Review: Apple HomePod — Part 2: The Smart Speaker | iLounge

Review

Review: Apple HomePod — Part 2: The Smart Speaker

B
Recommended

Company: Apple

Model: HomePod

Price: $349

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Jesse Hollington

Pros: An acoustically great personal speaker that uses advanced DSP and other technologies to adjust to a room’s settings. Good Siri performance and tight integration with Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, and Apple Podcasts. Solid AirPlay performance. Ability to interact with primary user’s Messages, Reminders, and Notes and some third-party apps via Siri.

Cons: Clearly intended solely for those in the Apple ecosystem. Requires an iOS device for set up. Direct internet streaming limited to Apple’s media services. No wired audio inputs. No Bluetooth audio support. Siri assistant only works for a single primary user and requires iPhone in proximity. Limited Siri app support. Stereo pairing and multi-room audio support not included at initial release.

Introduction, Set up, and Configuration
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Apple’s HomePod smart speaker has garnered a lot of attention since its announcement last year. While some of this is simply a result of it being a new Apple product, it’s also fair to say that the company has set a fairly high bar for what we can expect from this speaker, which has piqued the curiosity of a lot of people. With HomePod, Apple has promised a breakthrough speaker that automatically adjusts to room conditions, combined with an “intelligent assistant” that provides tight Apple Music and Siri integration. Since HomePod touches on two very distinct categories, we’ve taken the unusual step of publishing a two-part review in order to properly assess it according to the individual expertise of our editorial team members. Last week in the first part of the review, our audio enthusiast, Guido, discussed HomePod’s performance as a personal speaker. In our second part this week, we’ll take a more in-depth look at HomePod’s “smart” features, ranging from Apple Music and iTunes integration to how well Siri performs as a smart assistant.

Set up and Configuration

Setting up HomePod out of the box is as easy as Apple describes it, and the process will look familiar to anybody who has set up AirPods or transferred their data to another iPhone using iOS 11. Once the HomePod is plugged in and powered on, it should automatically appear to a nearby iPhone, and tapping “Set Up” will take you through a series of screens that allow you to assign the HomePod to one of your room locations (from your HomeKit configuration), choose to enable “Personal Requests” to allow Siri to tie into Messages, Reminders, and Notes, and then simply transfer your iCloud and Wi-Fi settings from your iPhone over to the HomePod.

Once finished, the process will show a brief tutorial, and within a few minutes of adding a HomePod to your system, the iOS Tips app should pop up with a notification that a new section is available for HomePod tips.

Your HomePod will also appear as a device in Apple’s Home app, displayed in whatever room you’ve assigned it to. This is where the settings for your HomePod are also configured, although Apple has oddly split these into two different areas. Most of the HomePod’s settings are found by under the individual HomePod device, where you can change the iCloud account used with your HomePod, and enable or disable explicit content filtering, sound check, and listening history, as well as setting Siri options and enabling or disabling location services.

However, there’s also a new “Speakers” section under your main “Home” configuration screen that you’ll need to visit to check for software updates and determine who can stream to your speakers via AirPlay. Interestingly, HomePod’s integration with HomeKit allows for a more restrictive AirPlay setting than we’ve traditionally seen — Only People Sharing This Home limits HomePod access to those users you’ve explicitly given HomeKit access to, not just anybody who happens to be on the same Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, this is a global setting that will apply to all of the HomePods in your home, so you won’t be able to only restrict access to certain speakers, such as if you wanted to prevent your kids from streaming audio into your bedroom at 6 a.m.

You can also tap on the HomePod in the Home app to pause or start playback, and opening up the expanded view via a touch-and-hold gesture will reveal an “Alarms” button in addition to the usual “Details” button, allowing you to manage the alarms set on the HomePod. You can add new alarms from here, and view any alarms that you’ve set using Siri. The choice to include the HomePod in the Home app is actually an interesting one, however, as the HomePod doesn’t really function like a HomeKit device — for instance you can’t include it in any scenes or automations to perform functions like starting or stopping playback. As things currently stand, Apple could have just as easily released a standalone “HomePod” app, but we’re hoping that its presence as a HomeKit device is indicative of things to come — it would certainly be cool to be able to start a specific playlist as part of a scene, for instance.

One other thing worth noting that may not be obvious is that HomePod can actually be used as a speakerphone. As long as you’re on the same Wi-Fi network as your HomePod, it will appear on the “audio” menu on your call screen, and you can direct audio through it. HomePod’s top will glow green when in speakerphone mode, and you can also tap on it to end a call or switch to another call, however incoming calls won’t ring on the HomePod unless you’re already using it for a call. Despite HomePod’s otherwise great audio performance, there’s no magic going on in this area — callers could still tell we were on a speakerphone, although they could hear us clearly enough. We’d call HomePod’s speakerphone capabilities average.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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