Apple HomePod in the test: My report on the HomeKit loudspeaker

Post photo of Apple's HomePod in the test

Usually I'm a bit lame when it comes to test reports. To date, I haven't written a review of the iPhone X, although it really deserves one. So I'm all the more proud that I managed to test the HomePod quite quickly. In this article, I would like to explain to you how the smart HomeKit loudspeaker from Apple performs in practice. However, I cannot deliver a real "long-term test" because I have only been using the HomePod for a few days and for this reason I have certainly not been able to run through all possible everyday situations.

The longed-for package has finally arrived - let's see how the content performs in the test! (Photos: Sir Apfelot)

The longed-for package has finally arrived - let's see how the content performs in the test! (Photos: Sir Apfelot)

Packaging - typical for apples!

As always with Apple, the packaging of the HomePod is practical and elegant. Even the brown shipping box has a practical feature: when you fold the lid to the side, a "mechanism" lifts the actual HomePod packaging so that it is easier to access the device. And the films around the packaging also have a nice feature: If you pull open the top lid of the film, all four side parts slowly fold to the corresponding sides, thus revealing the product packaging.

The film packaging of the smart home speaker already shows a certain attention to detail, which one likes to see in Apple products.

The film packaging of the smart home speaker already shows a certain attention to detail, which one likes to see in Apple products.

From my point of view, the whole packaging department is not a reason to rate a product positively or negatively, but I find such things show a certain amount of attention on the part of the manufacturer to little things, which you then - in the best case - also find in the product.

Specifications

As always in my reviews, I will of course also go into the technical specifications of the HomePod. Before I bought it, I had read about the size and dimensions of the HomePod and had slight concerns as to whether you would actually get enough sound from such a small speaker to fill my open kitchen-living room with sound. You can read below whether it worked, but here are the data about the device first:

  • Dimensions: 172 mm high and 142 mm wide (barrel-like design)
  • Weight: 2,5 kg
  • Color: space gray or white
  • Drivers: 1 woofer and seven tweeters (installed radially)
  • Microphones: 6 pieces (installed radially)
  • HomeKit compatible (appears in the "Home" app)
  • Stereo: yes, use as a stereo pair possible; But also as a single device emits the corresponding channels to the left and right
  • AirPlay 2 compatible, so multiroom capable
  • Can only be used with Apple Music; Spotify or other streaming services are not supported
  • Audio formats: HE ‑ AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 kbit / s), Protected AAC (from the iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 kbit / s), MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV and FLAC2
  • Wireless technologies: 802.11ac WLAN with MIMO, direct guest access, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Operating temperature: 0 ° C to 35 ° C
A reading tip for a device without a display: The manual for the HomePod from Apple.

A reading tip for a device without a display: The manual for the HomePod from Apple.

HomePod user guide

Actually, I only read manuals when there is absolutely no other way. In this case, I got there quite early: I couldn't understand all the setting options of the HomePod directly and wanted to know which function is hidden behind "Adjust volume", for example. If someone feels the same, he can turn to the official instructions from Apple read in. Most of the configuration options can be accessed via the Home app, but some are also hidden in the "Accessibility" area under "Settings" on the iPhone. You can find more about this in my article about the HomePod settings.

The power consumption of the HomePod in standby with the "Hey, Siri!" Activation is only 1,5 watts. The electricity costs are around 4 euros per year if you only calculate the standby consumption.

The power consumption of the HomePod in standby with the "Hey, Siri!" Activation is only 1,5 watts. The electricity costs are around 4 euros per year if you only calculate the standby consumption.

HomePod power consumption

For all devices that I permanently connect to the mains, I am interested in what approximately they consume. Accordingly, I once ran my power meter and measured the power consumption of the HomePod in different situations. Activation with "Hey Siri!" I left it activated so that he can listen in permanently.

  • Plugged in in standby (with TV noises in the background): approx. 1,5 watts
  • Siri activates with "Hey Siri" and waiting for the command: 5-6 watts for a short time, then the consumption drops to 5 watts for about 4 minutes and then drops to the above-mentioned 1,5 watts
  • Playing music at approx. 30% -50% volume: approx. 5-6 watts

What is noticeable is the power consumption after activation with the "Hey Siri!" Command. I assume the HomePod will remain on standby for about 5 minutes and use 4 watts instead of the usual 1,5 watts in standby during this time.

