular radio stations – which just seems plain bizarre.
Listening to the morning breakfast show or evening news is part of many people’s daily routines and not having this smart feature just isn’t very smart.
It’s also worth remembering this is not a Bluetooth device and you’ll need an iPhone or iPad to use it – so forget the HomePod if you’re on Android.
It is also pretty expensive especially when you compare it to the competition.
However, you get what you pay for and if you want the best sounding smart speaker money can buy the HomePod is definitely top of the pops.