Smart speakers: Is Apple’s HomePod worth the price?
Apple’s tardy entrant into the smart-speaker market finally arrived last week, said Matthew Panzarino in TechCrunch.com, and it’s ready to give Google and Amazon devices a run for their money. Seven years in the making, the Apple HomePod “is easily the best-sounding mainstream smart speaker ever.” With a starkly minimalist design and “best-in-class” speech recognition, the speaker comfortably surpasses rivals like the Amazon Echo and Google Home in sound and appearance. It’s got “better separation and bass response than anything else in its size” and delivers incredible sound “with basically no tuning, fussing, measuring, or tweaking,” making it a winner for audiophiles and technophobes alike. That said, Apple has its work cut out to get it into people’s homes. Amazon and Google have spent the past three years selling smart speakers to more than 39 million U.S. households. Apple’s strategy appears to be to sell hard to Apple Music fans. If you subscribe to Apple’s music-streaming service, it now feels “nearly useless to buy any other speaker.”
The HomePod may actually be “the Apple-iest Apple device in recent history,” said Nicole Nguyen in BuzzFeed.com. Like most of the tech giant’s hardware, it’s “incredibly easy to set up” and is “attractive and understated.” But at $349, it also sells for a “much steeper price” than its competitors, and it “works supremely well within Apple’s orbit, but not outside of it.” The ability to use voice commands to send texts and even third-party WhatsApp messages is a great feature, yet HomePod has no calendar support and can’t recognize different people’s voices and switch to their profiles to play personalized playlists, for instance. “It demands that you live entirely inside Apple’s ecosystem in a way that even Apple’s other products do not,” said Nilay Patel in TheVerge.com. And, yes, “while it’s true the HomePod sounds incredible,” is it really “worth locking yourself even more tightly into a walled garden?”
At least the garden is private, said Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal. “Respect for your privacy may be one of the top HomePod selling points.” Google and Amazon both upload and store recordings of your virtual assistant requests, while Apple “anonymizes and encrypts” anything you ask Apple’s Siri assistant via the HomePod. Sure, but Siri is “sorely lacking” in other departments, said Brian Chen in The New York Times. Compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, Siri is “embarrassingly inadequate” handling tasks such as calling an Uber, helping with cooking recipes, or even scheduling meetings. Apple has created an impressive speaker for listening to music. But if you want a truly “smart” speaker, “don’t rush to buy it.” ■