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HomePod Review Roundup: What Critics Love (and Hate)
Editor's Note: This story has been updated regarding the HomePod leaving white rings on certain wooden surfaces.
Now that Apple's HomePod speaker is shipping, and allowing critics to test the speaker outside of Apple's offices, we're seeing more and more full reviews.
And while critics praise the pint-sized speaker for its excellent sound and Siri's excellent speech recognition, not all is perfect. Is the HomePod worth $350?
Credit: Mike Prospero/Tom's Guide
While some reviewers noted the glaring absence of voice controls for Spotify, a couple noticed that the speaker can't make calls for you. Here's what critics love and loathe about the Apple HomePod.
|Tom's Guide||7/10, "Siri needs to do more to compete with Alexa and Google Assistant."|
|Wirecutter||Unrated, "The HomePod can damage wood furniture"|
|Macworld||3/5, "HomePod is tough to recommend, even to Apple enthusiasts, in its current state."|
|The Verge||7.5/10, "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."|
|BuzzFeed||Unrated, "The HomePod’s software keeps a good smart speaker from being a great one."|
|The New York Times||Unrated, "Don’t Rush to Buy It."|
|TechCrunch||Unrated, "Buy a HomePod if you already have Apple Music,"|
|Engadget||Unrated, "It sounds fantastic, but Siri might have some catching up to do."|
|Refinery 29||Unrated, "HomePod is going to be a strong contender for a spot in your pad."|
|Mashable||Mashable Choice, "Apple's rotund little speaker may be an audio powerhouse, as a everyday assistant, Siri is still an apprentice."|
|Digital Trends||Unrated, "Apple’s HomePod sounds amazing, but a lack of third-party music streaming support holds it back."|
In his review of the HomePod, our own Michael Prospero found both good and not-so-good things to say about the sound quality of Apple's smart speaker, and noted how the process of making calls isn't as effortless as on competing devices.
"The bass response on the HomePod was great — low-end notes on songs such as "Summer Madness" by Kool and the Gang and "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran rang through clearly and cleanly, even at higher volumes." — Michael Prospero, Tom's Guide
"Setting up the HomePod couldn't have been easier. After the HomePod made its startup sound, I simply held my iPhone a few inches from the speaker, and a window appeared on my iPhone asking to set it up. ... In all, it took less than 5 minutes and was much less involved than the process for the Sonos One."
"The bass response on the HomePod was great — low-end notes on songs such as "Summer Madness" by Kool and the Gang and "Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran rang through clearly and cleanly, even at higher volumes."
"Sherri Smith, our resident audiophile ... noted that, on tracks from Chris Stapleton and Diana Krall, the singers' voices took a back seat to the rest of the instruments."
"To make or receive calls, first you have to make or accept the call on your phone, and then you select the HomePod as a speakerphone. That's not as seamless as the process with Alexa or Google Assistant, which let you initiate calls using a smart speaker just by voice."
"If you give HomePod access to your messages, anyone can send and listen to them by speaking to your Homepod. You can turn off this feature, but then you can't use HomePod to send or receive messages, add reminders or create notes."
Jon Chase at Wirecutter discovered that the base of Apple's smart speaker can leave white rings on certain wooden surfaces.
"This really undermines the design aspect of the HomePod—especially if you were thinking of displaying it on some prized piece of furniture—and it will surely be a sore point for many potential buyers." — Jon Chase, Wirecutter
"Setup is nearly instant and effortless: The procedure is unlike that of any non-Apple smart speaker I’ve used, and it’s essentially the same process as for pairing AirPods. After you update to the latest iOS software, placing an iPhone or other iOS device near the HomePod causes a window to pop up with a picture of a HomePod and a Set Up button. A few presses later, and the HomePod vacuums up Wi-Fi passwords and Apple Music settings, offers a quick voice-command tutorial, and that’s it."
"And another kudo for Siri: It’s often better at understanding requests for songs and albums than Alexa paired with Spotify."
"The HomePod can damage wood furniture: An unhappy discovery after we placed a HomePod on an oiled butcher-block countertop and later on a wooden side table was that it left a defined white ring in the surface."
"Apple says 'the marks can improve over several days after the speaker is removed from the wood surface,' and if they don’t fade on their own, you can basically just go refinish the furniture—the exact advice Apple gave in an email to Wirecutter was to 'try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method.' This really undermines the design aspect of the HomePod—especially if you were thinking of displaying it on some prized piece of furniture—and it will surely be a sore point for many potential buyers."
Over at Macworld, Jason Cross gave the HomePod a score of 3 out of 5, and notes that it's "a little startling" to see this product ship late "in such an obviously unfinished and uncompetitive state."
