HomePod Review: Only Apple Devotees Need Apply

Update, September 2019: This story was modified to replicate the HomePod’s lowered value, and its just lately added capabilities.

Most of my mates are musicians or audio nerds. (Lord assist me.) Ever since Apple loaned me a HomePod to check per week in the past, I’ve been bragging to my friends that I’ve the brand new, extremely anticipated Wi-Fi speaker on the home. All of them rapidly ask me the identical factor: Does it sound good?

I believe that query is incomplete. Sure, the HomePod sounds actually terrific, and it is a good buy if you would like a speaker that simply performs music. But if you would like a wise speaker that not solely performs music but additionally provides comfort and enjoyable to your each day routine by means of voice interplay, the query you have to be asking is not simply, “Does it sound good,” but additionally, “Does it measure up?”

There are complete universes of content material Siri cannot see, hear, or contact.

The quick reply to the second query is not any. The HomePod is a marvel of audio engineering, and it sounds higher than a lot of the different good audio system you should buy for $300 or much less. But whereas the audio high quality is spectacular, the good options—voice management, web audio streaming, interactions together with your different units—fall far wanting what’s anticipated from an internet-connected speaker. The HomePod’s software program is simply too restricted, and the checklist of streaming providers it may well connect with will not be lengthy sufficient. Also, Siri’s expertise are paltry in comparison with the extra strong array of capabilities you get with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

I can actually solely suggest the HomePod to folks whose houses are already soaking in Apple items and providers. If you trip for iPhone, should you by no means let your $10-per-month Apple Music subscription expire, and should you’ve retrofitted your abode with HomePackage-compatible plugs, bulbs, and door locks, you then’ll doubtless discover the HomePod’s voice-control options simply highly effective sufficient so as to add a layer of connectedness that fulfills the nice promise of The Smart Home. All you folks—and who you might be—go forth and purchase one. You’ll completely adore it. Everyone else? It’s most likely not for you.

Small Audio Dynamite

Give Apple a gold star for the HomePod’s design. It’s a cool little blob that stands about 7 inches tall—smaller than you’d suppose having solely seen pictures. It’s lined in an acoustically clear mesh cloth, which you may get in white or Apple’s signature area grey. Inside, located on the prime, is a woofer for delivering hearty low frequencies. At the underside, organized in a hoop across the speaker, is an array of seven tweeters for pumping out shimmering excessive frequencies. Smack within the center is an array of six microphones.

Those mics are for summoning Siri after all, however they’re additionally for measuring the acoustic traits of the speaker’s atmosphere in actual time. Place it close to a brick wall or a glass floor, and the HomePod measures the sound waves bouncing round, then tunes its audio output on the fly to cancel out reflections, remix the sound, and customarily clear issues up. This trick is completed by use of an inside A8 processor—Apple’s personal chip, and the identical one it was placing in iPhones a few years in the past—and it manages to make the HomePod sound glorious irrespective of the place you set it. You may even pull the final word speaker-placement no-no and push it right into a nook. It nonetheless sounds high quality.

Those microphones are nice for Siri interactions too, and so they work higher than the mics on each voice-controlled speaker I’ve examined. The HomePod can hear you say “Hey, Siri” in a standard talking voice, going through the opposite course, from 15 ft away, whereas Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” is enjoying at 80 % quantity. I attempted mumbling my requests, or talking with my mouth stuffed with bread and cheese, and Siri nearly at all times understood me. This is a pleasant change from the Amazon Echo, which I often should bend near and over-annunciate to get what I would like. But Siri can hear you from up shut, from far-off, in a silent room, or with the HomePod cranked.

Oh sure, and when the HomePod is cranked, it sounds a lot greater than it seems to be, just like the speaker instantly inflates to 3 occasions its dimension. It strikes a lot air and produces such a distortion-free thump, it is surreal.

Talkin’ Blues

Siri is an honest DJ. Asking Apple’s voice assistant to play well-known artists like Talking Heads or Jimi Hendrix will get you a mixture of their tunes—and never simply the hits, however a strong combine. The extra you utilize Apple Music, the higher it will get at predicting what you will like and what you will not. You can say “I hate this song” or “Skip this song” to speed up the coaching. You can go for genres (“Play reggae”), themes (“Kids music”), or moods (“Play me some breakup music”) and the alternatives are nearly at all times glorious. The solely flaw I encountered is that should you ask for a extra obscure artist or tune, you will should strive a number of occasions and actually annunciate to get it enjoying, as Siri too typically simply defaults to the most well-liked possibility.

