Apple HomePod 2018 Review: Does It Entice Non Apple Fans?
The dominance of smart speakers has been both swift and effective. Smart home tech was growing and it just makes sense that you would be able to control your home with your voice. It was a perfect storm for Google and Amazon. Google assistant had already been growing in popularity, the Amazon Echo had been out for a while and smart home tech was becoming more advanced.
The release of the Google Home spurred competition, causing Amazon to fire back by creating better devices with better speakers. In February 2018, the stage was set when Apple released its first smart speaker, two whole years after the release of the Google Home. They've had time to learn from the mistakes of Apple and Google, as well as time to adapt their successes. There is every reason that the Apple HomePod should blow Amazon and Google out of the water, but does it? Let's check it out in the breakdown.
Products from Apple are known for their premium materials, sturdy feel and productive ecosystem. Macbooks are very well designed and are some of my favorite laptops to hold in my lap and work with for long periods of time. iPads are very thin and have the ability to receive the texts and calls from your iPhone.
The HomePod sticks to Apple tradition of excellent designed. The device is a little larger than you'd expect at almost 2 inches wider and 1 inch taller than the Google Home. It's also an astonishingly 4 pounds heavier. Consider this a plus because inside are some incredible speakers and the outside is covered in a tactile fabric that comes in either white or black.
The top is a glowing Siri light that mimics the Siri button on iOS and looks really cool when in use. Pretty much everything about the HomePod screams quality and it's basically a piece of modern art for your home.
All of the extra size and weight of the HomePod was put to good use with 360 sound that sounds much better than any of the competition. You can turn it up to high volumes and play pretty much any kind of music without any distortion.
The audio quality of the HomePod is clearer and has more bass than anything that Google or Amazon offer, the HomePod also has the ability to auto-tune itself to any space or room that you put it in meaning that whether you have it in the corner or the middle of the room, the audio will sound amazing.
When compared to the Google Home or the Amazon Echo, which can have the equaliser adjusted manually, the auto-tune feature is probably one of most unique features available on the HomePod and if you are a big music listener you will probably appreciate it.
Integration with Apple Products
One of the best things about the Apple ecosystem is that all of Apple's products work very well together. MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads can all send and receive text messages, iMessages, FaceTime calls and more, just by being logged into your iCloud account.
One of the integrations with other Apple products is AirPlay. AirPlay allows you to play music from your other devices, through your HomePod. Natively, the HomePod can only play music and podcasts from Apple's own Apple Music and podcast app. Through AirPlay you can listen to your books from Audible, use Pandora for music and more.
Siri is the personal assistant that drives all Apple products. From the iPhone to the MacBook, Siri is what allows you to command your device with your voice. The Siri personal assistant is alive and well inside of the HomePod and it allows you to set alarms, timers, and reminders. It also allows you to control your Apple HomeKit compatible devices like Philips Hue.
Siri allows you to do most of the things that Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa allow you to do like converting measurements for cooking, translating languages, getting answers to pop culture questions through Google Search and more.
The Apple HomePod is a beautiful device to behold. It has a beautifully designed, fabric exterior. Its weight gives it an instant feeling that it has premium internals. It has the processing power of an iPhone 6, meaning that it's less likely to stutter and its auto-tune feature works flawlessly.
The device itself is solid. It has quite a lot going for it on paper. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Once you start to leave the Apple ecosystem, familiar roadblocks begin to pop up in support with other devices and services, lack of various functionalities and more.
Apple HomeKit is a feature provided by Apple to keep your smart home tech organized and accessible to you all from one app. The interface is pretty slick, and the functionality for supported accessories is pretty good. The problems with HomeKit start with the lack of supported accessories.
I'd like to preface this by saying that if you are someone who doesn't plan on getting super involved with smart home tech and only plan on tapping in the more popular products like Philips Hue, you likely will experience no problems with HomeKit. If you are someone who is more into technology and you like to tinker and find solutions, HomeKit is rather sparse
You will find a couple smart lights, support for August door locks, as well as a few other products. You will find only a couple of cameras and there is just overall not a lot of compatible accessories.