I was also surprised by the fact that the power consumption is no more than 5 to 6 watts even at a volume that I found "too loud" for my room. That is an impressively low value for a loudspeaker that not only plays music but also listens to commands.

For the electricity price calculators among you: If you only had the HomePod in normal operation for a whole year, listening to the command "Hey Siri", you would only have electricity costs of 4 euros. But even if you were to use it around the clock (24 * 7 * 365) for sound reinforcement, you would only get around 15 euros per year (at a kWh price of 0,31 euros). So a manageable expense when you consider the fun you have with it. ;-)

When audio is played back, a plus and minus symbol appears on the touch display to adjust the volume.

When audio is played back, a plus and minus symbol appears on the touch display to adjust the volume.

Voice and touch commands for music control

If you have started the music playback on the HomePod, you can influence it both by voice command and via the touch display on top of the device. The commands that can be entered via the touch display are these here (source: Apple Support Document 208248):

  • "+": louder
  • "-": quieter
  • tap once: pause / play
  • tap twice: to the next song
  • tap three times: go to the previous song
  • Hold down for approx. 1 second: activate Siri

With commands like "Hey Siri!" says, one can in principle achieve the same thing. However, what I find handy is the volume adjustment. Siri also accepts commands like "Hey Siri, set the volume to 20%." or "Hey Siri, music down".

Set up the HomePod - only with the iPhone or iPad

When you have successfully unpacked the HomePod, you carry the small device to the place where it will do its job in the future. Then you plug in the power plug and wait about 10-20 seconds. After this time, a pulsing cloud will appear at the top of the display and a sound will be heard to indicate that the HomePod is working. After about 30 seconds, a message will appear on the iPhone (or iPad) that the HomePod has been found and can now be set up.

The setup itself takes just a few steps. You allow the Apple ID and WiFi data to be transferred to the HomePod on the iOS device, so that the device is already integrated into the network. You just need to choose the room that you want to assign to the device for SmartHome management and you're ready to go. Before you start experimenting on your own, Siri gives you a few sample questions and commands to deal with. And of course it motivates you to play the first song as soon as possible.

As with the Apple TV, setup is pretty simple and straightforward. No awkward typing in of any access data ... that would also seem relatively old-fashioned to me.

The status display of the HomePod works completely without writing and only works with symbols, which you have to be familiar with (source: Apple.com).

The status display of the HomePod works completely without writing and only works with symbols, which you have to be familiar with (source: Apple.com).

HomePod status indicator

I discovered a very helpful thing on the Apple support page. Here is an explanation of the HomePod's status indicator at the top of the touch display. The signals show what the device is doing:

  1. White rotating light: The HomePod turns on or the software is updated.
  2. White pulsing light: HomePod is ready to be set up, or an alarm or timer has gone off.
  3. Multi-colored rotating light: Siri is listening.
  4. Plus and minus signs: Volume setting is active.
  5. Green pulsing light: You transferred a call to the HomePod.
  6. Red rotating light: You are resetting the HomePod.

Design and workmanship

From my point of view, you can only give full marks here. I think the small bin, which is somehow reminiscent of the Mac Pro, is very successful. I like the round, knobbly design very much and the power cord is covered with fabric and in a quality that one would often want.

The power cable is braided with fabric and looks very valuable and robust. With a length of approx. 1,9 m, it offers sufficient flexibility when setting up the device.

The power cable is braided with fabric and looks very valuable and robust. With a length of approx. 1,9 m, it offers sufficient flexibility when setting up the device.

The HomePod is covered all around with a mesh, under which there is a material that feels like hard memory foam. You can lift the HomePod with one hand and your fingertips press lightly (2-3 mm) into the material, but without leaving permanent marks.

On top of the HomePod is a touch-sensitive display that is black most of the time. When you say "Hey Siri!" When the voice assistant is activated, the typical, colorful Siri symbol lights up at the top to show that commands or questions can now be transmitted. If the HomePod is currently playing music, a subtle plus and minus is displayed at the top that can be used to change the volume. If you touch the surface at a different point, the playback is stopped or started.

