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


Review: Apple HomePod — Part 2: The Smart Speaker


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.

Of course, one of the key points that distinguishes HomePod from being just another AirPlay speaker is its built-in Siri support. While Apple is obviously coming late to the game, users who are ensconced within the Apple ecosystem will definitely appreciate HomePod’s Siri integration over Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, and we’re fairly sure that this is one of the key things Apple is banking on.

We were pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to speak to HomePod. There’s a natural tendency to want to raise your voice when calling out “Hey Siri” but in reality speaking in a normal conversational voice works just fine. In fact, we were surprised to discover that HomePod could even hear us from an adjacent room or down the hall; while you’ll need to speak a bit louder if you’re further away, we never had to shout at HomePod for Siri to hear us. In fact, HomePod’s Siri can also hear you even when music is playing, even speaking in a normal voice, which we’ve got to say is an almost magical experience.

Of course, we did experience a few “false positives” — where Siri woke up and thought we were talking to it — but we were surprised how infrequently this actually happened. While there’s also a natural tendency to say “Hey Siri” and then wait for Siri to respond, HomePod actually works best when you simply string it together as a single sentence without pausing, and we think it also makes for a more natural user experience.

So what can you actually say to Siri on the HomePod? Well, it’s obviously more limited than what you can do on your iPhone, but actually a little more versatile than the Apple Watch. We’ve already discussed Apple Music requests, and when listening to audio you can also adjust the volume simply by saying things like “turn up the volume” or “set the volume to 60 percent” and it’s worth mentioning that Siri can be unobtrusive with these sorts of requests — again, as long as you don’t pause after saying the initial “Hey Siri”, HomePod can do things like adjusting volume without interrupting audio playback at all.

Siri on HomePod also supports all of the usual HomeKit requests for turning lights on and off, adjusting thermostats, locking (but not unlocking) doors — this last one is particularly interesting, since somewhere between iOS 11 and iOS 11.2.5, Apple added the ability to lock doors using Siri without requiring authentication, however for obvious security reasons, HomePod still can’t unlock your doors, so you’ll need to do that from an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch.

Of course, HomePod can also be used to set HomeKit scenes, and as with Siri on the iPhone or Apple Watch, you often don’t need to explicitly “set the scene” — you can simply say something like “Hey Siri I’m leaving” or “Hey Siri good night” (again, without pausing), and Siri will set the appropriate HomeKit scene.

HomePod can also respond to basic Siri requests without the need to go back to your iPhone screen. It works great for simple unit conversions, including currency conversions, weather reports and even distances, travel time, and traffic conditions to public destinations (sadly, HomePod can’t yet look up addresses from your iCloud or iOS contacts). You can also make general knowledge queries — Siri will read back the first little bit of anything that’s searchable on Wikipedia, so you can for instance say “Tell me about Paris” or “What’s the normal temperature of the human body” and get a verbal answer. Translation requests also work between all of the normal supported languages, so you can make queries like, “How do you say ‘Hello’ in Mandarin Chinese.”

As a personal assistant, however, HomePod is a bit more limited. Firstly, you only get support for Messages, Reminders, and Notes — Calendar and Mail are conspicuously missing here. Secondly, HomePod only supports a single user for these features, which by default will be the user of the iPhone that first sets up the HomePod. Within these limitations, though, HomePod does work well as a personal assistant, with an experience similar to using an iPhone with CarPlay. You can create reminders, send messages, and create or add to notes using the same Siri commands that you’d use on your iPhone, but you can also query your reminders (“what’s on my list for today”) and check your messages (“read my recent messages from dad”), and HomePod will read them back to you. Not surprisingy, the primary user’s iPhone needs to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for the personal assistant features to work, so your family members won’t be able to set reminders for you when you’re away from home.

Despite the somewhat limited native app integration, HomePod does support third-party apps that use the SiriKit framework. For example, if you’re using the appropriate apps on your iPhone, you can issue commands like, “Using Things, add wash the dishes to my Household list for today” or “In Anylist, add milk to my grocery list”, although attempts to query information (“Using Things, show me my today list”) don’t yet work. It’s unclear whether this is a SiriKit limitation on the HomePod, or if it’s just a matter of developers updating their apps to improve HomePod support. SiriKit also supports stringing lists together, so you can say something like, “In Anylist, add items to my grocery list” and when Siri asks which items you want to add, you can say “Bread and milk and eggs” and get three separate items added. It’s a nice touch that ironically isn’t supported in Apple’s own Reminders app.

That said, we were surprised to discover that in some cases HomePod’s SiriKit actually works better than on the Apple Watch. For example, when using Cultured Code’s Things, you can’t add an item to a specific list from the Apple Watch (we’re guessing this is because lists aren’t available in the native watchOS app), yet you can do this from the HomePod, since it passes the request back to the user’s iPhone.

SiriKit opens up a number of possibilities for HomePod, but keep in mind that Apple has only opened SiriKit to a few specific app categories, and while it seems likely Apple will add more categories in the future, the most useful category for potential HomePod users — music apps like Spotify — is still excluded for now.


Apple’s HomePod is a difficult product to rate, since its usefulness depends entirely on how deeply entrenched you are in the Apple ecosystem. Make no mistake at all — HomePod is an iPhone accessory more than it is a standalone speaker. If you’re somebody who is “all-in” on the iPhone, HomeKit, and Apple Music, HomePod is the smart speaker you’ve been waiting for, but it’s a much tougher call for everyone else. For example, if your music platform of choice is something like Spotify, HomePod will be little more than a great-sounding AirPlay speaker, and if you don’t use a lot of HomeKit accessories, the Siri personal assistant features also become considerably less relevant. Of course, we’re an Apple-focused site, so we’re not even considering the utility of HomePod for non-Apple users (frankly, it has none), but even for hardcore iPhone fans, HomePod requires a higher level of commitment to Apple’s products and services than any other product we’ve yet encountered, and while HomePod has done some great things with personal speaker audio performance, we’re not convinced that it’s enough to push people deeper into the Apple ecosystem.



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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