HomePod review roundup: Apple's smart speaker sounds incredible, but Siri is lacking

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 6
As a home audio device, Apple's HomePod is a hit with critics, who have lauded the $349 accessory's superior sound quality. But the standalone speaker has not addressed the shortcomings of Siri, an area where HomePod lagged behind the capabilities of competitors Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.




Ahead of Friday's debut of HomePod, select publications were given early hands-on time with the device. Their reviews were largely mixed, praising the sound of HomePod but finding that Siri just can't compete -- yet.

The New York Times

Reviewer Brian X. Cheng rated HomePod alongside Amazon Echo and Google Home in a total of 14 different tasks. Each was rated on a scale of 0 to 4, 0 for tasks that were not possible, 2 for completed with some issues, and 4 for flawless operation.

In these rankings, HomePod came in last, with a score of 2.9. Google Home was slightly better with 3.1, and Amazon Echo was the clear winner with a 3.4.




Chen found that Siri and Apple Music did not learn his taste in music even after a week's worth of use, recommending artists he was not interested in. It was also unable to properly pronounce some artist names, like Tupac.

Outside of music, HomePod was unable to tap into third-party apps like Uber, nor provide recipes, or even access a calendar. Google Home and Amazon Echo, however, handled all of those tasks.

Chen did say that HomePod outperformed the competition in smart home functionality, where setup was easier on Apple's HomeKit platform. And the HomePod speaker did outperform Amazon and Google in terms of audio quality.

When asked about Siri's shortcomings, Apple told the Times that it focused on basic tasks for launch, and future capabilities would be evaluated over time. Chen's conclusion: "Don't rush to buy it."




The Verge

The HomePod is a "lonely" product, in the words of reviewer Nilay Patel. While it offers "amazing" sound quality, the device is locked almost entirely within Apple's ecosystem.

Patel came away impressed by the ability of HomePod to dynamically adjust its audio based on surroundings. The complex process takes about 10 seconds of playing music without any assistance needed from the user.

"HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we've tested," he said. "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."




But when it came to Siri, Patel's praise was limited. He admitted that the microphones are good at listening for "Hey Siri" commands, but that's about where the compliments ended.

Among the issues that Patel found with Siri on HomePod, it cannot set two timers at once, it cannot look up a recipe, it cannot make a phone call on its own, it doesn't control content on Apple TV, and it doesn't recognize different user voices.

In particular, he found it to be an alarming security issue that anyone could send or read text messages from the primary iPhone if it is connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

"I tried the HomePod behind a closed door and it picked up my voice and it happily read my texts aloud, a nightmare for anyone who lives in a dorm," he said.

In conclusion, he said that HomePod is ideal for customers who live "entirely inside Apple's walled garden and prioritize sound quality over everything else." Most customers, he said, would be better served by other smart speakers.

The Loop

Pitting HomePod against Sonos One, Google Max and Amazon Echo, Jim Dalrymple found "no comparison in sound quality," saying it was "literally laughable" to hear the others in contrast to Apple's device.

"It's hard to explain the sound of HomePod, but you get a feeling that the sound is enveloping you, even when using just one speaker," he said. "There is a sense that this is how the songwriter and producer wanted the song to be heard when they recorded it."

Dalrymple was also impressed by the HomePod's ability to hear "Hey Siri" commands, even when loud music is playing. In this department, he said he was unable to get the system to fail.




Tasks he used outside of music included adding groceries to a Reminder list, reading messages, handing off a phone call, and accessing information like news, traffic, sports and weather. He did call out the lack of access to calendars, however.

He also shared HomePod with friends through the Home app, giving users authorization to control devices, or even play music via AirPlay from services other than Apple Music.

"There may be things that the other devices can do, like shopping from Amazon or adding items to Google Express shopping, but none of those are that important to me," Dalrymple said. "I have access to my Groceries shopping list, I can add notes, take phone calls, send Messages, control my home, and ask Siri tons of questions. On top of all that, I have one of the best sounding speakers on the market."

The Wall Street Journal

HomePod has a "sensational voice," reviewer Joanna Stern said, but the device still "needs to work on its brain."

In one test, Stern placed the HomePod onstage at a 450-seat theater. With volume set to maximum, she could clearly and "beautifully" hear the audio from the last row.

In contrast, Google's pricier $400 Home Max speaker was louder, but the audio was distorted at maximum volume. Stern also found that Google's microphones could not pick up voice commands properly when music was playing loudly.




As with other reviews, Stern found that HomePod falls short when it relies on Siri for smart speaker functions, like setting a custom alarm, having multiple timers, accessing calendars, or even making a phone call on its own.

"It really comes down to what you want your speaker to do," she said. "If you want the smartest smart speaker, this isn't it. But if you prize music above everything else, the HomePod isn't a dumb choice."

