HomePod 2 review: A great smart speaker that struggles to stand out

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2023
What's old is new again as Apple's original HomePod has returned with revamped internals and big sound -- but an unchanged high price.

The HomePod second-generation
The new HomePod second-generation


The HomePod launched as a product without an actual home. It was generally received well -- including by us -- on factors other than price. By any measure, though, it didn't sell well at launch.

Weak demand necessitated a price drop of the HomePod from $349 to $299 to spur sales. It still wasn't enough, and Apple unceremoniously unplugged the first-generation HomePod following the success of the much more affordable HomePod mini.



The secondhand market then flourished. HomePods sold on eBay sold well above their original price as users lusted after the larger sound.

In an about-face several years later, only lightly heralded by the rumor mill, Apple resurrected the full-size HomePod with a new second-generation unit that bears a striking resemblance to the original but with all-new internals and extra features.

We will likely never know the whole story, but there's a strong probability that this new HomePod was pushed back by Apple as supply chain drama grew over the summer and into the fall. It wouldn't have surprised us if Apple originally planned to release the updated HomePod in its September keynote alongside the new iPhones.

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The 2022 date printed on the bottom of the box reinforces this, plus the HomePod ships with software version 16 installed out of the box.

A postponement near last-minute would explain why version 16 of the HomePod software contained few new features. Apple instead shipped a slew of new features with the just-released HomePod software version 16.3, which also arrived for the HomePod mini.

Same on the outside, not on the inside

The new HomePod looks much like the original, though it is very slightly smaller. It measures 6.6 inches tall, exactly twice the height of the HomePod mini.

The new HomePod is .2 inches shorter
The new HomePod is .2 inches shorter


Around the outside is Apple's in-house designed audio mesh which comes in white or Midnight, replacing the Space Gray. Midnight looks strikingly similar to Space Gray but has a very slight blue hue.

On top is a large touch-sensitive surface used to control playback, invoke Siri, and adjust the volume. The backlight has expanded this time, lighting up the whole area with multi-colored lights when Siri is listening.

The new etched volume buttons
The new etched volume buttons


Apple used to identify the volume controls by illuminating them from behind. On the new model, Apple pulled from the HomePod mini's design and uses etched symbols instead.

It's hard to see the volume controls during music playback
It's hard to see the volume controls during music playback


The problem with the etched symbols is that when music is playing, the soft glow that emits from the center obfuscates them. It's hard to tell precisely where you need to touch to adjust the volume.

A non-slip surface covers the bottom that has the exact same issue the original HomePod had -- it will leave rings on some finished wood tables.

We're trying to understand why Apple didn't opt for some other material on the base as they did with the HomePod mini. The fisheye discoloration is common with silicone rings on electronics on finished wood tables, and Apple's material engineers have to know this, as it is in no way a new phenomenon.

Arguably, though, since it's a known phenomenon -- and has been for about 50 years -- they knew it from the start with the original HomePod. Perhaps they didn't care then, and still don't.

The power cable can now be easily removed
The power cable can now be easily removed


In a big win for repairability, Apple has chosen to include an easily removable power cable. The power cable has a proprietary end with a cover that presents a seamless look but can easily be pulled free.

The cable has a braided exterior and is color matched, portraying a polished look. In a pinch, you can swap it for nearly any standard C7 power cable you have on hand.

Apple is no stranger to C7 cables. The Apple TV and Mac mini use them, after all. Of the dozen or so we tried, not every replacement cable worked, but most did.

An internal upgrade

Within the HomePod's mesh exterior sits a four-inch woofer and five horn-loaded tweeters. This is a downgrade from the OG HomePod's seven tweeters in number only.

The same goes for the microphones that dropped to four from six, though we noticed no difference when calling on Apple's titular assistant.

Apple HomePod mini and new HomePod side by side
HomePod mini and the new HomePod side by side


An upgrade from the iPhone 6's A8 processor, Apple is using the S7 SoC. It's the same chipset found in the Apple Watch Series 7.

Other new internals includes room-sensing capabilities without the need for a dedicated accelerometer and environmental sensors for the smart home user -- more on that later.

It also supports Thread and is equipped with Apple's ultrawideband U1 chip.

Some aspects took a step backward, though. Because of that A8, Wi-Fi got a downgrade to 802.11n from 802.11ac, which Apple says is capable enough for music streaming while being more energy efficient.

This is fine. You won't be able to hit any bandwidth limites on 802.11n while streaming music, no matter how complicated.

