HomePod Initial Impressions
The HomePod itself it deceptively small, but surprisingly heavy. It comes boxed in the usual Apple style – paying particular attention to the experience of sliding off the top and uncovering the HomePod it all its glory. Bar the device itself there is little else in the box apart from a small information card and a single Apple logo sticker.
Particular attention has been paid towards the power cable. The braided cord fitted to the HomePod is not detachable, some seem to think this is user hostile, however you are not likely to be unplugging the unit very often. Should damage occur to the cable, repair will cost you $29. Which is reasonable given that dropping the HomePod itself could prove very costly.
Many people have raved about how easy the set up is for HomePod, as it expands on the same process as with any W1 powered device. Simply power the unit on, and nearby devices will be prompted with a set up card at the bottom of the screen. You will need an iOS device running iOS11 to do this, be it an iPhone or iPad, but did you really expect anything else.
My set up was slightly more complicated, at first try I was greeted with the blank card that has plagued many users. The cause of this hasn’t been established, although seems to be linked to the iPhone X, but I was able to complete on the second attempt by simply powering off the HomePod and back on again.
Pay special attention to these set up screens, because if like me you are using the device for the family. Enabling private information will mean anybody can instruct the HomePod to read out messages and even reply to them. This is pretty transparent in the set up process, but sometime excitement takes over and you simply accept any prompts given you.
The HomePod is first and foremost a speaker, Apple clearly wanted to produce a great sounding device to consume music on. They have been on and off developing the device for a number of years, and the results speak for themselves. I am by no means an audio guru, but the HomePod sounds great wherever you are in the room, and when compared to the many Sonos speakers I have it is noticeably better.
That is not to say that is head a shoulders above everything else. Podcasts and audio books do not sound as good as they do on other devices, but for Music the sound is much more powerful and richer than many other devices. I have noticed sounds in songs that I have listened to lots of times purely from the HomePod audio range. The Verge did a great comparison video on a range of devices and mirrors pretty much my own findings.
Apples ‘smart’ assistant gets a lot of stick, and rightly so. It is considered well behind both Google and Amazon in terms of ability and also parsing information. You will find no arguments here, Apple have a serious issue with being left behind and the HomePod does not help their argument.
If anything it is further evidence of the lack of development that the very first voice assistant has had since being released alongside the iPhone 4s. With that said I have not had any trouble with Siri hearing my commands, even above loud music, and they have pretty much been spot on. Siri is not smart, but it does do a good job of doing basic things reliably. Simple questions such as weather, commanding smart home equipment and sports scores are no issue, but as many people have already commented on, you wont find any abilities outside of Apples own services.
Music is its strength and will often find the correct track with limited information. I have confidence that the HomePod could become an extremely capable device given the computing power inside. However this potential needs to be developed by Apple during a time when software is not its strong point. Siri on the HomePod could become a make or break device, and it is ultimately Apples privacy stance that is holding Siri back. Post CES it is clear that Amazon and particularly Google are pushing their digital assistants as a platform rather than something as a side bar to a mobile OS.
I was dead set on returning the HomePod after I had played around with it. My Sonos speakers have been one of the best devices I have spent money on, and I found it hard to believe they could be replaced.
However given a very small time with the HomePod both myself and the family have been converted. The device has already replaced two Sonos Play:1 speakers upstairs and I will more than likely buy another to replace a Play:3 downstairs in time. This is said with a little resistance, as the HomePod only exists to keep iOS users in the ecosystem and gain Apple Music subscribers. Yes Spotify works in a round about way, but the experience is much better with Apple Music.
Although the smart aspects of the HomePod leaves a lot to be desired, so does using Alexa with my Sonos speakers. There are a lot of features that I feel are missing from the device to make every user happy, however for me the device is more than capable of doing what I require. Apple really needs to pull out all the stops this WWDC and introduce many platform changes to Siri for risk of being even further behind.
The HomePod is fine for me, but may not be enough if you are looking for an assistant rather than simply great sound. Siri, although very capable, feels like an afterthought and won’t please everyone.