HomePod Review: Is it Really Worth the Price Tag?

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

On February 9, 2018, Apple finally released the highly anticipated HomePod to the general public. I was lucky enough to receive one as a gift from Cupid for Valentine’s Day and I thought that I would share my first impressions of Apple’s latest gadget.

Product Description

The HomePod is Apple’s smart speaker which, according to Apple, takes the listening experience to a whole new level. It comes equipped with Apple’s virtual assistant SIRI and a subwoofer and 7 tweeters to enhance the listening experience. It also has technology built into the speaker that allows for it to adapt to any room to customize the listening experience. The retail price for the HomePod is currently US$349.

Physically the best way that I can describe the shape and feel of the HomePod is a warehouse sized pickle jar. It is quite heavy and surrounded by mesh fabric. The top of the HomePod has a touch screen that has volume up/down buttons and a play/pause button that appear when content is playing, and yes the touch screen is totally accessible with Voice Over.

Setting up the HomePod

The HomePod, in true Apple form, arrives in a beautiful box wrapped in cellophane. There is an easy tab that can be used to easily remove the plastic wrap and the top of the box lifts completely off of the inner shell that holds the device. When opening your HomePod for the first time, you will want to be very careful as it is very easy to drop it since the top slides right off of the bottom shell.

Once your HomePod is plugged in, after approximately 10 seconds you will hear a start-up sound. Once you hear this sound it’s time to grab your iOS device and get everything set-up. Once you unlock your device, a message will immediately pop up asking if you want to set up the HomePod. You’ll just have to answer a few simple questions and settings and within less than 2 minutes your settings are transferred to the HomePod, including all of your accessibility settings.

When the transfer is complete, SIRI will greet you and welcome you to the HomePod. She will walk you through a few basic commands including asking her what she can do and playing a song.

Using VoiceOver with the HomePod

If you are a VoiceOver user, the touch screen interface will have similar gestures that you are familiar with on your iOS device. On the touch screen you will find three virtual buttons. From left to right, with the power cord facing away from you, you will find a volume down button, a play/pause button and a volume up button. Unlike your iOS device it does not appear that swiping will work when attempting to navigate the buttons, you will have to rely upon touch methods.

Using the touch screen on the HomePod, you are able to perform the following gestures:

  • Decrease volume – double tap the decrease volume button
  • Increase volume – double tap the increase volume button
  • Pause content – double tap the play/pause button
  • Skip forward to a new track – triple tap the play/pause button
  • Skip backward to a previous track – quadruple tap the play/pause button
  • Summon SIRI – double tap and hold the play/pause button

Playing Music and Podcasts

In order to have the full experience and benefits of the HomePod, you will either need an Apple Music subscription, music purchased on iTunes or an iTunes Match subscription. Having one of these options allows for you to play content simply by saying “Hey SIRI play my Faves Playlist.” Or “Hey SIRI play top songs from 1992.”

If you do not have any music in the Apple or iTunes ecosystem, you are still able to airplay content from any provider, including Pandora and Spotify and you will then still be able to use the SIRI commands to control playback and find out information about what song is playing. Additionally, an added benefit of airplay is that you will continue to have local VoiceOver control and output on your iOS device while the audio content is played through the HomePod.

Sound Quality

As soon as your very first song from your Apple Music Library plays you will be blown away with the clarity and richness of the sound. Without a doubt the HomePod has the best sound quality I’ve ever heard in such a small device. Some individuals have said that the sound is a little too bassy for their liking, however I personally like to have bass in my music and think it sounds amazing.

Using SIRI to Control Music Playback

Even while music is playing, you can control music playback simply by saying “Hey SIRI stop” or “Hey SIRI next track”. SIRI was even able to understand me from 30 feet away and when the music was playing at a high volume. There are so many commands that SIRI will respond to for music control and many of the commands will sound familiar as they are the same commands that work on your iOS devices.

You can also use SIRI to play your Podcasts or find podcasts that you are not subscribed to. When testing this feature, I had some trouble getting SIRI to play specific podcasts, especially ones that I was not subscribed to. In order to have the HomePod play a specific podcast, I have found that you need the exact name of the podcast, which may be difficult to remember at times. SIRI also did not totally understand me much of the time when I asked for specific podcasts not in my subscriptions.

Using SIRI to Get Things Done

SIRI is a bit underwhelming on the HomePod. If you are expecting amazing Alexa skills like identifying a song based on lyrics that you repeat or finding out obscure trivia facts about Mark Twain then you will be sorely disappointed.

