Why we can’t wait to post an Apple HomePod review
We have really enjoyed testing smart home hubs like the Amazon Echo and Google Home as well as wireless speakers like the Sonos Play 1 and Bose SoundLink Revolve, but the Apple HomePod device looks to be the perfect combination of all them. It takes (hopefully) the brilliant sound quality of Sonos and combines it with the best of the Amazon Echo. The HomePod is positioned to be the smartest speaker with really good audio quality…that excites us.
When is the HomePod release date?
You can purchase a HomePod starting in December 2017 if you’re in the US, UK, or Australia for $349 in white or space gray color profiles. Price point will clearly be the biggest challenge for interested consumers. Apple apparently reasons that a nice wireless speaker is $200+ and a smart home hub is another $100 at least, plus there’s an ‘Apple Premium’. Hence $349, which we think is still steep. Also, English will be the first supported language, but others will be supported in the future.
What is the HomePod device?
The Apple HomePod is a 6.8″ tall speaker and smart home hub combo. Much like the UE WONDERBOOM, it’s wrapped in a tightly-woven mesh fabric that both protects the device and looks very elegant. On the top of the HomePod is an LED display that lights up to show you the Siri waveform—this will illuminate when you interact with the speaker. It has a 4″ sub-woofer inside as well as a custom amplifier, supposedly capable of deep, rich bass that makes Sonos sound just average. On top of that, it has a seven-tweeter array and Apple’s A8 Chip, allowing the device to automatically scan the room around it to adjust and improve the sound quality.
As you can see above, the HomePod also has a six-microphone array, which, similar to Amazon Echo Dot, allows the speaker to hear your requests from any direction. So you can yell from across the room, “Hey Siri, play Last Time for Everything by Brad Paisley” and in theory you’ll be good to go.
How’s audio quality with the HomePod?
Sound quality is apparently the feature that will separate the HomePod speaker from the Amazon Echo and Google Home. As such, on Apple’s website, music is prominently showcased. After all, according to studies, when people use their Amazon Echo, the most common thing they request is for the device to play music. Apple brags that with Apple Music you’ll have access to a library of 40 millions songs…that is if you have an Apple Music membership, which of course costs an extra $10 per month for individuals or $15 per month for families. And to answer your next question, no, the HomePod will not support Spotify, Pandora, or any other third-party streaming service. Via AirPlay 2, however, you’ll probably be able to play music from these third-party services on the HomePod. I’m not sure how many consumers will care about this, but with the other major smart devices out there, you get support directly for Spotify, TuneIn, Pandora and with Sonos in particular you can access basically any streaming service you’d like. Now, similar the UE BOOM2, The HomePod will send out 360 degrees of music and the A8 Chip will hopefully optimize that sound for the best listening experience possible. As an FYI, you can tap on the top of the HomePod to adjust the volume or pause/play (of you can just ask Siri).
What are the major Apple HomePod features?
Well, beyond playing music, you can request that the HomePod (or Siri, rather) give you a news, weather, or sports update—same as Echo and Google Home. Additionally, you can have it control various HomeKit accessories such as smart lights, garage door openers, etc. You can also (if you’ve got $700 laying around) pair two HomePods together via AirPlay 2 for multi-room listening. The HomePods will automatically detect each other and balance out the music playing. That’s the big stuff. Since the HomePod is closed off (at least right now) from third party developers, you won’t have access to ‘Skills’ as Amazon calls it. Basically, the HomePod won’t be able to play trivia with you or tell you the current Amazon deals of the day. In fact, one of our favorite features of the Amazon Echo [check price on Amazon] is it’s shopping capabilities. Nearly every time I run out of batteries I ask Alexa to order more. Same thing with coffee filters, paper towels, and deodorant. The HomePod won’t be much help here.
Can HomePod make phone calls?
Still unclear on this. The Echo and Google Home can so most likely the HomePod will be able to make calls and send text messages. If not in December, certainly in the future. Additionally, the HomePod will be able to create timers, alarms, reminders, and calendar events.
What HomePod accessories are there? Is the list of HomePod compatible devices extensive enough?
The HomePod allows you to control all of your HomeKit accessories…so basically anything that Apple says is compatible with HomeKit can be controlled via the HomePod. It will work with a lot of major smart home devices in the categories you see blow. A few major ones, however, are the ecobee3 Smart Thermostat [check price on Amazon], Kwikset Touchscreen Smart Locks [check price on Amazon], Philips Hue Smart Bulbs [check price on Amazon], iHome smart plugs [check price on Amazon]. The HomePod also works with various smart home hubs/bridges from Philips, GE, and others, but notably left off the smart bridge list (as of the date of this post) are devices from Samsung and Wink.
