HomePod Tested: So Good is Apple’s Smartspeaker

Announced in mid-2017 as part of Apple’s WWDC developer conference late last year, the HomePod is just a little bit late in stores, at least in the US, Australia and the UK. We have imported our test device of the smart speaker from the United Kingdom on our own. It should be on the hardware side up to the British plug on the power cord to the version that Apple wants to offer in the spring of 2018 in Germany – with one caveat: Software side understands the HomePod currently only in English and that should be up to the publication in this country change in the coming weeks.

From the unusually heavy for their size and the Apple-typical noble packaging freed, surprise the compact dimensions of the first Smart Speaker from Cupertino: What looks like the cuddly little brother The Mac Pro is about as broad as a iPhone X is high. The height of the HomePod with its only about 17 cm is rather a David instead of a Goliath. Due to its rounded shape, the HomePod appears even more slender than its actual dimensions would suggest, with the fabric covering and gripping the loudspeaker emphasizing the noble exterior without any visible seams.

Plugging in the power cord is no longer needed to set up an iOS 11 compatible iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and Wi-Fi is encrypted to WPA 2. From iOS, in version 11.2.5, a nearby HomePod automatically detected by the iOS device in the same way, as is the case with headphones with Apple’s W1 chip such as the AirPods or Beats X. Meaning: A window appearing on your iPhone or iPad as though by magic, guides you through the device quickly and purposefully, with wireless password and Apple ID automatically transmitted. After about two minutes, the HomePod is ready for use – much more “Plug & Play” is not!

Gallery: The HomePod installation step-by-step

HomePod: Technik, die excited

Where music is supposed to sound, air has to be moved. Take over this job in HomePod whole seven in the area of ​​the base circularly arranged tweeter in combination with an upwardly directed midrange. The loudspeaker phalanx is aware of its position in space and measures itself independently to the prevailing circumstances. A special calibration microphone also performs automatic bass correction to avoid too much or too little low frequencies depending on the setup. Thanks to measuring electronics and computing power, Apple is actually doing the trick here, that the HomePod in a corner of a shelf sounds almost as good as standing in the room. However, without the possibility to intervene regulatively: The digital signal processing in the HomePod is a black box, without the possibility to make manual changes. But the advantages outweigh, even with regard to the so simple control on demand: A combination of a total of six microphones allows the device to receive voice commands at any time and even at maximum volume – without the need to raise the voice. The power of calculation for all these feats is contained in an A8 chip, as it was already used in the iPhone 6 and which here again may prove.

HomePod: These are the key facts

The key data of the new Apple loudspeaker have already been circulated enough, so in a nutshell: Apple’s Smart Speaker is 172 mm high and only 142 mm wide, but still brings a proud 2.5 kg on the scales. Between two model variants may be chosen when buying: The model in Space Gray fits perfectly into the prevailing black of various living room electronics, alternatively, Apple’s smart speaker is also available in white – but be careful, the white model is whether its bright fabric wrapping potential dirt magnet.

Sound sample: So good does the HomePod

Enough of the technical data, enough of the phrases. The core discipline in which every speaker has to deliver is and remains the sound. Prelude: The sound is impressive in terms of its compact dimensions, even larger rooms can be sounded with surprisingly rich sound, which even the neighbors can call on the scene for a disturbance of the peace – if one likes the sound, but is quite a subjective question, that no one hears like the other. Therefore, anyone recommending a trial listening before purchase.

Madonna – Music: Madonna’s repertoire is as diverse as the number of producers she has worked with over the past decades. The song Music from the album of the same name serves as the ultimate test in terms of bass – cheap, not well-tuned systems have already here after the first 30 seconds of serious problems and come quickly into buzzing. Not so the HomePod, here are the basses in a nutshell – we were here in terms of bass almost a little too much of the good, amazing what the HomePod delivers here without a real subwoofer in tandem.

Power Plant – The Robots: Power station wrote music history. The title The Robots of the album “The Man Machine” is a prime example of a very tidy arrangement, in which the individual sounds and the machine-like beat are clearly separated from each other. The HomePod sounds tidy in the best sense of the word and gives all instruments sufficient space on its stage.