"Another unfortunate but very "Apple" design decision is the total lack of input or output ports. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a company who said it took "courage" to eliminate the headphone jack from its phones, but you cannot plug anything into the HomePod." — Jason Cross, Macworld
"I’m not sure how it’s done, but a song like “Fight of the Cosmic Hippo” by Bela Fleck, with is heavy lumbering bass, clear plucky banjo, and riding cymbals manages to keep its clarity and sound stage nearly as well on this little pod as it does on the much bigger and heavier Google Home Max. Sure, Google’s big speaker has more low-end oomph, but it also sounds somewhat constrained and hollow."
"It may seem trite to think of the design and craftsmanship of a device like this as a marquee feature, but smart home speakers are inevitably placed on shelves, tables, and countertops where they are seen by everyone in your home. When you talk to them and they answer, all eyes are drawn to it. The wide seams, flashing lights, and chintzy plastic of competing products make them look and feel cheap by comparison."
"Another unfortunate but very "Apple" design decision is the total lack of input or output ports. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a company who said it took "courage" to eliminate the headphone jack from its phones, but you cannot plug anything into the HomePod. I’d love to see a little USB-C plug on the back as you’ll find on the Google Home Max, if only to serve as a charging port."
"You can use HomePod as an AirPlay device, which means anything you play on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac can be output to your HomePod. But this has limited usefulness. AirPlay has a lot of buffering and latency built in, so while it worked fine for beaming Spotify from my iPhone, it was completely out of sync when watching YouTube on my Mac. You can make the HomePod the default audio output for Apple TV (4th generation or 4K) but it has the same problems. An app that uses the Apple’s native video playback engine (as most video apps do) will delay the video to keep it in sync with the audio, but other sources (like games) are so far out of sync as to be unusable."
At The Verge, Nilay Patel praised the HomePod's sound, but damned Siri for its incomplete set of commands and a potential privacy concern.
"And, in the worst omission, Siri on the HomePod doesn’t recognize different voices. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you just click yes during all the setup prompts, literally anyone can ask the HomePod to send or read your text messages." — Nilay Patel, The Verge
"HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve tested. You get a surprisingly impressive amount of bass out of it, but you can still hear all of the details in the midrange and the bass never overwhelms the music."
"Compared to the HomePod, the Sonos One sounds a little empty and the Google Home Max is a bass-heavy mess — even though Google also does real-time room tuning. The Echo and smaller Google Home aren’t even in the same league. The only comparable speaker that came close in my testing was the Sonos Play:5, which could match the detail and power of the HomePod in some rooms when tuned with Sonos’ TruePlay system. But it also costs more, is larger, and doesn’t have any smart features at all."
"You can’t ask Siri to look up a recipe. You can’t ask Siri to make a phone call. (You have to start the phone call on your phone and transfer it to the HomePod to use it as a just-okay speakerphone.) Siri also can’t compete with the huge array of Alexa skills, or Google Assistant’s ability to answer a vast variety of questions."
"And, in the worst omission, Siri on the HomePod doesn’t recognize different voices. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you just click yes during all the setup prompts, literally anyone can ask the HomePod to send or read your text messages. Seriously, it’ll just read your texts to anyone if your phone is anywhere on the same Wi-Fi network, which usually reaches far beyond the same room as the HomePod."
In Nicole Nguyen's review for BuzzFeed, she explained how Siri outperforms competitors at language recognition, and noted that the HomePod is not for Android users.
"Siri could hear me while I was wearing my retainers (“Hayy Sheeree, remind me teh bring mah headphonez toomerow”), brushing my teeth, or cooking with the overhead vent turned on." — Nicole Nguyen, BuzzFeed
"Siri could hear me while I was wearing my retainers (“Hayy Sheeree, remind me teh bring mah headphonez toomerow”), brushing my teeth, or cooking with the overhead vent turned on. Best of all, Siri knew what I meant when I said, “Play SZA” (!!!), pronounced “sizza.” Alexa plays John Philips Souza or Sizzla instead. You’d think the most nominated female artist of the year would have earned some more RESPECT from the most popular chatty speaker bot."
"I thought saying “Hey Siri” around both my iPhone and HomePod would be a nightmare (“OK Google” almost always activated my boyfriend’s Google Pixel and our Google Home at the same time). But it wasn’t: The iPhone is attention aware and can tell when you’re looking at it to determine which Siri you’re talking to."
Other unique HomePod features include allowing podfasters to play podcasts at 1.5 times or double the normal speed (Alexa can’t). You can use your voice to send iMessages, SMS texts, and even third-party WhatsApp messages (which, BTW, is one of my favorite features), as long as the connected iPhone is on the same network. Siri on HomePod can also set reminders using the iPhone’s Reminders app and transcribe notes in the Notes app.
