Apple cares a much about music. Steve Jobs loved it so much that he invented the iPod and iTunes so we could take them everywhere and own them personally. Finnish speakers worth thousands of dollars in his sparsely decorated living room. To this day, Apple Music is one of the best streaming service you can subscribe thanks to lossless audio support. The headphones it makes, both by itself and through Beats, are for the most part great.
It’s a shame then that the company still hasn’t made a great full-size smart speaker. The recently refurbished HomePod is more than just a near-perfect visual reproduction of model discontinued from 2018, but it hardly has any sound improvement. The new HomePod has fewer audio drivers, still isn’t compatible with Spotify and other popular services, and still can’t communicate with anything but Apple devices when your friends are over. The full-color display at the top is larger but doesn’t convey more information than the Amazon Echo’s blue stripe.
In 2018, blemishes like this are tolerable in moderation as long as the voice assistant works and the speakers can fill your room with sound. But given so many excellent competitors exist in so many different shapes and sizes, it’s hard for the HomePod to slip. Less HomePod Mini did the same Siri voice control (if you prefer that to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, they’re objectively better) and provided more than enough sound quality for those who just want to turn on the music.
Unless you spend $600 on two HomePods to listen in stereo, the sound quality isn’t going to be very good, with plenty of bass support and not much definition in the mid-range. You can get the same “I’m playing music” feeling from a smaller model or from any competitor for less. If you want premium sound, you won’t find it here.
New marshmallows, same shape
Physically, the new HomePod is slightly more square than the old model, a fat little marshmallow sound about 7 inches tall. Otherwise, the main difference you’ll notice is the larger screen at the top, with built-in volume up and down buttons. Say “Hey Siri” and Apple’s voice assistant wakes up, with a splash of colorful plasma showing up on the top screen to let you know she’s listening.
One difference that many who remember the old model will welcome is the detachable power cord, allowing buyers to thread it through sometimes small holes in the furniture. The last one lacks this and makes many people uncomfortable with custom furniture.
Like the previous model, the new model comes in two colors: White and Midnight, a slightly darker black than the previous model. Some early reports have indicated that the white model, like The last, stain the wood with rings when left on the wood surface. I haven’t had that problem, but I still get a black one; Apple white fabrics tend to yellow over the years due to dirt and wear and tear.
Like the last model, setup is easy. Hold on to the latest iPhone (with the latest software) until it works and the HomePod will instantly recognize and set it up. You let it know which room it’s in and you’re ready to race, as long as your phone is signed in to Apple Music. You won’t get compatibility with Spotify, YouTube Music, Tidal, or Amazon Music here, but the HomePod supports Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, and others. You can use AirPlay to play unsupported services on the speaker, but it’s a pretty annoying workaround and requires guests to have an iPhone.