Overall, the design looks very valuable and thus fits into the high-quality workmanship of the other Apple products. One more note: the power plug looks like it's firmly attached to the HomePod, but you can pull it out with a little determination. It goes out with a juicy "slag", and just as firmly you have to push it back in again. Apple itself warns users not to do so, as pulling on the power cord could damage the HomePod internally. So if you do it anyway, then I officially advised you against it. ;-)

The power plug can be detached from the device with a little force and can also be reconnected. Unfortunately, Apple is again using a proprietary connection.

The power plug can be detached from the device with a little force and can also be reconnected. Unfortunately, Apple is again using a proprietary connection. A normal IEC connector was certainly out of the question due to its size.

The sound - lots of bass and space-filling

When it comes to sound, opinions often differ when it comes to loudspeakers. I think the speaker deserves praise. Due to the size of not even 20 cm in height, I did not expect that it would be able to "fill" my room with around 40-50 square meters of sound. To make matters worse, there is also a kind of gallery here, so that the room also has a lot of "free space" upstairs. Nevertheless, the small HomePod is absolutely sufficient to cover it musically.

However, you can clearly hear that the Beats engineers were probably involved in the sound design. Overall, the sound is strongly represented in the bass area. From my point of view, this is not annoying, as the bass is still crisp and speech does not degenerate into a murmur. Audiophiles who prefer "clean" speakers like that RIVA Turbo X prefer, but probably won't be that happy with the HomePod. However, the sound should be aligned in such a way that the majority of HomePod users are satisfied with it. It's a shame that Apple doesn't offer an equalizer function here in order to adjust the sound even more to your own needs, but that was almost to be expected.

Incidentally, there is no bass reflex opening on the underside, as the sound suggests. Everything is shed and closed here.

Incidentally, there is no bass reflex opening on the underside, as the sound suggests. Everything is shed and closed here.

The criticism I have heard here and there about the sound, for example, is that the middle frequency range is covered by the strong bass range. I can understand that, but I think extremely audiophile people will probably prefer larger loudspeaker systems anyway and not hear their music through a smart speaker and with streaming services. I'm relatively simple acoustically and I think most other people feel the same way. For us, the HomePod is definitely a practical and "smart" speaker with a decent sound.

Here the good piece is still in the pack and with a protective film on the touch display ...

Here the good piece is still in the pack and with a protective film on the touch display ...

The microphone system

In order to give commands to the HomePod-Siri, you don't have to stand directly next to the loudspeaker. I once consciously experimented with it. In a quiet house, I was able to speak commands at normal conversation volume from about 6 to 7 meters away and Siri understood them surprisingly well. But even at the dining table with three children chatting loudly, commands from Siri were well recognized. With the six microphones that Apple has installed in the HomePod, they have really achieved astonishingly good speech recognition.

By the way, you don't have to worry that the "other Siri" on the iPhone or iPad will accidentally start up. I have the feeling that the HomePod Siri always prefers to receive commands and only relinquishes them to other Siris when it no longer understands anything itself. If you still want to give commands to your iPhone Siri, you have to speak directly into the iPhone or activate Siri by pressing a button on this device.

Again and again an uplifting moment for the Apple fanboy: removing the protective film!

Again and again an uplifting moment for the Apple fanboy: removing the protective film!

HomePod and Spotify - does not work ...

One of the most common questions about the HomePod is "Will Spotify work on the HomePod?" The clear answer: no. Only Apple Music is natively supported by the HomePod. That means you can start playing music on the HomePod and the iPhone has nothing to do with it.

Playback of Spotify or other streaming services is not intended. The only way to play your Spotify playlist on the HomePod is to start playback on the iPhone or iPad and then control the HomePod as a loudspeaker via AirPlay. Unfortunately, the downside is that it makes the iPhone work with the HomePod. If you stop playing music on the iPhone or walk out of the house with the device, the music on the HomePod stops.

It is probably out of the question that Apple will offer a different solution here in the future. The HomePod maker is obviously more interested in pushing its own music streaming service than integrating Spotify and other services.