Siri smarts

HomePod still doesn't have a proper display -- we yearn for Apple to release some version of a tabletop HomePod-iPad combo device -- so to interact, you primarily use Siri or the AirPlay menu on your other devices.

Compared to not only the first HomePod but the HomePod mini as well, Siri is far faster. Siri responds quickly to our requests and sets scenes much more expeditiously.

The top spins and displays vivid colors when Siri is listening
The top spins and displays vivid colors when Siri is listening


Siri has learned new tricks recently, such as the ability to ask where friends and family members are that are shared via the Find My app and you can set up reoccurring smart home automations just by using your voice.

Siri still needs to improve compared to other virtual assistants. Sometimes we'd say, "Siri, close the bedroom shades," and Siri would respond "there are no devices in the studio that can be set to that position."

That's wrong on two levels because the studio does have shades, and we specifically asked about the bedroom. How it misconstrued this request evades us.

There are also inconsistencies with other requests. You can ask Siri to open the shades daily at 6 AM on your HomePod, but if you ask on your Apple Watch, Siri says she can't do that.

Siri has plenty of privacy benefits and has come a long way since it was released, but it's clear Apple still has improvements that it needs to make.

Smart home chops

For smart home users, the second-generation HomePod is substantially more capable. It works as a Home Hub for Homekit and as a Matter hub.

A Home Hub in Apple Home is necessary for remote access, running automations while you're away, and processing HomeKit Secure Video.

It is a Thread border router, bridging any Thread-enabled accessories to your network and expanding your Thread mesh network throughout your home.

HomePod now has humidity and temperature sensors
HomePod now has humidity and temperature sensors


An environmental sensor will also display the temperature and humidity of its encompassing room within the Home app. You can ask Siri what the temperature or humidity is, or look in the Home app to see these.

These sensors can be used in automation routines like closing the shades during the day if the temperature rises too high or turning on the dehumidifier if the humidity level reaches a certain threshold.

The features add up to an excellent smart home brain, even if Siri still has room to grow.

It still has the intercom feature, allowing you to make announcements to specific rooms or people. Just say, "tell the whole home dinner is ready," to send everyone running.

That said, the HomePod mini can do this at a much lower price. What separates the two is audio quality.

Audio finessed

HomePod has a larger design that leads to much more internal volume, as compared to the HomePod mini. It outputs much more bass and can fill larger rooms with ease.

You can pair two second-generation HomePods together in a stereo pair which sounds excellent. It's an easy comparison to the HomePod mini but generation over generation, not all that clear.

Opinions vary on this within the AppleInsider staff, but overall, we think the new HomePod does sound better than the original -- but not by a large margin. There's more separation in the layers with more fidelity on the high end.

That's especially good with the reduction in tweeters. The bass is still heavy, putting out the low end on plenty of rock tracks on our testing playlist.

Other reviewers have said they sound near indistinguishable. Your mileage may vary based on what you listen to and how.

Use the U1 for audio handoff
Use the new U1 for audio handoff


Just like the HomePod mini, the new HomePod has Apple's U1 chip which can help place objects in 3D space. It improves the handoff experience with your iPhone.

Bring your phone near the HomePod, and the vibration gets stronger before it almost "pops" as it passes the audio from your phone to the speaker. It works in reverse as you transfer the music from the HoemPod back to your phone.

This works for phone calls too which is handy as you walk through your home's door and you want to pass the call to the loudspeaker.

You can also use two HomePods with your Apple TVApple TV. Two HomePods support Dolby Atmos spatial audio, though your experience will vary based on your room setup.

HomePod sounds better than HomePod mini, when compared one-on-one. Two HomePod minis sound about as good as a single full-size HomePod, and you get stereo separation.

For your TV, two HomePods sound better than the majority of $500 soundbars.

A safe, unexciting upgrade

HomePod is a great speaker. Apple upgraded Siri with new abilities, improved the audio, boosted the processor, and retained the decreased price versus the original release. In doing so, Apple bolstered its place in the smart home.

Other than one-on-one sound quality and volume, it does everything on the same level as the HomePod mini. Apple didn't introduce anything new with the updated HomePod over the HomePod mini other than the removable power cable.

HomePod mini is still right for most users
HomePod mini is still right for most users


The new HomePod is a very safe upgrade from Apple, but doesn't do much to justify its $300 price tag. $249 sounds like a better price tag for the big HomePod as-is, especially with new competition from Sonos on the horizon. We'll be talking more about how it compares to alternatives in the coming weeks.

There is certainly a market for the large HomePod. But, we can't say Apple has done enough with the new model, to help it grow.