SIRI is able to do basic things like control your HomeKit enabled accessories, set a reminder, set an alarm, check traffic conditions from your location to another location and check the weather, however she is far from intelligent in my opinion. Throughout my testing, there were several commands that elicited the response “I’m sorry, I can’t do that on HomePod.” including requests for specific news stories about current events or trending topics on Twitter.

The nice thing about the Apple HomePod and SIRI's abilities is that historically, through software updates we know that her abilities will only get better in the future.

The Bottom Line

If you are in the market for a speaker with top quality sound and already have many products in the Apple ecosystem then the HomePod may be a logical choice for you. Its’ seamless integration with all of your iOS devices and familiar interface will without a doubt come naturally to you and make for a low learning curve.

If you are an Android user then let’s be honest, the HomePod is pretty much useless to you. Presently it does not allow connections via bluetooth, although it does have the components necessary for this type of connection and an iOS device is required to set up the speaker. Secondly if you prefer other streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and I Heart Radio, you will not be able to enjoy the convenience of using SIRI to control the playback of your music.

And finally, let’s not ignore the huge elephant in the room...the HomePod is one of the most expensive smart speakers on the market right now. For US$349 I honestly expected more from the HomePod in the SIRI department, however I will say that the sound quality is absolutely fantastic.

So, what do you think? Do you have a HomePod? Will you be purchasing one in the future? Let me know in the comments.

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30 Comments

#1 Great Review

Club AppleVis Member

This is a very good review. Thanks for posting it. I already have my smart speaker setup, but it's good to hear opinions from a fellow blind person who has used the speaker.

#2 Re: Great Review

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thanks so much. Which smart speaker do you have?

#3 RE: Home Review

Club AppleVis Member

I have two Sonos Ones. I've had them for about a year. If I had the money, I might actually get the HomePod for one room and use the Sonos speakres in one as a stereo pair. Sadly, probably not a good idea.

#4 Re: Home Review

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I remember reading an article that said that the Sonos co-founder thought that the HomePod speaker had better sound quality. Interesting for sure.

#5 RE: Home Review

Club AppleVis Member

I read that as well. Pretty impressive. The thing is if it actually had more music services than just Apple Music, I would probably break down and get one. However, while you can airplay from an Apple device to the speaker, why should you have to use two devices to play music? Hope that makes sense. I'm sure the HomePod will improve over time; after all, this is just the first generation. I think it definitely has promise.

#6 I've played with the Homepod

I've played with the Homepod and yes it is a little bit tempting since I primarily use Apple music. I don't think it's quite worth replacing my Sonos One yet. I like how the homepod gives you the option of using Air Play, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I like how I can get Alexa to play stuff from other radio services (awesome for sports on sirius xm), but I run into the same issue everyone complains about on the homepod. Since I use Apple music, I can't use Alexa to play it. And since Air Play 2 isn't out yet, I have to use the Sonos app, which doesn't give me access to my curated playlists. Also, I dearly mis being able to play podcasts, Netflix and YouTube on a good speaker. Air Play would allow that.

#7 Thanks for the good review. I

Thanks for the good review. I received my Homepod yesterday, and love it. I have an Amazon Echo Dot, but Homepod wins hands down for sound quality. For what I have seen of Siri, he did what I asked him do, however I wanted this primarily as a music speaker, not a smart speaker at this time. I am an Apple Music subscriber, and own many Apple products, so this was a no brainer for me. Also, for your information, if you don't want to use Siri, you don't have to. You can control Homepod directly from any iOS device running iOS 11.2.5 or later, as well as any Mac or Pc running iTunes 12.7.3 or later. Just my thoughts and a tip on the lovely Homepod, and I can't wait what's in store for us, particularly stereo pairing and Airplay 2 support. By the way, I have absolutely no issues using Airplay. It's not an inconvenience for me at all.

#8 Great blog

Hello, thanks for a great post. I think about purchased one or 2 HomePods to use a stereo feture in the future wwhen the software update will be produced to everyone. I think that it's very cool products to use and I very excited to see what is this and what's the ability to use in the home. I am very disappointed from Siri ability, and I'm expecting to get more futures from this price tag.

