A week with the Apple HomePod
Let me start by saying this review will not discuss any 'how-to' guides. This will purely be my impressions of the Apple HomePod after using it for a week now.
Opening the box
Is that it? I did not expect much but I was still mildly surprised when I opened the box and there it was all by itself. Nothing else. No manual. No cables (other than the power). No adapters. Just a beautiful speaker sitting in it's Apple designed packaging like a Fabergé egg waiting to be discovered. I had been warned that it is smaller than one expects. Perhaps because of that warning, I thought it was about right. As I set it on the table I did note that it is a bit heavier than I thought it would be.
Don't blink. The setup on the Apple HomePod is insanely easy. Even for an experienced Apple fanatic, this was amazing. Plug it in and hold your phone next to it. Click a few steps and you are done.
How does it sound?
For me this was the test I cared about. I have read all of the negative press about Siri not being on par with Google's or Amazon's living room assistants. Not only do I not really need an assistant to make me calendar appointments in between bites of dinner, I don't want Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos listening in on my conversations. It is bad enough they always seem to be creeping on me while I do my research for a new toaster.
So how does it sound? Great! I walked around that thing and listened from every angle and distance and it sounded the same. I cranked it up and to my non audiophile ears, it sounded amazing. While I look forward to Apple's promised stereo linking of multiple HomePods, I don't seem to miss it. Granted, I haven't listened to anything that necessitates Stereo sound like say Pink Floyd's The Wall. But hopefully Apple will soon render that moot anyway.
Tommy can you hear me?
Hey Siri, can you hear me now? Yes! Yest! Yes! I had The Who blasting and 6 people talking in a small room. In a normal voice at a normal volume, I gave Siri the command to play the next song. In 1-2 seconds a new song was playing. I was impressed. So I tried again with all of the same room noise and I almost whispered the command. Again, it worked. For me, this was incredible. Just this morning I came downstairs to hear my wife Yelling at Siri and I showed her a gentle voice worked just as easily. After a "smart ass" look from my wife, I walked away with a grin.
Who is in Control Here?
That is a good question. There is no multi user setting for the HomePod. In the setup process, it is key that you use the phone of the person that has the Apple account you want it to use because it pulls all of the settings off of the phone. This seems to be the big weakness with this device. Apple is in a tough position here. If they do add multi-user support, it has the potential of becoming a complicated mess with mixups, invasion of privacy issues abound. Even with the single user path that Apple took, privacy is a big concern. Do I want everyone in my house to have unfettered access to my messages, email, contacts, etc? They can make changes. They can send messages under my name. Hmmmm. uh, no. So you may want to turn this feature off. A quick Google search for "How to Enable/Disable Siri Personal Requests" and you will find out how.
Apple Music or Not Apple Music. That is the Question.
If you are not an Apple Music subscriber, you will be limited as to what music you can command Siri to play. It will only be music you have purchased from Apple on the account that it is set up with. You can however, push music from iTunes on a computer or a mobile device. If you would like to tell Siri to play any music you have ripped yourself, then you need to subscribe to Apple Music and turn on the "iCloud Music Library" option in iTunes preferences. This will upload your libary to Apple's cloud service and make it available to your HomePod. This alone pushed me into subscribing to Apple Music.
If you are looking for a personal assistant that can create appointments and music is not important to you, then this is probably an expensive option you might be better off with the other options on the market. However, if you are looking for a great speaker to stream your music, this might be of real interest to you.