Review Roundup: HomePod Excels in Sound Quality, Disappoints in ‘Smart’ Capabilities

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker is just around the corner, and with only three days away until the device officially launches, the Cupertino company has now allowed the first full reviews of the device to be shared online.

As we previously stated, critics generally praise the pint-sized speaker for its excellent sound, although when it comes to the number of features available on other smart speakers, it feels a little underpowered. Here’s a roundup up some of the latest reviews of the smart speaker from across the web.

The New York Times‘ Brian X. Chen ran the HomePod through a number of tests against Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, and while he was amazed by the speaker’s overall sound quality, he was disappointed in the device’s smart capabilities, stating that Siri is “embarrassingly inadequate:”

Apple’s speaker is certainly an impressive piece of hardware. Audiophiles will appreciate that it has a woofer with a custom amplifier and seven tweeters. The result is a speaker with a deep bass and rich treble that is loud enough to fill a large room with superb sound. HomePod makes the Amazon Echo and Google’s Home sound muffled and tinny in comparison.

Even now, Apple is shipping the HomePod unfinished. On Day 1, the device will lack some cool features, like the ability to link several HomePods together to create a multiroom sound system that Apple says will fill an entire home with music. That feature will come in a software update later this year.

And there are other limitations: the HomePod requires an iOS device, like an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, to set it up. To use your voice commands to play music, you will also need to subscribe to Apple’s streaming music service, Apple Music.

Nilay Patel from The Verge shared a similar perspective, praising the audio and build quality of the speaker, stating that the device sounded “richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve tested.” He was, however, disappointed with the device’s inability to function with any non-Apple device, calling it the “loneliest” of Apple’s devices:

All of this is why I started thinking of the HomePod as “lonely.” It feels like it was designed for a very demanding person to use while living alone entirely inside Apple’s ecosystem. It’s tied more closely to a single iPhone and iCloud account than any other smart speaker, and Siri has none of the capability or vibrancy of what’s happening with Alexa. Apple can try to move mountains by itself, or it can recognize that the HomePod is a little iOS computer for the home and let developers build on it as they have for so long and with such great success with the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. 

The HomePod is a remarkable new kind of audio device. It does more to make music sound better than any other speaker of this kind has ever done before, and it really, truly works. But unless you live entirely inside Apple’s walled garden and prioritize sound quality over everything else, I think you’re better served by other smart speakers that sound almost as good and offer the services and capabilities that actually fit your life.

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TechCrunch‘s Matthew Panzarino praised the HomePod’s ability to recognize commands while music is playing and while at a distance, but that this ability is hindered by the inadequate Siri. Panzarino also enjoyed the speaker’s build quality and the ability to move the device from room to room and have it seamlessly connect to any known network automatically. He also, like most reviewers, praised the HomePod’s sound quality:

The sound that comes from the HomePod can best be described as precise. It’s not as loud as some others like Google Home Max or as bright (and versatile) as the Sonos Play 1, but it destroys the muddy sound of less sophisticated options like the Amazon Echo. To genuinely fill a large room you need two but anyone in a small house or apartment will get great sound from one. 

The HomePod was the “best” sounding. It’s nuanced and subtle with great separation and clarity across all kinds of music. The Play 1, for instance, had decent mid range but an overly bright high end with just the out of the box calibration. At maximum volume, the Play 1 became shrill and painful where the HomePod maintained balance.

Megan Wollerton from CNET praised the devices sound quality and its ability to automatically recalibrate its speakers depending on the shape of the room its placed in, or where in a room it’s placed:

With the HomePod in the center of the room, for example, I heard distinct wedges of good (and less good) sound around the speaker. Sometimes the front sounded great and the back not so much. Sometimes the best sound came from 90 degrees on either side. 

Apple says the speaker adjusts itself based on room position, and as I moved the speaker around I could hear the difference as it recalibrated. Overall I found that the HomePod sounded best placed against a wall or in a corner, which is fine since that’s where most people will probably place it anyway.

Update: More HomePod reviews are continuing to be published – check out other links below:

  • USA Today – “Apple’s pricey HomePod sounds great but exacts some tradeoffs”
  • The Telegraph“Apple HomePod review: Sounds better than it listens” 
  • The Independent – “Apple HomePod review: Smart speaker edges Amazon and Google with stunning sound”
  • BuzzFeed – “HomePod Review: A Smart Speaker For iPhone Users Only”
  • WSJ – Apple HomePod Review: Super Sound, but Not Super Smart
  • The Loop – Review: Apple HomePod
  • USA Today – Apple’s pricey HomePod sounds great but exacts some tradeoffs
  • Om Malik – My HomePod Review — Apple HomePod, a connected speaker …
  • Pocket-Lint – Apple HomePod review: The smart sounding speaker that’s just not smart enough
  • What HiFi – The Apple HomePod is the best-sounding smart speaker we’ve tested by far
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