Other takes

USA Today's Ed Baig praised the simple setup of HomePod, the superior sound quality, and the ability to understand "Hey Siri" in a variety of environments. But the lack of access to third-party apps, the limited capabilities of Siri, and incompatibility with standard Bluetooth devices like Android handsets were all knocks against the product.

CNet's Megan Wollerton said iPhone users who value sound quality over all else should consider the HomePod. But those looking for an Amazon Alexa competitor will be left wanting.

TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino said HomePod is "easily the best sounding mainstream smart speaker ever." He said it's an easy recommendation for Apple Music users who want superior sound quality, but its "best-in-class voice recognition" is "stymied by the limited command sets that the Siri protocol offers."

Buzzfeed's Nicole Nguyen was impressed that Siri knew what she meant when she asked it to play the artist SZA -- Alexa played either Sizzla or John Philip Souza instead. But she also dinged Siri for limited understanding of commands: "I don't like this" was not recognized, but "I don't like this song" worked fine.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 151
    NY1822NY1822 Posts: 493member
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    edited February 6 SpamSandwich
  • Reply 2 of 151
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,035member
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 

    [image]
    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    edited February 6 StrangeDaysjbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 151
    NY1822NY1822 Posts: 493member
    Soli said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    https://youtu.be/14lRHY7IZss    (usage video)

    https://youtu.be/L9FBI1kOEHo   (unboxing)
    edited February 6 Solispace2001patchythepirate
  • Reply 4 of 151
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,222member
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    You could have linked the youtube video instead of posting a screenshot... :(
    edited February 6
  • Reply 5 of 151
    NY1822NY1822 Posts: 493member
    macxpress said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    You could have linked the youtube video instead of posting a screenshot... :(
    see above, i linked both videos
    macxpress
  • Reply 6 of 151
    I love it. AirPlay is awesome.
    williamlondonbluefire1watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 151
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,270member
    When you compare these reviews to early iPad reviews it sounds like HomePod will be very successful and especially for those folks who are "all in" with Apple's music ecosystem.

    Some important points not mentioned in these reviews:

    - Siri can, and will, be improved over time through software updates. Siri will absolutely improve over time with new apps, better AI, and new capabilities.
    - Poor audio quality and inferior acoustics cannot be updated through software updates. What you get forever is only as good as it is on day one.

    So on the thing that should matter most to anyone interested in the best quality presentation of the music they love, i.e., audio performance and acoustics, the HomePod crushes the competition. Well done Apple.

    Since Echo is supposedly so much better than Siri maybe someone should ask it: "Alexa, why do you sound like crap?"   
    jdgazwilliamlondonStrangeDaysMadrajinlolliverlostkiwicornchipwatto_cobrapropodjony0
  • Reply 8 of 151
    ciacia Posts: 37member
    I think this is pretty much what we all knew would happen here.   We all knew Apple would work to make the best sounding speaker possible, no surprise.   Everyone also knows Siri is a joke, and it would be the dumbest speaker out there (at launch at least).

    Beyond the most basic commands, Siri is pretty useless.  It almost never understands my questions or commands when used.
    patchythepiratewilliamlondonCheeseFreezeanantksundaramSendMcjak
  • Reply 9 of 151
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,035member
    NY1822 said:
    Soli said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    https://youtu.be/14lRHY7IZss    (usage video)

    https://youtu.be/L9FBI1kOEHo   (unboxing)
    1) All you have to do it add the URL without any markup to this forum and it will auto-expand the video so it's playable on this page.

    2) All of the HomePods limitations and rudimentary Siri implementations were expected, except for how she connected her iPhone to the HomePod to call her sister. With the Echo, one you've paired it once all you have to say is "Echo (dis)connect" to get you iPhone to switch audio (from any source, including when playing music or a podcast on your headphones and you come in the house after a run) with the greatest of ease. If you really have to manually go into the iPhone instead of just using a simple verbal command then that's another strike against Apple.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 10 of 151
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,035member
    dewme said:
    When you compare these reviews to early iPad reviews it sounds like HomePod will be very successful and especially for those folks who are "all in" with Apple's music ecosystem.

    Some important points not mentioned in these reviews:

    - Siri can, and will, be improved over time through software updates. Siri will absolutely improve over time with new apps, better AI, and new capabilities.
    - Poor audio quality and inferior acoustics cannot be updated through software updates. What you get forever is only as good as it is on day one.

    So on the thing that should matter most to anyone interested in the best quality presentation of the music they love, i.e., audio performance and acoustics, the HomePod crushes the competition. Well done Apple.

    Since Echo is supposedly so much better than Siri maybe someone should ask it: "Alexa, why do you sound like crap?"   
    1) When you talk about how a product will eventually get better you sound just like all the people that come here saying how Android is the future and just you wait for it to get better.