To give one instance, after I requested Siri to play music from the indie band Flood County, it gave me Dwight Yoakam’s “Floyd County.” This scene repeated, to comical impact, 5 extra occasions as I modulated my request, speaking an increasing number of like a robotic earlier than lastly arriving at this numbing sequence of phrases: “Play the album We’ll Be Fine by the band Flood County.” I hope the coaching algorithm is sensible sufficient that I by no means have to leap by means of that flaming hoop once more.

Siri does another acquainted methods. You can ask it what number of tablespoons are in a cup. You can ask it who gained the A’s recreation (not the A’s). You can management your Wemo good plugs, your August door lock, and something within the rising checklist of merchandise that work with Apple’s HomePackage smart-home ecosystem. You can ask HomePod to run smart-home “scenes” that make a number of units reply (like “Good morning” or “Good night”). And when your iPhone is in the home, the HomePod serves as a proxy and does among the identical stuff Siri does in your cellphone. You can deal with voice calls or ship textual content messages by means of the speaker, and you may ask it so as to add reminders.

But asking Siri to play music will doubtless make up the majority of your interactions with HomePod, as a result of the capabilities for Siri voice controls do not lengthen a lot additional than what I’ve simply listed. You cannot, for instance, ask HomePod/Siri to point out you a map to get you to your dinner date by sending it to your cellphone the way in which you may with a Google Assistant speaker and a Pixel cellphone. You can also’t ask for web radio stations the way in which you may with Alexa (or, once more, Google). Siri can solely see Apple Music content material, together with music, podcasts, Beats 1 radio, and no matter songs are in your iTunes Match library. But no dwell feeds from elsewhere. So whilst you can ask for a information temporary from NPR, you may’t ask HomePod to start out streaming your native public radio station. You can ask for a podcast by identify if it is in Apple Music, but when it is on SoundCloud, you are out of luck.

You can also’t swap the default music service. So no Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited, Google Play Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, or Mixcloud requests by means of Siri. There are complete universes of content material Siri cannot see, hear, or contact. If you need any of that stuff, you may after all play it by opening an app in your iPhone, iPad, or Mac and sending the audio to the HomePod utilizing AirPlay. But that turns this cool voice-activated Siri machine into simply one other AirPlay speaker, of which there are many great-sounding choices for a similar cash or much less.

Ask Again Later

By now, the image needs to be coming collectively for you. Apple {hardware} devotees whose listening habits do not stray removed from what’s accessible on their Apple Music subscriptions will love asking Siri for tunes. iPhone customers will get a brand new solution to dictate texts and make calls. People whose good houses are wired up with HomePackage-compatible devices can even discover lots to love within the HomePod. As the items of that specific image start to fall away, it makes much less sense so that you can purchase a HomePod.

Once we’re in that territory, I’d suggest a much more versatile possibility within the $200 Sonos One, which sounds nearly nearly as good because the HomePod, prices $100 much less, and may play an extremely big selection of streaming audio content material. Really, it performs nearly all the things beneath the solar. And after all, you may discuss to it too—Alexa and Google Assistant are each inside.

Now, it’s attainable that Apple will open the HomePod’s audio ecosystem and permit Siri to manage different music providers. But judging by the crazy-fast progress Apple’s streaming music service is having fun with, and contemplating how little incentive Apple has to permit its captive viewers to go spend their Dogecoin elsewhere, it is unlikely Siri will be capable to make HomePod play one thing exterior that little field.

What’s extra doubtless is that Siri on the HomePod will quickly be capable to simply do extra stuff. Like possibly you’ll do this cool map trick together with your iPhone. Or possibly you’ll name a Lyft or order some vegan chilaquiles by means of Seamless. Apple is dedicated to updating the speaker; lower than a yr after it launched, the corporate added assist for the left-right stereo pairing of two HomePods, in addition to multiroom audio by means of AirPlay 2. So I’m assured the speaker will get higher with time. But the HomePod will not actually shine till Siri will get higher. The world is an enormous place, and Siri ought to actually discover it some extra.

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