HomePod 2 - Pros

  • Better, louder sound than the HomePod mini

  • Great smart home capabilities with sensors, Thread, and Matter

  • Fantastic Apple TV companion

  • Easy setup

  • Multi-room audio with AirPlay 2 devices

HomePod 2 - Cons

  • Siri still needs improvement

  • Volume buttons are hard to see

  • No new colorways

  • Slightly too expensive

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Where to buy Apple's 2023 HomePod

Apple's 2023 HomePod is eligible for an exclusive coupon discount dropping the price to $285 when you shop at Adorama.com and enter promo code APINSIDER during checkout. Here's additional information on how to redeem the APINSIDER coupon.

You can also pick up the second-generation HomePod at BHPhotoVideo.com and compare prices across resellers in our HomePod Price Guide.


Read on AppleInsider
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    Good it is reintroduced, but I had wished for a clearly better sound quality. The verdict seems indecisive throughout the bank. 
    adbewilliamlondonpulseimagesgrandact73
  • Reply 2 of 35
    Cant speak for anyone else but im glad the homepod is back! 
    It will take me a few weeks to save up for, but i Definatly want one to upgrade the homepod mini in my bedroom
    lolliverJapheymike1williamlondon
  • Reply 3 of 35
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,557member
    Good it is reintroduced, but I had wished for a clearly better sound quality. The verdict seems indecisive throughout the bank. 
    And what does that mean? Pleas explain ‘better sound quality’. Have you heard one or are you just going by specs and numbers of speakers?

    "Opinions vary on this within the AppleInsider staff, but overall, we think the new HomePod does sound better than the original”

    But you’re not going to buy one anyway, right, so what does it matter to you?


    mike1williamlondonjony0
  • Reply 4 of 35
    It may be that the largely unchanged HomePod 2 can succeed where the original failed simply because Apple now has a large installed user base for the HomePod Mini that can provide a sufficiently large number of buyers looking to upgrade. But minus its appeal to the Mini user base, this re-release is a head scratcher, providing no truly compelling reasons to buy it now if you passed on it the first time. And pity the poor HPv1 buyer, kicked to the curb by Apple with no ability to create a stereo pair in combination with a new HPv2. That in itself seems like a lost opportunity for sales. But the most egregious decision, IMO, was to carry over a base that was known to leave damaging rings on some wood surfaces, especially considering that a wood surface is a likely home for the Home Pod. Why would Apple not change this? I'm left with the feeling that they simply repurposed when possible stocks of parts leftover from the HPv1. 
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondon
  • Reply 5 of 35
    The complaints about $299 being too expensive are ridiculous. Apple has the sales data for the first gen HomePod and it's likely $299 was the sweet spot for sales. The issue was that the first gen wasn't designed to sell at $299, i.e., it didn't produce the profit margin that Apple wanted. So it was redesigned to sell at a lower price AND take advantage of what they had learned technically from the 1st gen and the HomePod mini. 
    lolliverStrangeDaysDooofusmike1bala1234
  • Reply 6 of 35
    charlesn said:
    And pity the poor HPv1 buyer, kicked to the curb by Apple with no ability to create a stereo pair in combination with a new HPv2. That in itself seems like a lost opportunity for sales. 
    FYI: dumb speaker manufacturers don't recommend pairing different models of speakers with each other. They recommend matched sets. That's because the speakers aren't going to be balanced due to the differences between them. That issue becomes even more magnified with the HomePod since it isn't just dumbly projecting sound but also calculating how to project sound cancellation that optimizes how sound waves reflect off surfaces and cross each other. Apple would have to write a specific program to handle the differences between the two different generations of speakers for a scenario that doesn't even make sense for dumb speakers, i.e., mixing different models. 
    edited February 2023 lolliverdecoderringStrangeDaysDooofusmike1stompywilliamlondonjony0
  • Reply 7 of 35
    There is definitely a market for a larger better sounding HomePod. Apple was losing out to Sonos and others. It may need to loosen its grip with restricting other streaming services to make it move more but I loved my original and as much as I said I would not buy another, I’ve bought two of the new ones. Hoping my original HomePod fetches good resale value. Albeit, I will struggle to let it go… not sure my spouse will be too happy with 3 in the house, plus 2 minis 😁, and a Sonos surround sound system. Although, that may get an upgrade soon to the new Dragon! 
    edited February 2023 williamlondonpulseimages
  • Reply 8 of 35
    ionicle said:
    Cant speak for anyone else but im glad the homepod is back! 
    It will take me a few weeks to save up for, but i Definatly want one to upgrade the homepod mini in my bedroom
    If you have one HomePod Mini in your bedroom, you’re probably far better off getting a second Mini and pairing it. You get stereo separation, comparable sound quality, and all the same features, at a far lower price.
    stompywilliamlondonpulseimagesjony0
  • Reply 9 of 35
    About the complaining $/€ Buy a 100 Buck Cheaper HDmi - Wifi - Bluetooth
    Tv//Screen/Monitor/Mobile Phone and The Math Homework is Done!  ;)