The advantages of the HomePod

After a few days of use, you naturally ask yourself what advantages the smart home speakers offer that you didn't have before. In my case, this is clearly the music playback, which is now independent of the iPhone. Before, my iPhone was often hijacked by my children so they could listen to audio books or music. If messages came in, the audiobook became quieter or the iPhone kept pinging when WhatsApp slipped into it. Making phone calls with the iPhone "briefly" in between also repeatedly caused displeasure among the kids, as I was bothered by exciting passages in the audio book.

Now the children can - without my iPhone - start an audiobook or a music request of their choice using a voice command and I can simultaneously listen to a podcast on my iPhone with my headphones or make phone calls with the Airpods. That relaxes the whole home electronics family thing immensely. ;-)

Likewise, we now hear significantly more music than before. Finally, you can start a song without an extra Bluetooth speaker, which is then played back with a pleasant richness of sound and is not pounding softly on an iPhone or iPad. The HomePod has made us much more "musical"!

If you don't have the HomePod on the shelf, you can use the status display to control music playback or see what the device is doing.

If you don't have the HomePod on the shelf, you can use the status display to control music playback or see what the device is doing.

HomePod as a HomeKit hub and Siri interface

Another great benefit of the HomePod is its integration with HomeKit. It not only serves as a HomeKit hub and thus offers permanent control of HomeKit devices, even if you are no longer logged into your home WiFi with your iPhone, but it also provides a Siri interface.

Because it also understands voice commands that are given from a distance, it enables, for example, the control of HomeKit devices such as lights, sockets or the like, even if the commanding device does not have an Apple Watch or iPhone with him. This is very helpful for my children, as they can now control switchable sockets to which I have connected lights with commands such as "light on in the bedroom". Of course, sooner or later this will also make for some fun, once the kids understand what you can do with it. But I think at some point - when you have turned on the light in your bedroom for the tenth time at night from the toilet - it will turn into an "appropriate use".

Positioning the HomePod

As you can read in the description of the HomePod, after configuration it carries out an acoustic measurement of its surroundings in order to optimize the sound. This process should also be restarted every time you change it. This happens automatically when you take the power off and then plug it in again.

You could also read that it should definitely be positioned on a firm, smooth surface so that the sound is perfect. I placed it on a standing shelf from Ikea, but it has gaps between the boards (see photo). You should expect the sound to suffer as a result, but I can't confirm that. It may hardly be noticeably weaker in the bass range, but on the one hand that doesn't hurt and on the other hand you only notice this difference if you have placed it on the floor beforehand and have a direct comparison. So no matter which "Magic" Apple has at the start - it is relatively flexible when it comes to the location.

The HomePod does not depend on a fixed, continuous installation option.

The HomePod does not depend on a fixed, continuous installation option.

Who is the HomePod for?

Admittedly: The 349 euros for the HomeKit loudspeaker are not exactly a sticky stick, but if you look around at Bluetooth speakers that have a similarly good sound (Sonos Play 3, Bose Soundlink or Bose Soundlink Revolve), you quickly end up with 200 to 250 euros - and then you still have no Airplay 2 support. And of course, as an Apple user, you pay the usual "penalty surcharge" without twitching the corner of your mouth and then just put the 350 euros (or 700 euros for the stereo pair) on the table ... ;-)

Ultimately, however, it is above all the seamless integration into Apple's iPhone, iPad or Mac environment that justifies the additional price. I've always been happy with Bluetooth speakers so far, but it's so much easier to control the HomePod from Apple devices because it is quickly available on all devices at the same time, while Bluetooth speakers have to be paired again and again in the Bluetooth menu when you have previously controlled it with another device. Even the Bose Soundlink Mini, which I also use, can only remember three devices and with two MacBooks, an iPad, two iPhones and an Apple TV it reaches its limits.

The second important point that makes the use of the HomePod appear sensible is the use of the Apple Music streaming service. If you are more of a friend of Spotify, you should probably rely on alternatives such as Sonos. These offer the integration of various music services and also allow features such as multiroom playback or latency-free airplay. However, if you have already booked Apple Music, then from my point of view nothing speaks against using the HomePod.

Thanks to Airplay, the HomePod can also be used to give better sound to films that are watched on the iPad via apps such as Netflix or Amazon Video.