"Android users beware: If you don’t have an Apple Music subscription, an extensive iTunes library, or an iPhone, you shouldn’t get the HomePod."
"You need an iPhone or iPad to set HomePod up. Furthermore, the only streaming service you can control with your voice on HomePod is Apple Music (a subscription costs $10 per month for individuals and $15 per month for a six-person family)."
"Also, HomePod has no calendar support. Hearing all of my day’s meetings and appointments is a feature I’ve loved on both Google Home and Echo. You can access the HomePod’s settings from the Home app (which you probably didn’t know existed on your phone). But there isn’t much there. You can’t set your news source (which has to be done with your voice), or change the alarm tone. You can’t see a history of everything you’ve asked HomePod, like you can with other smart speakers, which, depending on your stance on privacy, may be a good thing."
The New York Times
Brian X. Chen's review for The New York Times shined light on first-week hiccups with Siri's lack of features and personalization.
"Whenever I asked HomePod to 'play some music,' it never played music that was relevant to my preferences or listening history." — Brian X. Chen, The New York Times
"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."
"All the speakers gave a similar traffic estimate for a drive to San Jose, Calif. — roughly a one-hour drive on the freeway. But when I asked HomePod to summon a car from Uber, the ride-hailing service, Siri responded, 'I wish I could, but I can’t help with rides here.' The other speakers were happy to help — so I followed up with: 'Hey Siri, what gives?' HomePod’s colorful touch-screen lit up to show it had heard my question, but Siri remained silent."
"Whenever I asked HomePod to 'play some music,' it never played music that was relevant to my preferences or listening history. That wasn’t the case with the Google and Amazon speakers. When I asked those speakers to play music, the gadgets simply resumed what I was last playing on Spotify, which was satisfying."
In his review for TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino praises the HomePod's overall sound quality, and explains that it's best for Apple Music Subscribers.
"If you’re an Apple Music subscriber: it’s near useless to buy any other speaker and this one sounds great, so why not." — Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch
"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."
"If you’re an Apple Music subscriber: it’s near useless to buy any other speaker and this one sounds great, so why not."
"While you can send texts and take notes and set reminders and handle phone calls begun on your iPhone, that’s about all of the extracurriculars and they’re all focused on single-user experiences. If you’re logged in to your iCloud account, all of the messages and calls are yours and come from you. That’s great if you’re a single dude living alone, but it completely falls apart in a family environment. Apple allows you to toggle these options off as the iCloud account owner and I recommend you do before it all ends in tears."
"General information was easily won by the Google Home Max, followed by the Echo and trailed by the HomePod. Siri had a hard time with the length of a blue whale, Echo gave a rote reading of Wikipedia and the Home Max spoke in colloquial language right from the Google brain, making it the most enjoyable to listen to."
In his review at Engadget, Chris Velazconoted that this speaker is certainly the best-sounding smart speaker, but questioned its limitations.
"Other smart speakers, like Sonos' new One, can sound almost as good at times (and are on sale at the moment)." — Chris Velazco, Engadget
"For me, musical quality often takes a back seat to convenience, but there's something special about picking up on fresh nuances in a favorite song or being reminded that they were always there, waiting to be heard. The HomePod is especially good at this."
"Thanks to the metadata embedded into Apple Music tracks, Siri was also great at playing playlists for specific moods and offering up information about songs and artists we listened to. Since the HomePod also works as an extension of your phone, I could ask it to read messages I'd just received or start writing one to send to a friend."
"That's a tricky question, considering the limited time I spent with the HomePod. Based on first impressions, though, Siri often felt limited as compared with its rivals. It can't, for instance, tell your voice apart from others. Sure, that means anyone at your next party can change up the music. It also means people talking to Siri can influence the stored musical preferences Siri uses to choose tracks for you. (Thankfully, you can disable this in settings.)"
"Apple Music is the only music service the HomePod natively supports; you'll have to use an AirPlay connection if you're a Spotify or Pandora person. Features like stereo pairing and multiroom audio won't be available until software updates get pushed later this year. Other smart speakers, like Sonos' new One, can sound almost as good at times (and are on sale at the moment)."
In her time with the HomePod, Refinery29 Madeline Buxton enjoyed its sound quality, and she left impressed by its design.
"HomePod blends in so seamlessly that I didn't even notice it when I walked into the room." — Madeline Buxton, Refinery29
"HomePod looks good — really good. Both the black and white versions are sleek and, thankfully, at 6.8 inches high, surprisingly smaller in person than they appear in photos. The device is comparable in size to the Sonos One, and is much smaller than its rectangular Google competitor, Google Home Max. It blends in so seamlessly that I didn't even notice it when I walked into the room."