#9 Nice job

Perhaps in the future apple will make Siri better but just paying $300 or more for it is not worth it. I like my Alexa second generation for music. I am sure Amazon will look what apple did with the speeker and perhaps next year will come out with another Echo that will provide the same for less. Beside the apple is homepod is primary speeker and second AI, unlike echo primary is AI and second speeker.

#10 Homepod leaves white ring on some wooden surfaces

The Homepod leaves a white ring behind on some wooden surfaces. See the link below for the story. This would be something we wouldn't notice so perhaps putting it on something to protect your furniture would be a good idea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CmaxFMIHBM&feature=youtu.be

#11 Amazon Echo Dot versus HomePod

Club AppleVis Member

: You're comparing apples to oranges. The Amazon Echo Dot is a step below the Amazon Echo. I have the Echo model and find the sound quality to be great.

#12 a test for curiosity

Apple's Home Pod is supposed to adjust the sound based on the room. Have you tested this? Or anyone else? How will the speaker perform, for example, in a bedroom compared to a living room, or in a Church? If I had the money, I would get one, but I don't, so I won't, yet. Thanks for a great review.

#13 True, because I never owned

True, because I never owned an Echo device other than the Dot. I nearly did upgrade to the Echo I must admit, before Homepod was announced, so decided to wait till that was released, and, as I previously commented, I love it for its sound quality and Siri did what he was told *smile*.

#14 No, but I plan to get a

No, but I plan to get a second Homepod once stereo pairing and Airplay 2 arrives. Will post back unless someone does beforehand *smile*.

#15 HomePod returned

I ended up returning my HomePod.

It wasn't a clearcut decision. But, there were just one too many niggles; one too many ways in which it felt like a pre-release product; one too many times that the user experience left me frustrated.

The Good:

  • It physically feels like a quality product.
  • The audio quality is good (although I wasn't as “blown away” as reviews had led me to expect).
  • Setup is extremely easy.
  • Use with Apple Music is generally good (but see below).
  • Control of HomeKit devices worked well and added some value and utility.
  • Detection of the “Hey Siri” command was generally good (but see below).

The Bad:

  • Too many times when the HomePod does not respond to the “Hey Siri” command.
  • Siri is too limited in what it can do on the HomePod.
  • There needs to be support for other services (in my case, I so wanted support for TuneIn and Overcast).
  • Too many times when Siri would not get the artist, genre or playlist correct.
  • Having HomePod setup and control through the Home app could be fine, but not when the settings are split in to 3 very distinct locations in that app. It's confusing and simply not intuitive.
  • To replace something in our current setup (and to fit with our use case), the HomePod needs a USB connection and an audio line-in (and possibly its bluetooth chip enabled).

But, for our use, the biggest issue is that the HomePod simply doesn't lend itself to a multi-user setup. We have 4 in our house; all with our own iCloud accounts and Apple Music playlists and listening history. There is simply no way at the moment to make this work well with the HomePod )for example, three of the four can't do something as seemingly simple and natural as ask to have one of their own playlists play).

The potentially good news is that nearly all of what I dislike about the HomePod could be fixed or improved through software updates.

However, I have to judge the HomePod on what it offers me right now, and not what it might offer me in 12 months time. And, being frank, I have far less confidence than the OP that we will see significant improvements to Siri any time soon; or that Apple will open the HomePod to more services.

#16 Hi,I'm sorry you have

Hi,I'm sorry you have returned your Homepod, but can understand why at this time. You could have always used Airplay to use Spotify or Overcast, but others may or may not argue the case of "why should I use two devices when the other speakers can do it alone?" My response would be fair point, and let's hope Apple opens up Homepod to those who really need it. However Airplay is a good enough option for some people. Maybe think about getting the Homepod again in the future.

#17 Homepod

I do not think apple will ever open any apple product to all. They like to be in control regarding their products. This is why they are behind amazon and google in AI. Sad but there is so. I like apple.

