Product Review: The new Apple HomePod: to buy or not to buy?

Sources: Observer.com, 9to5mac.com, CultofMac.com, TechRadar.com

One month after it’s much-anticipated launch, the Apple HomePod is getting mixed reviews. While some applaud the smart speaker for its undeniable sound quality, others are quick to point out Siri’s intelligence flaws. We’ve read lots of reviews — here, here and here are a few insightful ones, and this one makes a solid comparison between the HomePod’s biggest competitor, Sonos One. Despite all we’ve read, we obviously had to listen for ourselves to get a true sense of what all the controversy was about. Our HomePod arrived on the first day it was available and we put it through its paces.

The HomePod’s packaging was, of course, very Apple-esque, requiring no scissors or blades to open it. (Apple's packaging is a major part of their controlled and purposeful marketing.) The pod has a solid build, squishy mesh outer covering, and silicon feet, all of which feel like high-quality materials. One interesting detail is that the power cord is permanently attached and is less springy than the power cords we’ve become accustomed to from Apple.

Set up is a breeze. As soon as it powered on, Jamie received a notification on his iPhone X to set up the newly discovered HomePod (if you have EarPods, it’s the same proprietary pop-up window for Apple products). In a few clicks, we were synced with Jamie’s personal iCloud account and listening to Michael Jackson.

This speaker gets LOUD. We all agree it trumps the Sonos Play 1 with thumping lows, clear mids, and controlled treble with little to no distortion at maximum volume.

Siri needs to go back to school. Siri’s voice was clear and more 'human sounding' with less of a 'digital accent'. Even over the loud music, Siri was responsive, although she had trouble understanding some of our specific commands. This made us wonder if the product is ready for a multi-user environment such as an office or a family.

“Siri is more or less the HomePod operating system in a sense, and that means that Siri should be a much higher priority for HomePod engineers. For that reason I think we stand to see a marked improvement in Siri on HomePod, which should also pay dividends for other Siri-enabled devices...Development of its software should, in a sense, be laser-focused on bringing improvements to Siri, because compared to the iPhone, there’s not much else to focus on.” - Jeff Benjamin, 9to5mac.com

Greatest Surprise: HomePod can be also used as a speakerphone. When making a call from your iPhone, select HomePod from the sound out button and you are in speakerphone and conference call heaven. This feature only works with the phone that is synced with the iCloud account that HomePod is connected to.

Overall, the HomePod is solid, cleverly designed and an excellent source of high-quality audio. If you have some disposable income, are already an avid Apple product user, and a dedicated fan of Apple music (you’re not going to have a high-tech Spotify or Pandora experience here), then you’ll be pretty happy with this purchase. You likely have faith that the company will issue significant updates to Siri in the near future. But as a smart speaker, Amazon’s Echo, and Google Home are far better devices because their AI driven voice assistance is so far ahead of Apple. So if you’re rocking to Spotify on your Android, the $350 investment is probably not worth it right now considering Siri’s limitations and the hassle of using third-party music channels.  

HomePod SCORECARD

Packaging: 5/5
Ease of Set Up: 4.5/5
Performance: 4/5
Features: 3/5
Price: 2/5

Overall TechDad Rating: 3.5/5