    edited February 2023 williamlondonlogic2.6
  • Reply 10 of 35
    charlesn said:
    And pity the poor HPv1 buyer, kicked to the curb by Apple with no ability to create a stereo pair in combination with a new HPv2. That in itself seems like a lost opportunity for sales. 
    FYI: dumb speaker manufacturers don't recommend pairing different models of speakers with each other. They recommend matched sets. That's because the speakers aren't going to be balanced due to the differences between them. That issue becomes even more magnified with the HomePod since it isn't just dumbly projecting sound but also calculating how to project sound cancellation that optimizes how sound waves reflect off surfaces and cross each other. Apple would have to write a specific program to handle the differences between the two different generations of speakers for a scenario that doesn't even make sense for dumb speakers, i.e., mixing different models. 
    I've been involved with audio for a long time and I certainly understand not mixing different models of "dumb" speakers since the differences can often be pretty signficant. In the case of the HPv2 however (which, admittedly, I have not heard for myself) reviews seem to indicate that while the sound might be slightly improved from the v1, it's essentially the same. It certainly doesn't sound like a difference that would ever be detected in a blind listening test. I also think that more than a bit too much is made of Apple's computational audio and what it's doing. There are competing speakers that sound as good and some better that don't use computational anything to deliver good sound. I'd feel differently if HPv2 sound was blowing people away, but that's not the case--the consensus is that it's a good sounding speaker for what it is, no more and no less. 
    muthuk_vanalingamgatorguydewmewilliamlondonlogic2.6
  • Reply 11 of 35
    About the complaining $/€ Buy a 100 Buck Cheaper HDmi - Wifi - Bluetooth
    Tv//Screen/Monitor/Mobile Phone and The Math Homework is Done!  ;)

    If you say so, but skipped the English eh?

    I do apologise, it seemed the obvious response.

    I am pleased to see the larger HomePod return, though I am now wondering where I can make use of my original two as an excuse to upgrade the pair for my TV. Ideally somewhere where the lack of Thread wouldn’t Matter.. 
  • Reply 12 of 35
    Had the original 1st gen sounded great however the walled garden/prison ecosystem Apple creates makes this a horrible product. Always felt like its glitchy/stutters/doesn't connect/optimized for Apple Music only. No aux out which would be useful for musicians who want to plug in electric instruments and use as amplifier. No battery so can't take this on the go. Siri is terrible. The only upside to this thing is the sound quality. For everything else it's a nightmare. I will never buy a closed ecosystem apple speaker again.
    steve_jobswilliamlondonpulseimages
  • Reply 13 of 35
    About the complaining $/€ Buy a 100 Buck Cheaper HDmi - Wifi - Bluetooth
    Tv//Screen/Monitor/Mobile Phone and The Math Homework is Done!  ;)

    If you say so, but skipped the English eh?

    I do apologise, it seemed the obvious response.

    I am pleased to see the larger HomePod return, though I am now wondering where I can make use of my original two as an excuse to upgrade the pair for my TV. Ideally somewhere where the lack of Thread wouldn’t Matter.. 
    A little typo  hehehe nobody is perfect. No upgrade is equal to the present past?! Neither Shakespeare would quote it better.   :p
    williamlondon
  • Reply 14 of 35
    You might want to consider a limitation of the Sonos Arc: It sounds terrible in rooms with a vaulted ceiling. It really needs a flat ceiling. The two HomePods might sound better, given the computational advantages it has over the Arc. I have not tested this theory. You should. If it sounds better, I'm going to get two HomePods. TY!
    lolliver
  • Reply 15 of 35
    I bought two for my entertainment center. Can’t wait to get them set up!
    nrg2williamlondonlolliver
  • Reply 16 of 35
    laytechlaytech Posts: 339member
    The complaints about $299 being too expensive are ridiculous. Apple has the sales data for the first gen HomePod and it's likely $299 was the sweet spot for sales. The issue was that the first gen wasn't designed to sell at $299, i.e., it didn't produce the profit margin that Apple wanted. So it was redesigned to sell at a lower price AND take advantage of what they had learned technically from the 1st gen and the HomePod mini. 
    I agree, $299 ($479 in Australia) is hardly expensive. It's not cheap but it's not a cheap speak in that sense of the word. Look at Sonos speakers (and they had the cheek to try and make recycling them impossible - turning them into dumb bricks). 

