Reviews: Apple HomePod Offers Great Sound But Not Smarts

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker has debuted to mixed reviews. HomePod can stream music directly from Apple Music but no other popular music streaming service such as Spotify or Pandora. It’s equally partisan in that, despite its Bluetooth, users must use Apple’s own AirPlay to stream the music, and Android phones aren’t able to pair with it. The Home app lets users set up and control a variety of HomeKit-compatible smart home devices. The system currently lacks the ability to link HomePods together for a multi-room setup.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “the HomePod sounds far better than the popular smart speakers from Amazon, Google — and even Sonos,” although the reviewer complains that the bass is “far too front-and-center in the mix.” HomePad’s “six microphones were very snappy to respond to ‘Hey Siri’ commands.” The ability to pair two HomePods together will be available as a software update later this year.

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But that’s where the praise ends. Although, “stumping Siri wasn’t as easy as it has been … Alexa and Google Assistant not only knew more answers, they could better parse my questions.” It’s tricky to use HomePod to make phone calls, although the user can send text messages via voice. But HomePod, which is linked to the user’s iCloud and iPhone accounts, “can’t tell you your next calendar appointment … can’t alert you to new emails or texts,” and is missing Uber, Venom and other “crucial third party apps.”

WSJ also laments the Home app, which it dubs “an abyss of confusing menus and hard-to-find toggles,” and notes that, “Alexa and Google Assistant support far more smart-home products.” HomePod does “respect your privacy,” it says, “If you prize music above everything else, the HomePod isn’t a dumb choice,” but “if you want the smartest smart speaker, this isn’t it.”

The New York Times tested HomePod side-by-side with Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, on 14 tasks “across several categories, including music, productivity, commuting, home automation and cooking.”

Getting the weather and playing music are the top tasks that people want out of a virtual assistant, say both Activate and Parks Associates, the latter of which added that “roughly 20 percent of people enjoyed using them for tasks like accessing a calendar and searching for recipes.” Siri was not able to arrange an Uber ride or answer why she couldn’t, and couldn’t come up with a pasta recipe or schedule a meeting. Google Home and Amazon Echo could do all those tasks.

Apple says that, “for the first version of HomePod, it focused on including tasks that people use smart speakers for the most, like playing music and asking about the weather, and that it would continue to evaluate what other features to add over time.” Based on a grade point scale of 0 to 4, the reviewer gave Apple HomePod a 2.9, Amazon Echo a 3.4 and Google Home a 3.1.

9to5Mac curated half a dozen reviews from industry publications, summing up the results that HomePod is “not as smart as it could be, but [offers] stunning sound.”