"When I listened to the speaker next to Google Home Max, the latest Amazon Echo, and Sonos One, the vocals were consistently crisper and clearer on HomePod. The pluck of guitar strings pops, and bass notes have the robust thump-thump you want from them."
"Even though you can use AirPlay to stream music from any service through HomePod, you'll only get all the speaker's benefits if you subscribe to Apple Music. For example, Siri won't be able to tell you detailed information about a song or album unless that song is playing through Apple Music."
"Secondly, although everyone in your apartment will be able to use the speaker, only the person who sets up HomePod on their iCloud account will be able to send texts, set up reminders, and add notes via voice commands. Google Home and Amazon Echo, meanwhile, can recognize different voices and provide personalized content accordingly."
In his review, Mashable's Raymond Wong notes there's a lot asterisks that come with the stellar sound of Apple's first smart speaker.
"Apple's diminutive speaker even made the ubiquitous Disney mega-hit 'Let It Go' from Frozen sound fresh, with impressively crisp piano notes and perfect vocals." — Pete Pachal, Mashable
"Hands down, HomePod is the prettiest smart speaker currently available, and showcases yet again how Apple is the master of industrial design."
"I was blown away by how clean "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, a song with a wide range of audio levels and layers, sounded across the board. I could easily pick out the sharp piano bits from the drums and electric and bass guitar with no effort. I expected the highs to fall apart at higher volumes like they do on the Echo and Google Home, but was surprised at how well HomePod preserved it all."
"Whereas I'm always shouting out Alexa's name to be heard across the room or when the music is loud (my neighbors probably think I'm mental), I never had to yell out "Hey Siri" while using HomePod. I could say the command in my normal voice without directing it towards HomePod, and Siri would recognize it even over music that was playing at 100 percent volume. Siri even heard me when I whispered at it."
"That said, I wouldn't recommend buying a HomePod to AirPlay from another source. AirPlay is laggy and my iPhone X frequently dropped its connection with the HomePod. It's just not a good experience. AirPlay 2 is supposed to fix latency issues, but it didn't make the cut for HomePod's launch. Apple says AirPlay 2 will be added in a future software update along with stereo pairing."
"I'd also love to be able to control an Apple TV and turn my TV on and off with Siri from my HomePod. Another thing Google Home does that HomePod doesn't."
"There's a long list of things I want Siri to copy from Alexa and the Google Assistant, but at the very least let me call my mom when I'm cooking, request an Uber or Lyft when I'm packing up for a trip, or order a pizza when I'm feeling lazy."
"As for how the HomePod's sound compares with other smart speakers, Apple set up a demo space to match it against the Sonos One, Google Home Max, and Amazon Echo 2, playing the same songs, one at a time. Of course, the HomePod came out on top, though Google and Sonos made it a much closer fight than you might think for an Apple demo."
In a mostly-positive review at Digital Trends, Julian Chokkattu praised the HomePod's excellent sound and highlighted its privacy-first nature, but noted that Siri has a ways to grow, including adding the ability to make calls over the speaker.
"It’s a little disappointing to see zero multi-user support, but we hope it’s a feature that’s in the works." — Julian Chokkattu, Digital Trends
"Audio quality is beautifully warm, yet the bass is not overpowering, even though it was still quite rich. If you close your eyes, it’s easy to feel like you’re at a live performance. We could pick out the vocals and instruments clearly. The speaker allows each instrument to shine through; you can hear precise guitar plucks."
"Siri’s responses were fast and seamless, and you don’t need to wait for the HomePod to light up to start a command. The assistant is smart enough to know when you’re calling for it when your phone is in your hand, and the HomePod will not answer."
"What is unique about the HomePod is Apple’s spotlight on privacy. Siri is listening locally, and then any requests you make are encrypted before it reaches Apple. This data is also anonymized — through the same differential privacy method used on the iPhone — so the requests are not tied to an iCloud account. This is a strong advantage Apple holds over competitors like Amazon and Google if you’re worried about your privacy."
"There are some things we noticed it can’t do yet, like read you step-by-step instructions of recipes; and it can’t place calls, though you can turn it into a speaker for calls from your iPhone."
"You may be disappointed to hear that you cannot use voice commands to play music on any other streaming service other than Apple Music."
"It’s a little disappointing to see zero multi-user support, but we hope it’s a feature that’s in the works. Both the Google Assistant and Alexa can identify who is speaking and easily switch accounts."
Stay tuned to Tom's Guide for complete coverage of the Apple HomePod, including our forthcoming comprehensive review.