    Users now get a choice, a novel mini or a super sound full pod. Sound for everyones budget. I have multiple of both. Next, Apple need to release HomePod Air - a portable version. Forget Beats, that's a different brand. 
    nrg2Dooofuslolliver
  • Reply 17 of 35
    nrg2nrg2 Posts: 19member
    I bought two for my entertainment center. Can’t wait to get them set up!
    I did as well. If anyone is looking to get one at a bit of a discount, I found open box returns for $45 off at Best Buy. They seem to go in and out of stock, so it may take some searching.

    Fortunately, with the addition of some kudos gift cards from my employer and BB rewards points, I was able to get both including AppleCare for a total cash outlay of about $200. 

    Just saw that Costco still has the white ones available online for $10 off with shipping included. 
    edited February 2023 lolliver
  • Reply 18 of 35
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,770member
    charlesn said:
    And pity the poor HPv1 buyer, kicked to the curb by Apple with no ability to create a stereo pair in combination with a new HPv2. That in itself seems like a lost opportunity for sales. 
    FYI: dumb speaker manufacturers don't recommend pairing different models of speakers with each other. They recommend matched sets. That's because the speakers aren't going to be balanced due to the differences between them. That issue becomes even more magnified with the HomePod since it isn't just dumbly projecting sound but also calculating how to project sound cancellation that optimizes how sound waves reflect off surfaces and cross each other. Apple would have to write a specific program to handle the differences between the two different generations of speakers for a scenario that doesn't even make sense for dumb speakers, i.e., mixing different models. 
    I agree with both your points, but I can’t help thinking that a truly “smart” speaker should be able to solve the limitations inherent to the “dumb” ones. So Apple would have to write different programs to achieve this…isn’t that what they do? The homepod can adjust its sound output based on its spatial placement, but not whether it’s paired with a first generation version of itself? It just seems to me that if anyone could figure out how to make it work, it would be Apple. They just intentionally chose not to. 
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonlogic2.6
  • Reply 19 of 35
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 2,070member
    Some choice logic from this article:
    We will likely never know the whole story, but there's a strong probability that this new HomePod was pushed back by Apple as supply chain drama grew over the summer and into the fall. It wouldn't have surprised us if Apple originally planned to release the updated HomePod in its September keynote alongside the new iPhones.
    Ah, yes. Delays due to supply chain issues. 
    The 2022 date printed on the bottom of the box reinforces this, plus the HomePod ships with software version 16 installed out of the box.
    Wait. So supply chain issues caused them to manufacture HomePods, load OS 16 on them (which wasn’t updated in the wild to 16.1 until the end of October), and put them in boxes with gasp 2022 printed on it, which ended weeks ago. 
    A postponement near last-minute would explain why version 16 of the HomePod software contained few new features. Apple instead shipped a slew of new features with the just-released HomePod software version 16.3, which also arrived for the HomePod mini.

    It’s almost like the writer has no idea that manufacturing actually takes at least a little lead time, and that “supply chain issues” don’t usually cause delays after a product is manufactured and boxed up. 

    Japheywilliamlondonlolliverlogic2.6
  • Reply 20 of 35
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,770member
    AppleZulu said:
    Some choice logic from this article:
    We will likely never know the whole story, but there's a strong probability that this new HomePod was pushed back by Apple as supply chain drama grew over the summer and into the fall. It wouldn't have surprised us if Apple originally planned to release the updated HomePod in its September keynote alongside the new iPhones.
    Ah, yes. Delays due to supply chain issues. 
    The 2022 date printed on the bottom of the box reinforces this, plus the HomePod ships with software version 16 installed out of the box.
    Wait. So supply chain issues caused them to manufacture HomePods, load OS 16 on them (which wasn’t updated in the wild to 16.1 until the end of October), and put them in boxes with gasp 2022 printed on it, which ended weeks ago. 
    A postponement near last-minute would explain why version 16 of the HomePod software contained few new features. Apple instead shipped a slew of new features with the just-released HomePod software version 16.3, which also arrived for the HomePod mini.

    It’s almost like the writer has no idea that manufacturing actually takes at least a little lead time, and that “supply chain issues” don’t usually cause delays after a product is manufactured and boxed up. 

    Lol. 
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