Even as a self-confessed fan of Apple products, and someone fairly well engrained into their ecosystem I wasn’t initially sold on the HomePod – even though I had been holding out for its release as a solution to my lack of general music listening. And as I’m sure you know I do rather like music!
Initial reports suggested that if you didn’t subscribe to Apple Music then as a ‘smart’ music player you don’t really get much other than stuff you’ve bought from iTunes, the ability to play Podcasts and some probably awful radio station called Beats something or other. Apple Music doesn’t work for me, much like Spotify, as a chunk of music I listen to isn’t available on those platforms.
I do however subscribe to iTunes Match – which is a service that matches my iTunes library with the Apple Music database, and anything it doesn’t match it will upload from my library. Ostensibly I use it as a back up really, I still prefer to manually manage the music I sync across to my phone which is (or was) my principal source of music playing – but sometimes at home you might want to listen to something not on your edited playlist.
After it had been out in the wild it emerged that HomePod works with iTunes Match too, which meant that I probably fall into a niche use-case for it. I’m not that arsed about home assistant features where Echo and Google Home excel, I am interested in good quality sound, and a seamless integration into the Apple infrastructure which my digital life is wedded to. The price still seemed high, but armed with some vouchers I got from work that had limited retailer options, I felt I could justify it.
So today I got my box of excitement – a surprisingly weighty box, predictably elegant and simplistic in design it simply held the HomePod itself. After plugging in it powers up, then holding my iPhone close by allowed me to set it up in about 2 minutes – there’s a few options to click through and boom, it’s done and accessing your music library in iCloud.
I tested it with playlists, with music I know for certain doesn’t exist outside of my weird collection, it was all there and playable – of course, it couldn’t tell me who the drummer was, or any of the other facile enhanced features you could get by linking it to an Apple Music account – but then I don’t really care about that either!
The home assistant options are less impressive than Alexa or Google Assistant – but it can send messages, take notes or act as a speaker phone. I’m not sure I’ll do that. It was able to tell me the weather, read the news, tell me the traffic conditions on the way to work and delightfully inform me Nottingham Forest were three nil up against Queens Park Rangers, though! My limited Smart home kit (Hive thermostat and cameras) aren’t Apple HomeKit compatible so there’s no turning on the heating with my voice, but well, that’s not really a big deal!
The sound quality is excellent – I’ve tried a mixture of styles of music, it packs some bass for a small unit and doesn’t distort, drum and bass, dodgy live recordings and all things in between sound great. I’m not an audiophile, by any stretch, but it does sound ace. All my music is now easily available by just asking for it, and any other stuff I might want to play is streamable easily using Airplay.
If you’re a Spotify user this isn’t a great solution, if you are wanting to control lots of home tasks it probably isn’t either – that said, I expect to see improvements to support for more of the areas where rival smart speakers beat HomePod as they are software updates which will surely be forthcoming over time. That for me is a bonus, as I noted above, I had a specific use-case for this and it fulfils that perfectly. You can even utilise your iPhone’s music app to control music if you prefer that or want to build a playlist on the fly.
I probably wouldn’t have spent the full £319 on it, in spite of all that, but having some vouchers to take a sizeable dent out of that price made it a bit more tempting, and I’ve had a very happy afternoon listening to music at home which I’ve not really done much as I’ve been stuck with Bluetooth speakers and their ilk – Siri can hear me over surprisingly loud playback volumes and she’s only faltered a couple of times with my requests.
It’s a fairly unassuming looking canister covered in mesh, I went for the space grey one and it sits just to the side of my TV. When playing the touch screen on the top displays volume controls, when listening a colourful blob lights up – as I’m generally sat down when using it, I can’t really see it anyway!
In a nutshell I can say it works for me, but I can understand the general sense or reservation to the usual anti-Apple derision out there in review land. I do think when paired up with Apple’s under-publicised iTunes Match service then you have a match made in heaven if you do use iTunes to manage your music library, and that’s only £20odd a year rather than a tenner a month.