Holly Cole – Temptation: Electronic sounds and pop in general are very much on the HomePod, but Apple’s new loudspeaker proves to be pleasing in other realms as well. Here Apple is right again when playing the bass and leaves the foreground positioned percussion enough space – in general, the HomePod not only records the sound of the instruments correctly but also gives an impression of space and depth.

The sound of the HomePod convinces especially in Pop, Rock and Electronic and makes it fun even after many hours. In the course of the intensive audio sample, also at different sites, we got the impression that Apple has adjusted the sound characteristics of the HomePod to the taste of the mass, almost as if the old-time known loudness function was permanently active and heights and above all basses in front of the centers in the foreground: The result pleases with its party-friendly sound. However, the kind of man who pays homage to the (alleged) euphony and this schonmal speaker cable to 300 euros the meter, will find in the HomePod no luck – not least, as Apple on a “transparent dynamic processing at studio level” sets – so It is clear that the HomePod automatically intervenes in the sound and bends the frequency response to do some whitewashing. If you do not like the result, you will not be able to intervene via equalizer when playing back directly from the HomePod.

The HomePod as Smart Speaker

Sound is one thing, intelligence is the other – after all, Apple sells the HomePod as a Smart Speaker and not just as a speaker. As a smart speaker, the HomePod is surprisingly good, at least for the first time. When Siri is introduced by “Hey Siri” simple commands during music playback, the music is muted and the command accepted: another title, louder, quieter, music from the 80s – all this is easily and above all implemented immediately. Under bauble is the Siri-typical Wabern on the upward-facing display with a resolution of 272 x 340 pixels to record – the optical feedback reminded us a little of the time-honored HAL from Kubrick’s “2001: Odyssey in space.”

How to Control the HomePod

On Request: The HomePod can be operated in different ways. Most naturally, the controller feels on acclamation: After an “Hey Siri” beforehand sent as an activation phrase, the speaker can easily be given commands, which are then implemented in seconds, such as: “Hey Siri, set a timer for 10 minutes”, “Hey Siri, turn off the lights in here” or “Hey Siri, play the top song from January 1978” – the list of possible voice commands, especially in terms of music playback, is long.

Via Touchpanel : Alternatively, playback can be controlled directly from the HomePod’s touch panel: a simple tap pauses or starts playing, a double tap changes to the next song, three tapes play the previous song. If you tap on the + or – on the device, the volume changes. If you leave your finger for a moment on the middle of the touch panel, Siri will be activated.

Per app: The HomePod can also be controlled via app. Via the control center and the music app, the speaker can be selected as output device and fed with music. Settings in detail can be made via the home app.

The application possibilities and thus the usefulness in everyday life corresponds to at least part of what Siri already knows from iPhone and iPad. For example, the smart home can be controlled as usual: light on, socket off, heating down – such basic things work without problems. The assistant also often answers to questions about the weather, sports results, simple conversions as well as requests for translations and shares. For questions from the field of general knowledge, however, Siri still has big gaps and even as a kitchen helper falls through the HomePod Siri: It can be on the phone only a timer on the HomePod make recipes are also not known – too bad! It does not surprise then that the HomePod can neither accept a telephone call nor start on demand. On the other hand, what works is to switch a call accepted or initiated on the iPhone to the HomePod and then make a call without a smartphone in your hand. It gets sticky with all functions that access personal data. To distinguish voices? Siri can not do that on the HomePod – at least not good enough to distinguish different users from each other in such a way as to assign the sending of messages to the respective user account. Apple knows about this weakness and therefore asks when setting up explicitly whether so-called “personal requests” on the associated Apple ID should be allowed at all. Verified so then can read and send messages, as well as create reminders and marked as done and create notes – but only for a single person. At least, this may be pleased that the location sharing of the linked iOS device protects its data, at least as an approach: If the device is not in the vicinity, access to personal messages and Co. remains blocked via the HomePod.