#18 Great review

Hi.
Thanks for a really great review.
The Homepod is not available in my country yet. But when it is, I look very much forward to hear the sound quality. I'm impressed how Voiceover works on the touch screen.
I won't get the Homepod, simply because it is too limited, and I can't use it for what I want.
1. No AUX minijack input. Apple is making the most expensive smartspeaker, and it don't have a minijack input. Really stupid and limited in my opinion.
2. Apple want to go wireless, but they don't offer Bluetooth. Just, why? Why limit their smartspeaker like this?
3. The Homepod lags when it comes to services. I have a ton of music on an external harddrive, and I don't use Apple Music, which I find expensive. No way of connecting the speaker to online radio, a network harddrive or any computer in generel, only if you are using Airplay. So I don't see how I can use this speaker.
4. No connection to my tv either. If the idea is that the Homepod should be the main speaker in your house, then it makes no sense. I'm currently using Sonos, and need a speaker for my kitchen. The Homepod won't work with my current setup, and if I switched to the Homepod, I'll be very limited.
5. Using two Homepods in stirio or in two rooms does not currently work. Why do people have to wait for that?
6. As mentioned, I'm using Sonos. Great accessibility, great features, yes there could be more, but Sonos is not that much limited like the Homepod. If I buy a Sonos One, the newest Sonos speaker, I will get a speaker with voice assistance. This does not currently work in my country, but it'll support Siri just like the Homepod in the future. It currently supports Google Assistance and Alexa. Yes you'll get better sound quality on the Homepod, but then you could just buy some bigger Sonos speakers.
I really like the Apple products, most of them, but I'm disappointed by the Homepod. The Homepod is great for those who are using Apple Music and podcasts and for those who don't find the speakers functions limited.

#19 one simple app was much smarter than homepod IMHO

Club AppleVis Member

Hello,
here in italy homepod hasn't come yet; I was expecting it and I felt very disappointed - i read your review and also listened to David Woodbridge's podcast about it.

Well, I expected much much more from this, knowing how much it costs, because I have a starting point: an app which is no longer available because social networking services have changed their APIs and my close friend who developed that app, could no longer interact with music and socials in that way.
It was called "i am social music news", formerly known as "streaming killed the radio star"
and, briefly, i could perform gestures:
tap. play-pause
swipe right/left: skip/previous song
swipe up/down: volume up/down
hold: help
two fingers tap: read current song title
and also that app was announcing song titles and authors -in appropriate language- before songs started, and also reading weather forecast and news from selected sources and socials, if set up from the options.

Sandro created a much smarter app I think, it's a pity it is no longer possible to have such results
my homepod dream was like that, in a smart speaker

#20 Apple and other sources

Holger mentioned that Apple likes a closed system. However, apps from Microsoft developers and charging stations that are not from Apple can be used on iPhones and other iDevices. As for the Home Pod, if you need a pair of them to produce stereo, and the software is not available to do this yet, that sure is a big expense for the future. It would be approaching $800 without the device from which it gets it's info. If you're using an iPhone 10, you're nearing $2,000 if you have a 256 gig phone. I would wait for the price to hopefully go down and the feature list to go up before I spend that kind of money on a system.

#21 Simply the best sounding smart speaker you can buy for the money

Before I bought it I was skeptical. Having had two Sons play 5's and an expensive surround setup I wondered what it would offer. And, I'm delighted with it.

Soundwise... It is better than my previous Sonos play5 gen2, also about £180 cheaper. It simply sounds amazing. I bought it on Friday and haven't stopped listening to music. It's simple, and just works.

My advice, if you're on Apple Music, have an iPhone and are in the market for a really good setup to play music, go for the HomePod.

I suspect that apps will come out for it in the future as happened with iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV. Apple, as usual, makes early releases feature sparse but excellent at what they do.

Buy it if you are in the market for a smart speaker with great sound.

#22 comparing speakers

It would be interesting to compare the homepod to the google home max.

There are youtube videos compairing the homepod, google home max, and the UE Boom and while homepod had great sound, the loudest out of the ones they were using in that video was the google home max by far.

They even said it's so loud that it gets distorted when cranking it up to 100.

Obviously, those videoes aren't going to give you a proper idea of the sound, but it's enough to give you some sort of feel.

It's all about what you want in a speaker.

I haven't jumped onto the smart speaker bandwagon yet, since at the moment all it seems to be is a pissing contest between these companies.

#23 Max volume

Yeah. From my understanding the audio processing of the HomePod far exceeds the google max. It's self regulating does seem to work very well and there is no distortion. It's not super loud, but I think apple have traded off volume for clarity. Usually you'd have to pump a system to pick out details, hit the sweet spot in the volume. The HomePod is constantly adjusting to get the best sound no matter the volume.

It is a bit of a band wagon, I agree. I just wanted something for my bedroom and, though it is a little more expensive than I would have usually shelled out, I have no regrets.

