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Apple HomePod review: Sounds good only if you’re an Apple user

Apple touts its HomePod as a smart speaker,

Apple touts its HomePod as a smart speaker, not so much a smart assistant like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Credit: Apple

A slew of reviews for Apple’s new smart speaker HomePod, which was released Friday, all come to the same conclusion: It’s good — if you can afford it and use only Apple products such as the iPhone and services such as Apple Music.

Universal praise of the HomePod, which is available for $349, was about its sound quality, with reviewers saying it is by far the best-sounding speaker in the market. Apple has marketed the HomePod as a smart “musicologist” for the home since it was revealed at the Worldwide Developers Conference last June in San Jose.

Since then, Apple has avoided comparing the HomePod to the Amazon Echo and Google Home — devices with better voice-activated smart assistants compared to Apple’s Siri — and said it is instead competing with audio-focused speakers such as Sonos. Compared to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod certainly wins the sound test.

“The HomePod is a remarkable new kind of audio device,” wrote Nilay Patel of The Verge. “It does more to make music sound better than any other speaker of this kind has ever done before, and it really, truly works.”

But in almost every other aspect, the HomePod seemed to have fallen short.

For one, Siri is just not smart enough to compete with Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home assistant, creating frustrations for reviewers. The HomePod does have features the Amazon Echo and Google Home don’t, such as the ability to play podcasts at a faster speed or use voice to send iMessages and WhatsApp texts, according to BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen. But there are many more restrictions to using HomePod as a home assistant, including its inability to distinguish different voices, meaning anyone can ask the HomePod to read or send text messages on behalf of the HomePod owner if the owner said yes to all the setup prompts, according to the Verge.

Another shared complaint was the HomePod’s straitjacket boundaries when using non-Apple apps. WhatsApp is supported by Siri, but beyond that very few apps are. For users of Spotify, Apple Music’s main competitor and a music streaming service with nearly twice more global subscribers, the only way to play tunes is by using an iPhone or Mac and connecting to the HomePod via AirPlay.

Apple Music can be controlled by voice commands to Siri.

“If you don’t like Apple Music, don’t buy a HomePod,” said Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch.

With such self-imposed borders, there is a limited demographic that can truly harness the power of the HomePod.

“The HomePod is designed for someone with 100 percent Apple product buy-in, who lives in the iOS/Mac ecosystem, who subscribes to Apple Music, and who just wants basic smart speaker features,” writes Nguyen at BuzzFeed. “Anyone else should consider other options.”

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