Tech

Apple HomePod review | Macworld


With HomePod, Apple is entering a big race after its competitors have already completed several laps. Amazon and Google have been iterating on their smart speaker hardware and software solutions for a couple years and have already sold tens of millions of Echo and Home devices.

After missing its initial “late 2017” release date, the HomePod has landed with glaring omissions and limited functionality. Apple’s smart speaker avails itself well with superior audio, but it’s a little startling to see a new product ship late, into a highly competitive market, in such an obviously unfinished and uncompetitive state.

HomePod is tough to recommend, even to Apple enthusiasts, in its current state. Fortunately, HomePod’s woes are related to software and services, so there’s nothing wrong with it that can’t be addressed in future software updates.

Apple design on display

The HomePod is surprisingly small. It’s about the same size as the Sonos One, only slightly fatter. At 6.8 inches tall, it’s only about half an inch taller than an iPhone 8 Plus. And it’s exceedingly well-built, too. Typical Apple design and craftsmanship is evident, from the surprising heft to the soft padded mesh wrap to the over-engineered LCD that pulses as Siri listens to your commands.

homepod solo 01 Dan Masaoka/IDG

HomePod looks simple and elegant, and up close displays a level of craftmanship unmatched by other smart speakers.

There are no physical buttons, just a touch interface on top. There are plus and minus signs to adjust volume, and a glowing, undulating middle area for everything else—tap to play/pause, double-tap to skip forward, triple-tap to skip back, tap-and-hold to invoke Siri.

homepod siri light Dan Masaoka/IDG

The Siri LEDs up top are needlessly fancy, and we love it.

Even the power cord is better-made than its contemporaries, with a nice braided cover. But the cord is a great example of how “Apple design” can serve as both compliment and criticism: the cord is attached in such a way that users are not meant to ever remove it. If your dog chews it up, you have to take the whole thing in for a $29 repair, rather than simply buy a replacement power cord yourself. All to make HomePod look just the slightest bit more uniform and holistic.

homepod power cord Dan Masaoka/IDG

The braided power cord is typical Apple attention to detail, and typical Apple lack of self-servicability.

Another unfortunate but very “Apple” design decision is the total lack of input or output ports. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a company who said it took “courage” to eliminate the headphone jack from its phones, but you cannot plug anything into the HomePod. I’d love to see a little USB-C plug on the back as you’ll find on the Google Home Max, if only to serve as a charging port.

It may seem trite to think of the design and craftsmanship of a device like this as a marquee feature, but smart home speakers are inevitably placed on shelves, tables, and countertops where they are seen by everyone in your home. When you talk to them and they answer, all eyes are drawn to it. The wide seams, flashing lights, and chintzy plastic of competing products make them look and feel cheap by comparison.



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