Note: As with any smart speaker, they are a nightmare in a party situation with everyone yelling at the device so no more than 30 seconds is ever played of a song. Personal listening is all I use it for and then use a denon AVR in my main living area.

#24 Thanks BigCat

: Wow, thanks for your comparison with the Sonos Play5. I'm amazed to hear that the Homepod sounds better. Just, wow...
I wander if the Homepod will work as a computerspeaker for a Mac if you're using Airport. A pretty expensive computer speaker, but that would be cool...

#25 Works with airplay

Yeah, can just push it to the speaker using airplay.

As with anything, it's personal opinion. There is a lot more onboard processing by the HP compared with the play 5 and the HP has no EQ what so ever, which is, in my view, a good thing. I'm such a fiddler. I got fed up with my pair of Sonos when I couldn't use them to play movie audio with my Apple TV in sync. There is a delay with the a to d converters when you plug in jacks to the back of them, not really a problem for me as totally blind, but an irritation for others watching.

Saying that, Sonos will be gaining airplay 2 compatibility some time this year which means they will be a more versatile speaker in terms of music service compatibility.

#26 Several reasons why I will not buy a homePod

Hi! Even though I am an Apple Music subscriber and tend to listen to music and podcasts through the apps of the same name on my iPhone, I can't imagine myself buying a HomePod. It isn't available in France yet anyway, and, even when it is, the price is not easily affordable for me. I have never been tempted by smart voice-activated devices anyway, and I don't even use Hey Siri on my iPhone: it's interesting to know that the HomePod can be operated without Siri, though. Another thing which disappoints me about several of the high-quality speakers that I have heard of is, that they are mono, so you need to buy two speakers of whatever kind, Sonos or Homepod or whatever, to get stereo, which isn't even possible with the HomePod yet. However good the sound is, I admit I prefer stereo to mono, whatever I'm listening on, especially for music. I'm not saying the homePod is bad, not at all, and I hope all of you who have bought HomePods enjoy using them, but I personally feel that the HomePod is not the speaker for me: for the foreseeable future I will probably stick with my little Bose SoundLink Mini bluetooth speaker, which has good sound in my opinion, as well as giving me stereo without having to buy a second one. But there's a place for all kinds of speakers out there, so, if the HomePod is available in your country and you want one and can afford it, go ahead and buy it!

#27 RE: Several Reasons Why I Will Not Buy a HomePod

Club AppleVis Member

Hi Clare. Just to clarify something for you. I am speaking only regarding the Sonos speakers, but just having one doesn't mean it plays in mono. It is a single unit that lets you hear the contents of both left and right channels. However, if you have two and pair them up, it modifies the sound so that you hear the left channel in one and the right channel in the other. I can't speak for the rest of the speakers out there, but just wanted to clarify this for you. Hope that makes sense.

#28 great review

Club AppleVis Member

I think Apple is a bit late to the smart speaker party since Amazon's Alexa-enabled devices have been around since 2014 so it's going to be an up hill battle for Apple since in my opinion Alexa is far better than Siri. I'd be interested in how the sound of the home pod compares to the Echo. I will not be getting a home pod since I already have an Echo.

#29 Different devices

The homepod has far more advanced audio modelling and does win hands down on sound ... Across the board in my opinion ... However. If you consider their strengths, the HP and echo are completely different devices.

HP = Music system with moderate PA capability
Amazon echo = feature rich and customisable PA with a moderate speaker.

They serve different purposes. As I've said, if you're on Apple Music and want an awesome, easy to use and great sounding music experience, HP all the way ... If you want something else, it's not yet the multitool you may be looking for, though none of apples products have ever started their lives as feature rich, rather they are polished user experiences and high quality hardware.

#30 I sprung for a homepod

I sprung for a homepod yesterday and am blown away with it. Yes, it doesn't support third party music services natively but that doesn't affect me. I've been an AM subscriber since it came out and I love being able to finally ask my speaker to play songs or shuffle my entire collection. I also like how you can control the hp in the music app or control center. No separate app needed. I don't like the Sonos app interface despite it being 100% accessible, and not being able to shuffle my collection with that app was a huge nock against it for me. AirPlay 2 mitigated this somewhat, but I still had a lot of drop outs with it. I also realized that half the Alexa skills I enabled I never used. Most of what I used were games, and of the other ones I used I can accomplish the same thing with Air Play and the new shortcuts app. The hp is certainly not for everyone, but it fits my use case perfectly. Time to put the Sonos One on Ebay.