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On the face of it, it’s hard to tell how Apple can justify making the HomePod more than twice as expensive as the Amazon Echo. Both are mid-sized speakers, both trap their voice assistants inside their cylindrical domes, both have an array of microphones waiting to pick up your every utterance. The HomePod doesn’t even have a visible Apple logo to remind your friends of your disposable income.
Apple’s ever modest PR department claims the HomePod “reinvents music in the home”. That, as Bob Mortimer once said of Ulrika Jonsson’s autobiography, seems a bit top heavy on the bullshit. Yet, Apple is clearly pitching the HomePod at the Sonos crowd.
The device includes “a large, Apple-designed woofer for deep, clean bass, a custom array of seven beam-forming tweeters that provide pure high-frequency acoustics with incredible directional control and powerful technologies built right in to preserve the richness and intent of the original recordings,” according to Apple’s Ministry of Truth.
I’ve not had a chance to press my lugholes against its grilles, but those who have almost unanimously agree that the sound is a cut above. “There’s an emphasis on bass that brings to mind Beats, but even at its heaviest there was definition between highs and lows that made the music bloom across the space,” according to the chaps from Alphr. The Verge agrees, claiming it “delivers bass that doesn’t quite hit you in the chest but does manage to put other smart speakers like the Echo or Google Home to shame.”
I’ve little doubt the Apple kit sounds decent, but puts the Echo to shame? I’ve got an Echo here in my mid-sized home office, and even at moderate volume levels it’s got enough thump and bass to start rattling the photo frames. I’m pretty sure Alexa won’t be skulking off into the corner once Siri starts speaking.
Choice of music?
The $349 price might not be the only cost attached to the HomePod, either. The device is naturally tied to Apple Music. No surprise there: Amazon and Google do the same with Music Unlimited and Play Music respectively. Unlike the others, however, it doesn’t seem the HomePod will play nicely with third-party streaming services, such as Spotify. It has AirPlay support, so you can fire up Spotify on your iPhone and effectively use the HomePod as a Bluetooth speaker, but it appears you can’t ask Siri to play specific tracks, albums or playlists from anything other than Apple’s own service. So that’s another tenner a month to factor in, if you’re not already a subscriber.
It’s too early to reach a firm conclusion on the HomePod – it’s not even set for release until December. But from what I’ve seen so far, I’m not about to “reinvent” my Christmas list.