Unfortunately, the HomePod and Apple Home app lag Amazon and Google in terms of supported devices. Yes, Apple covers the basics with plenty of brands, but their list of supported third-party devices is minuscule compared to that of Amazon and Google…right now. Things will definitely change now that the HomePod has been announced. You better believe Apple will be on a terror trying to get additional ‘HomeKit-ready’ devices. One really nice thing about Apple, however, is that you can control your smart devices with the HomePod and the Home app, as opposed to simply with voice.
Who wins? Apple HomePod vs. Echo?
Well, Amazon has for sure the more popular devices (mostly because you can’t buy the HomePod yet). According to a new report from Strategy Analytics, Amazon has 35% of the global Wi-Fi speaker market and shipped ~5 million Echo devices in 2016. Sonos, in second place, shipped 4 million devices last year. The HomePod will definitely win when it comes to audio quality. The sound from the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Tap, etc. is overwhelmingly average, while there’s no way Apple would hype sound so much and have it disappoint with the HomePod. Also, multi-room listening is a reality for HomePod users, but it’s not yet available for Amazon Echo devices. Beyond that, The Echo probably wins in every other category. It’s cheaper (much cheaper), supports third-party music streaming services beyond PrimeMusic (Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, etc.), works with vastly more smart devices, can learn additional ‘Skills’, and offers a shopping experience. For around $50, you can get the Amazon Echo Dot [check price on Amazon] and for another ~$150 you can get the JBL Charge 3 [check price on Amazon] to pair with it. Unless the HomePod has the best sound ever, it’s hard to beat a $200 Echo Dot/JBL combo. One advantage that the Echo Tap [check price on Amazon] in particular will have over the HomePod is its portability. HomePod is stuck at your home. Even the Echo Dot will have some level of portability since you can move your Bluetooth speaker anywhere you’d like as long as it’s within Bluetooth range (i.e. 30-40 feet).
And Apple HomePod vs. Google Home?
Similar story. The Google Home at around $130 [check price on Target] is dramatically cheaper than the HomePod. Like the Amazon Echo, it too supports more smart devices and music streaming services than the Apple HomePod. And it has the added perk of looking nice in your living room, whereas Echo units are somewhat of an eyesore. So basically, the HomePod is a more expensive Google Home with slightly less to offer, but hopefully better audio quality. Multi-room listening is available for both devices. With the Google Home, you just need the $30 Chromecast Audio device [check price on Target] and, as previously mentioned, with Apple you need an extra $350 laying around for another HomePod.
What about Apple HomePod vs. Sonos Play:1 Speaker or Play:3 Speaker?
This is probably a better direct comparison, as Sonos and Apple have a heavy focus on music and audio quality. With the $199 Sonos Play:1 [check price on Amazon] you have a slightly smaller sub-woofer at 3.5″ and a single tweeter. As we mentioned above, we’ve heard accounts that the HomePod sounds much better than the Play:1, which seems pretty reasonable to us just looking at the specs. The $299 Sonos Play:3 [check price on Amazon] has two 2.75″ sub-woofers and a 1″ tweeter, which will likely have similar (or slightly superior) sound quality than the HomePod. We’ve listened to the Play:3 before and it has some really good audio quality. It would be surprising to have the HomePod best it. Regardless, however, audio quality is really good on all three devices. The HomePod will support voice commands, while Sonos devices do not unless the Sonos/Alexa partnership gets off the ground. That will also give them certain smart capabilities they do not currently have. In terms of multi-room listening, that’s basically what Sonos is all about, so of course, you have that option if you pay up for additional speakers. As for size and aesthetics, Sonos and Apple are pretty much a tie. The Play:1 is basically the same size as the HomePod (Play:3 is obviously bigger) and they all will look nice in your living room. The major advantage Sonos has is that it supports far more music streaming services, including Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, Deezer, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and more.
Will there be any Apple HomePod deals?
Very likely not. Apple rarely discounts anything and there’s no reason to believe the HomePod will be treated any differently. Your best bet is to buy from a store like B&H Photo, which doesn’t charge sales tax outside of New Jersey or New York. Also, since this is available for purchase in December, you could wait for the possibility of Black Friday bundles where you might get the HomePod plus some other item for $349. That would technically be a discount, but I’m also just guessing that retailers might try bundles.