    2a) Siri is Alexa as HomePod is to Echo so to compare Siri to the Echo is, again, sounding just like the silly anti-Apple/pro-Android arguments from trolls on this forum.

    2b) Additionally, since Alexa is just a digital personal assistant and you can connect any number of wired and wireless speakers to Echo and Alexa-capable products to create any sound environment that you wish, it's odd to see someone impose artificial limitations. Imagine if someone did a review of the HomePod for use as an alarm clock compared to an Echo Dot and ever tested any of the things the $350 device excels at because all they wanted to see is if it had unlimited alarms, timers, white noise makers, and 3rd-party apps for getting better rest. It wouldn't make sense to gauge the HomePod on that platform just as it makes no sense to compare the $40 Echo Dot against the HomePod for music or make any claim that the Echo can't have any wired or wireless speakers connected for a music comparison despite that being part of its core design.
    muthuk_vanalingamjcs2305cropr
  • Reply 11 of 151
    Brian Chen sounds like he's never even used Apple Music before. WhatHiFi had a review and said Siri worked really well in combination with music requests.
    retrogustololliverlostkiwiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 151
    Pretty much confirmed what I've thought. Great audio. Missing or lacking in some key features. Expect it will get better over time...
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 151
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 3,506member
    “It can’t make phone calls on its own.”

    Yup, neither can my microwave…


    LukeCagelordjohnwhorfinStrangeDayslolliverkevin keefastasleepcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 151
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 3,506member

    Soli said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    Probably got distracted by that immaculate kitchen!

    I wonder what she uses on her surfaces. 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 15 of 151
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,222member
    Rayz2016 said:

    Soli said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 


    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    Probably got distracted by that immaculate kitchen!

    I wonder what she uses on her surfaces. 
    Does she actually use the kitchen? Its far easier to keep something clean that's never used. 
    williamlondoncornchip
  • Reply 16 of 151
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,035member
    Rayz2016 said:
    “It can’t make phone calls on its own.”

    Yup, neither can my microwave…
    How does that argument make sense. The HomePod is an internet connected device that has person-to-person communications protocols built in. It's not unreasonable to expect it to communicate with others with ease. As shown in the iJustine video she can send messages to people similar to how you send text messages via the Apple Watch.
    muthuk_vanalingamanantksundaram
  • Reply 17 of 151
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,622member
    But, but, but, but..... snore..... They need to make everything clickbait and putting negative anything Apple is clickbait.

    So, it basically reflects what Apple said when they announced it... Well, good golly gee that's just great. Lets all buy one, or two, I know I am.
    lkruppwilliamlondonLukeCagelolliverlostkiwiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 151
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,035member
    Rayz2016 said:
    Soli said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 

    [image]
    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    Probably got distracted by that immaculate kitchen!

    I wonder what she uses on her surfaces. 
    I'm guessing she has people that will clean that place just so she can record her vlog. I may have heard the name before I don't think I've ever watched her videos. Overall very well done. The writing could be tighter, but perhaps that part of the charm for her viewers. I liked that they had some CGI to show the internals of the HomePod by her front door at the beginning.

    macxpress said:
    Rayz2016 said:

    Soli said:
    NY1822 said:
    check out iJustine on youtube...she has 2 videos...an unboxing (early access) and also filmed a 10 minute spot for Apple where she is using the Homepod...it's a good example of daily use and how siri responds 

    [image]
    Did you mean to post a screenshot instead of a link to the YouTube video?
    Probably got distracted by that immaculate kitchen!

    I wonder what she uses on her surfaces. 
    Does she actually use the kitchen? Its far easier to keep something clean that's never used. 
    There's mention on her site that she bakes/cooks and she mentioned in the video that she wants to make a HomePod cake.
    edited February 6
  • Reply 19 of 151
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 18,461member
    Rayz2016 said:
    “It can’t make phone calls on its own.”

    Yup, neither can my microwave…


    That's an under-appreciated feature to be honest. I use it fairly often.
    Soli
  • Reply 20 of 151
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 3,506member
    Soli said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    “It can’t make phone calls on its own.”

    Yup, neither can my microwave…
    How does that argument make sense. The HomePod is an internet connected device that has person-to-person communications protocols built in. It's not unreasonable to expect it to communicate with others with ease. As shown in the iJustine video she can send messages to people similar to how you send text messages via the Apple Watch.
    Justine also used the HomePod to speak to her sister via her mobile phone, which I expect. What I don’t expect is for Apple to build a phone into thing so it can “make phone calls on its own”. That is a pretty dumb idea. Almost as dumb as building a phone into a microwave. 
    lolliverfastasleepcornchipwatto_cobrasmiffy31
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