HomePod meta review: Superb sound, stupid Siri

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The HomePod was a no-show in 2017.
HomePod is finally here.
Photo: Apple

In the first reviews for Apple’s new HomePod speaker, everyone totally raves about the smart speaker’s pristine sound quality. Siri, on the other hand, doesn’t sound so brilliant.

Apple seeded a few review units to major outlets ahead of this Friday’s HomePod launch. The embargo lifted this morning, and the early reviews reveal a few surprising tidbits about the HomePod.

Here’s what people are saying:

HomePod sound quality is amazing

Apple has been hyping the HomePod sound quality ever since unveiling the device last summer at WWDC 2017. The speaker’s high-excursion woofer and seven tweeters deliver high-fidelity sound throughout the room, Apple says, no matter where you place the HomePod. TechCrunch‘s Matthew Panzarino says it blows past expectations.

“Apple’s HomePod is easily the best sounding mainstream smart speaker ever. It’s got better separation and bass response than anything else in its size and boasts a nuance and subtlety of sound that pays off the 7 years Apple has been working on it.”

HomePod sounds better than expensive speakers

If sound is the most important HomePod selling point to you, then bust out your wallet and go buy one now. Nilay Patel at The Verge (who is notoriously hard to please when it comes to Apple products) says HomePod sounds better than speakers that cost way more than $350.

“The HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve tested…. Compared to the HomePod, the Sonos One sounds a little empty and the Google Home Max is a bass-heavy mess — even though Google also does real-time room tuning. The Echo and smaller Google Home aren’t even in the same league.

Apple’s audio engineering team did something really clever and new with the HomePod, and it really works. I’m not sure there’s anything out there that sounds better for the price, or even several times the price.

Siri on HomePod is dumber than ever

The version of Siri included in HomePod is noticeably dumber than the one that lives in your iPhone and iPad. We expected the smart features on HomePod to be lacking, but according to The Wall Street Journal, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.

“The HomePod has an iPhone processor and pairs with your iPhone — yet it can’t make a phone call? To use it as a speakerphone, you need to start the call on your iPhone then select the HomePod as an audio source. You can, however, send text messages from the HomePod with just your voice.

There are more things the HomePod can’t do, despite being hooked to your iCloud account and iPhone. It can’t tell you your next calendar appointment. It can’t alert you to new emails or texts. It’s also missing crucial third-party apps like Uber and Venmo.”

HomePod sucks at music recommendations

Apple frames the ability to tell Siri to play your favorite music, and immediately hear soothing tones blasted out of the speaker, as one of the HomePod’s main draws. Cupertino promises that Siri will learn your musical tastes over time, but based on The New York Times’ review, that’s not what actually happens.

“On my second day with Apple’s new HomePod, I asked the artificially intelligent speaker to play some music. Siri, the virtual assistant that powers HomePod, enthusiastically replied, ‘O.K., let’s get going with some Dashboard Confessional.’

I cringed. ‘Hey Siri,’ I said. ‘Nobody likes Dashboard Confessional.’

But after a week — during which I asked HomePod to play my favorite tunes from artists like Beck, The Talking Heads and David Bowie — the smart speaker still did not learn. Instead, like a stubborn D.J., Siri kept playing music by artists outside my music palette: Taylor Swift and Leroy Frances, to name just two. That leads to my conclusion: The $349 HomePod, which costs roughly three times its competitors and arrives in stores on Friday, is tough to recommend to you, dear reader.

HomePod can do more than play music

Siri may not be the smartest digital assistant, but HomePod still proves super-useful as a HomeKit device. You can also use it to collaborate on lists and other stuff, as pointed out by The Loop.

“I use Siri and HomePod to add items to my Groceries List. Because everything syncs to all of my devices, anything I add to that list will go to my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. What’s more, anyone in the house can add items to that list and it will sync with my devices, so my shopping list will be complete the next time I go to the store.

If you have a smart home setup, HomePod can control those devices too, and it does it intelligently. For instance, if you’re in the kitchen and you want to raise the blinds, you can just say, ‘Hey Siri, raise the blinds,’ and it will do it. You don’t have to tell HomePod where you are, it already knows what room you are in, so the blinds throughout the house won’t go up.”