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.
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.
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.