The HomePod is disappointing as a smart speaker – not because of the HomePod as hardware, but because of the software limitations. You may also be a bit irritated if you have the piecemeal availability of far-reaching functions. The operation of two HomePod as a stereo pair is about as currently not possible as the multiroom use via AirPlay 2. Both come, according to Apple “later this year”, yet one has the feeling of a not completely finished product in to hold hands. Apple places the HomePod currently primarily as a “music machine” – well aware of Siris deficits. Apple would do well to accelerate the development of Siri as part of WWDC 2018 and continue to open up to third party vendors – also and especially on the HomePod.

Imprisoned in the Apple Paradise

Who in the Apple ecosystem is alive, is traveling to paradise with the HomePod. For everyone else, however, Apple’s Smart Speaker is ready for a hell of a trip. A device without iOS device is impossible, on the input side you have with AirPlay only one, again Apple-exclusive, choice. A jack socket can be found here as well as a way to pair via Bluetooth – Android users are thus completely out of the way. Otherwise, one is buttoned up. As fabulous as the interaction between HomePod and Apple Music may be: Spotify and Co. can not be controlled by acclamation, here you have to use the iOS or macOS app of the respective provider. That’s not really smart, especially since the device also knows only a handful of radio stations to be switched on by voice – that is annoying, because even as a hip kitchen radio, the HomePod is only a detour.

Quiz: Does the Apple HomePod fit me?

Are you and the HomePod a match? This checklist tells you. You’ll be happy with the Apple speaker only if you make all (!) Six crosses – but please do not directly on the screen! ; -)

O I live in Apple’s ecosystem, iTunes and Co. are my virtual media shelf.
O I have an Apple Music subscription or would like to complete one.
O Good sound to me important and worth a higher price, but audiophile I’m not, because the HomePod takes by itself in sound.
O singles preferred: I would be the only person who uses the “Personal requests” function: Various users the HomePod can not (and still?) do not distinguish from each other and who wants other people, for example, send messages in your name?
Android smartphones are not an issue for me, I remain true to the iPhone alone in the future. Alternatively, I have at least an iPad or a brand new iPod touch.
O I do not have too high expectations of Siri: I do not expect much more than the correct control of music playback and the simple answer to simple questions, such as the weather.

The competitors of the HomePod

For the one in the Apple ecosystem, including all its products and Services, for which the HomePod is a good choice despite its deficits in terms of “smartness”. Nevertheless, one can certainly look with envy towards Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Once a pioneer, Apple loses the connection in terms of language assistance systems. Amazon and Google have a vision, rather than just products, of choice across devices and networking across the house and life in all its facets. Above all Amazon whirled the market on last – so even the favorable Echo Dot is in many cases better language assistance than the HomePod, same applies to the Google Home Mini. As a loudspeaker, however, the price wonders are not good and the Google Home and Amazon Echo stink in terms of sound against higher-priced devices from. Real competition is the HomePod in the A / B-Hörvergleich and thanks to Alexa-Smartness especially in the Sonos One, which we present in the context of our test as currently the most significant alternative also again separately. Google’s counterpart to the HomePod called Google Home Max is (yet) not available in this country – it is also not surprising, from its origin, that the Google Speaker is extensively optimized for the Google ecosystem and should be of limited interest to Apple users .

Sonos One: The better choice?

Who as an Apple user has been seriously interested in good sound with a connection to his Mac, iPhone and iPad, Mostly landed at the multi-room speaker system from Sonos. The Sonos offer is modular, it offers speakers of various sizes, a soundbar and a subwoofer – in addition, the system can be coupled to the home stereo system. Sonos is cosmopolitan in terms of music and supports a variety of different streaming services through its sophisticated app, such as Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music. In addition, many Internet radio stations can be played.

The Sonos One is in the current Sonos portfolio whether its size and performance of the speakers, which is most comparable to the HomePod. Technically, the two devices differ in terms of the number and size of the built-in speakers, but in the sound they play in the same league. In direct comparison listening, the HomePod dominates with more bass, while the Sonos One draws the more sophisticated midrange. In the blind test in the editorial circle, the HomePod was actually praised for its powerful bass and its volume, but at the same time identified as the loudspeaker with the A / B-comparison somewhat “musty” sound.

