Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

HomePod Review Roundup

Reviews of the HomePod are going live across the web this morning ahead of its release this Friday, and it seems like it’s living up to what was promised: a very good speaker with extraordinary audio engineering and limited Siri capabilities.

Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed:

[Kate Bergeron, vice president of hardware engineering,] was speaking to a small group of tech bloggers, including myself, last Monday in Apple’s Cupertino, CA-based audio lab, just minutes from the new Apple Park spaceship campus. About six years ago, according to Bergeron, the company began working on HomePod by attempting to answer this question: “What if we decided to design a loudspeaker that we could put in any room, and it wouldn’t affect the sound?”

This question is very different from the question the Amazon Echo and Google Home are trying to address. Those speakers’ primary aim is to offer hands-free help, by way of turning on the lights in the living room, telling you what traffic to work is like, setting timers, and playing podcasts while you’re busy cooking breakfast.

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

The sound that comes from the HomePod can best be described as precise. It’s not as loud as some others like Google Home Max or as bright (and versatile) as the Sonos Play 1, but it destroys the muddy sound of less sophisticated options like the Amazon Echo. To genuinely fill a large room you need two but anyone in a small house or apartment will get great sound from one.

[…]

While you can send texts and take notes and set reminders and handle phone calls begun on your iPhone, that’s about all of the extracurriculars and they’re all focused on single-user experiences. If you’re logged in to your iCloud account, all of the messages and calls are yours and come from you. That’s great if you’re a single dude living alone, but it completely falls apart in a family environment. Apple allows you to toggle these options off as the iCloud account owner and I recommend you do before it all ends in tears. Unless you live alone in which case Mazel, it sounds peaceful.

Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:

There are other problems I won’t shut up about: Many people will put a HomePod in the kitchen, yet it can’t set two simultaneous cooking timers. It can’t wake me up to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” either. Echo and Google Home can do both. Apple says it is improving Siri all the time.

[…]

Siri turns out to be quite a good butler. Through the Home app, you can set up various HomeKit-compatible smart-home devices, and the voice prompts to control them. With Philips Hue lightbulbs and three iHome smart plugs, I was quickly commanding Siri to change my nightlight to a fuchsia hue, make tea via my electric kettle and turn on the humidifier.

Brian X. Chen:

Most bizarre thing about HomePod: It didn’t play music relevant to my listening history or prefs when asked “Hey Siri, Play some music.”

Siri should be better on HomePod because it’s the primary way to control it. But yeah, it’s worse.

I don’t think it’s a mistake to question whether Siri’s lacklustre abilities will be a hindrance to the success of the HomePod. Apple may be positioning it as a great speaker first and a smart speaker second, and the market will get to tell them whether that’s a reasonable way to judge the product. And, perhaps, people will love it for a speaker alone — it’s clearly a very good one. The more damning thing to consider about Siri is not that it is poor on the HomePod, but that it is poor everywhere. Fortunately, software can be updated, so that just means that we need to see some commitment from Apple that Siri is a high priority.