Thanks to Airplay, the HomePod can also be used to give better sound to films that are watched on the iPad via apps such as Netflix or Amazon Video.

My conclusion on the HomePod

There are devices that you only notice how practical they are when you have them in your company. I had this experience, for example, with the Apple Watch, which I "sat out" diligently until last year because I hadn't had anything on my wrist for years and couldn't imagine that a smart watch could conquer this place. I've had it on my wrist for almost a year now and I can hardly imagine how I could live without a watch all this time. It works of course, but "with" it is somehow more practical.

With the HomePod, I already have the feeling that it is also developing into such a device. When, after just a short time, I see how naturally children start using the HomePod for pieces of music or audio books, then it is clear to me that it was worth it for them alone. I now also hear more music myself, because my iPhone is not "confused" and you can easily provide good background music while working with simple voice commands from your desk.

Unfortunately, Siri is often in the dark when interpreting commands. For example, if you want "children's music", hits come in English. Especially with a company like Apple, which is so family-oriented, I would have expected that they would also get music for children here.

Unfortunately, Siri is often in the dark when interpreting commands. For example, if you want "children's music", hits come in English. Especially with a company like Apple, which is so family-oriented, I would have expected that they would also get music for children here.

Siri weak point

The only point of criticism I have about the HomePod is actually not about the device itself, but about Siri: When I hear requests like "Hey Siri, play children's music" or "Hey Siri, play song XYZ", I often get such strange titles that I get intelligence has to be a bit "stupid" behind Siri. In rare cases Siri will misunderstand what is being said. Much more often I have the case - also on the iPhone - that Siri recognizes the wording correctly, but processes it with no intelligence and the corresponding nonsense comes out.

I think Siri is one of the biggest and most important construction sites for Apple in the next year or two. Too often, the voice assistant disappoints when executing commands. This is why in the past I have taken on simple jobs like "Set the timer for 10 minutes!" limited so as not to overwhelm Siri. With the HomePod, Siri gets a new chance - for me too. If Apple permanently pissed off users with a stupid voice assistant, the HomePod will degenerate into a pure AirPlay speaker in the long term, because nobody has any more confidence in Siri's capabilities. I hope it turns out differently ...

What do you think of the HomePod and Siri's capabilities? Feel free to leave your opinion as a comment here!

 

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4 comments

  1. Horst Hader says:

    If I want to listen to music at home, it is from my high-end system (vinyl, CD, DAC). It's old-school and elaborate, but the sound is and remains unsurpassed. The Homepod is certainly very practical and, in my experience with the Amazon Echo, these are devices that quickly pile up in front of them in any closet and then turn into electronic junk. I would rather / better donate the money to a social organization. On the go, I prefer to listen to music from my IPhone / IPod.

    • Sir Apfelot says:

      Hello Horst! Yes, old school isn't always the worst. ;-) For people who value very good, balanced sound, the HomePod is just as unsuitable as any other smart speaker or Bluetooth speaker. I think the HomePod is particularly suitable if you often use Bluetooth speakers anyway and / or control some smart home devices with HomeKit. Then he plays to his strengths. VG! Jens

  2. Pe says:

    Hello! So I currently have 4 HomePod Minis in use. 1x bedroom, 1x study, and 2 in the living room / kitchen as a stereo pair. I find that very practical. So my female can tell me via intercom that the meal is ready.
    The stereo pair also runs well on the AppleTV in the living room. Clearly not to be compared with a high-end soundbar or other sound systems, but completely sufficient for a cozy evening series.
    In addition, I'm about to get away from Alexa. We have many SmartHome products (bulbs, sockets). Nothing can be controlled under Alexa when the internet has a problem. A bad-tempered wife is inevitable. It's different with Apple. Maybe also a decision aid. The SmartHome products also work offline, only an existing WLAN system must of course be available. (Subject of data protection)
    I also find the radio to play more reliably than under Alexa.
    So I am very satisfied and will get another one for the cellar. Then the last Alexa can also be thrown in the bin.

    Thank you for your interesting article.

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Pe! Thank you for your interesting information. I didn't even know that the commands would also work offline. My iPhone always complains when Siri is out of internet. But maybe the Smart Home control will still work if you don't use Siri.

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