Lack of 3rd part smart home hub support
Probably the biggest shame is the lack of compatibility for additional smart home hubs like the Samsung SmartThings hub. You are left out when it comes to mesh wifi options like the Connect Home Pro by Samsung. Basically, if it's not strictly Apple or if it's tied to a competitor like Google or Amazon, there is basically no native support.
This sucks when you consider the huge price and then discover that your functionality is locked down and extremely limited compared to some devices like the Echo Dot from Amazon that is under $100. With devices like the Google Home, a 3rd party hub will basically make up for any shortcomings of the original device. The HomePod doesn't have any of this, leaving it basically the worst device for controlling your smart home for nearly everyone.
Because of the limitations with HomeKit, IFTTT support is incredibly limited. IFTTT does support Siri, but there is barely anything to customize and nearly zero support for anything that would be relevant to your experience with the HomePod.
You have some support for devices like Wemo and you can also have Siri perform some functions with Gmail, but when you compare what is available to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant it becomes clear how little Apple cares to play nice with 3rd parties.
Lack of television control
With the Chromecast and Google Home, you are able to conjure Netflix to your television and begin playing your favorite shows. You can turn the TV on and off, change the volume and more.
With the Fire TV and an Amazon Echo, you are able to bring Pandora onto the screen, control your Prime content and more.
With the Apple HomePod, you are able to do exactly nothing with your television. Actually, I take that back. You are able, with some trickery, to use your HomePod as a speaker for some content that you can play from your Apple TV. It's frustrating, considering the already infuriating fact that you have to use the Apple remote to interact with your Apple TV. The technology is there and why Apple decided not to jump on a growing trend is unknown. What is known is that if controlling your TV with your voice is something that you'd like to do then this probably isn't your device.
If you go to a store and you pick up an Apple HomePod, listen to it and maybe try out some of the novelties, you may think to yourself, "$349 is pricey but I can see that based on the quality of the materials and killer audio quality that the cost is put to good use", and you'd be right.
One thing that Apple is very good at is making premium, well-built devices that are a pleasure to use and look great on your table. The MacBook, iPhone X, iPad and Apple Watch are all gorgeous devices and the HomePod is no exception.
When you consider the actual, everyday functionality, the story starts to change. With its lack of supported accessories, creating a DIY security system is difficult. Connecting to a SmartThings hub or similar is impossible. This might all be acceptable at a lower price point but for $349 you can also buy an Echo Dot and a whole entire Chromebook. You can buy a Google Home for you and a friend.
Lack Of Features
When considering which smart speaker is the best for you, you've probably considered the Echo at one point or another. It's an easy and inexpensive ecosystem to buy into. You get support for SmartThings, several smart home devices natively. You can control your TV and you get Alexa Skills. Alexa Skills allow you to add 3rd party apps like nature sounds and games.
The Google Home has its own cool features like listening to audiobooks with your voice and its voice match feature. The Apple HomePod has none of these and there aren't really any unique, HomePod specific features other than auto-tune and AirPlay, which, while they do make a difference, aren't as important and practical as other features.
Should You Buy It?
So we've covered the pros and cons of owning a HomePod. You know that the HomePod has excellent sound quality, a great fabric cover, awesome hardware and a good weight to it. You know that the smart home accessories that it supports all have a home on one app and can be voice or app controlled, although there aren't a whole lot of supported devices.
Knowing all of this is the Apple HomePod worth buying? And who is it right for? Well if you are someone who is committed to the Apple ecosystem who owns an iPhone, Apple TV, MacBook, iPad and Apple Watch and you are looking for an Apple smart speaker, I'd say possibly, but really look at the competition because even with the whole Apple ecosystem, there isn't a ton of unique features that this brings.
If you don't have any Apple products or you aren't committed to a specific ecosystem I'd say absolutely not. If you want really good audio, the Google Home Max is only an extra $50. You get an amazing speaker that has all the support and functionality that you could want. Maybe in a year or two, the HomePd will match the competition but for now, I'd say it's not worth it.
Now it's your turn! What do you think about the HomePod? Do you have one? If so tell us how you like it. Have any other opinions? Let us know in the comments below.