I had no interest in the HomePod when it was announced. I had no interest when it was finally released after months of delay. I ended up buying one, almost on a whim, because of Sonos.
I’ve had Sonos speakers in every room for years. I really like them. But two things happened recently. The first is that Sonos announced AirPlay 2 was coming, but then didn’t bring it to a single speaker I own. Then they announced the Beam. I was all ready to buy a Beam. But somehow, despite years of its users begging for great audio codec support (Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, to say nothing of Dolby Atmos), and despite now having the HDMI port that was previously missing for these to be supported, Sonos is stubbornly sticking to its anti home theatre support position on its home theatre products.
Aside from the home theatre setup, I mostly listen to Podcasts, but the podcast service selection on Sonos is not great. PocketCasts is about it. Yes, Stitcher is there, but I would prefer to live in a world where I can pretend that it isn’t. And even with PocketCasts, you don’t get important features like 30 second skips, chapters, and silence trimming.
I tried Bluetooth speakers, but I hate them. I don’t mind Bluetooth headphones, but speakers are terrible. I switch between devices often when listening at home, and Bluetooth makes this a chore.
So I decided to try a HomePod. And you know what, it is really good. I like it more than I expected. As every other review has noted it sounds amazingly great. Nothing else in that size compares. No matter where I place it in the room, it fills it.
I can AirPlay from any device with ease. Well, almost. Mac support for AirPlay is still odd at times. Though AirFoil does fix this for the most part. Not everything is AirPlay 2 yet, but the fallback to the original AirPlay works for me for now. I know it seems like it should be minor but the difference in sending audio to a Bluetooth speaker vs sending to an AirPlay speaker really makes the latter a far superior experience for me.
And then there is Siri. Siri is imperfect, and definitely does sometimes fall down in places where Alexa does not. However, this is not always the case. Oddly our ceiling fans, which are compatible with both HomeKit and Alexa work far better with Siri. I would say about half the time Alexa fails, even though it indicates success. Siri commands work nearly every time. In fact, for smart home devices I now prefer Siri over Alexa. A big part of this is the Home app. Having an option beyond voice control is really nice.
The biggest issue for the HomePod at this point is price. That $349 is really a tough sell. I think if they could knock $100 off it would be more interesting to people. They don’t need to get it to Echo Dot levels, but there is something about sub $250 that makes it easier to justify.
But overall I think it is a solid product. More solid than I expected. I am excited to see where it goes. I am really hoping that iOS 12 Shortcuts is a preview of how Apple is going to finally push Siri forward. Should you run out and get one? Probably not. I fully expect a version 2 at some point, and likely a price drop. If Apple’s usual pattern holds, the current HomePod will eventually become the entry model with a newer one above it. It’s a wait and see game for now. No, it has not taken the world by storm, but this product doesn’t have to. Steady improvement is what it needs. I am hopeful that this will happen.