The sound of different listening habits, musical tastes and organic differences in individual hearing is always a matter of dispute. On Sonos One, moreover, the system is not explicitly and almost exclusively designed for the world of Apple products and services. Family members with an Android smartphone are not excluded from the use – with a HomePod this would only the voice control of the music playback and that only if Apple Music was subscribed as a streaming service. Sonos is also the epitome of multi-room audio, it can already be individually sounded several rooms today and also connect several boxes to stereo pairs or even surround systems. At Apple, this is still a dream of the future. Even in terms of “Smart Speaker” Sonos currently offers more than Apple. Thanks to the “smartness” of Amazon Alexa, the One brings with it better language assistance over long distances. Apple Music can not be controlled on a Sonos One, but Amazon’s streaming service and, indirectly, Spotify, the winner of our comparative test in issue 03/2018 of Mac Life.

In short: The Sonos One offer a similar sound quality as the HomePod – and at a much lower price. If you invest the savings and a little extra into a second Sonos One and thus a stereo pair, you will find the most pleasant sound for your money. The Sonos One cost per piece 229 euros and are available in specialist and mail order.

HomePod in the test: This is our conclusion

With the HomePod Apple offers a good loudspeaker. His sound is full, which one at the first glance does not believe in the little one because of his size. Commissioning and operation are exemplary easy by the hand – but only if you live in the Apple universe: To set up an iOS device is just as conditional as an Apple Music subscription is a must for comfortable listening to music. You also have to accept cuts in the “smart” functions – compared to the language assistants from Google and Amazon, Siri simply does not do enough.

Ultimately, however, in the sum and from the point of view of a user rooted in the Apple world the positive impressions: The HomePod is the perfect jukebox for all Apple Music subscribers, who are now allowed to choose from more than 45 million songs comprehensive music library. In terms of “smartness” but is still much room for improvement.

Even without a note, because UK import – we give a final rating with the launch of HomePod in Germany and an intensive test of the German-speaking Siri -Implementation.

Questions and Answers: The HomePod FAQ

Is the sound behind the picture when playing videos?

No, lag is not an issue with the HomePod, a time offset is corrected automatically: The sound of one via AirPlay on one Apple TV 4 plays videos in sync despite sound output on a HomePod.

Can I use Spotify with my HomePod?

Music via Spotify can also be played on the HomePod. However, only via the detour via AirPlay and thus via the corresponding app on iPhone, iPad or Mac: Via Siri and thus via voice command Spotify customers can not play music, this remains reserved for Apple Music subscribers.

Does the HomePod work with Android smartphones?

Android phones do not recognize the HomePod, they can not be used for setup or playback control. Playback via AirPay via apps that are not authorized by Apple is theoretically possible, but in practice often fails due to disconnections and similar technical problems.

Can the HomePod’s power cord be disconnected from the device?

Apple says: hands off the power cord! With a courageous jerk, however, the proprietary cable with a two-pin plug can be detached from the HomePod, for example, to squeeze the cable through tight holes in furniture. With a little something tasty, the power cord can then be plugged in again – a loud “click!” Acknowledges the successful plug-in procedure.

What if the HomePod breaks down?

Speakers are usually operated stationary. Only rarely does damage occur, such as an overturned vase, a “tripping over the cable” or other accidents. But if something breaks, you have to dig deep into your pocket at HomePod: Around 80 percent of the new price Apple demands for a repair. Here, the device is apparently completely replaced, because the HomePod is a self-contained unit that contains no interchangeable parts beyond the power cord – to open it requires, according to repair experts, even a saw. Apple Care + lowers the costs in case of damage – in the United Kingdom you pay for the two-year policy the equivalent of just over 30 euros, with a total of two claims are covered – the deductible per repair or replacement then amounts to another 30 euros.

I read that the HomePod leaves traces on furniture?

The base of the HomePod is made of a silicone material. In our test on an oiled wooden surface, this also left a not so easy to remove ring where the device stood. On expensive furniture with sensitive surfaces, you should therefore only use the Siri speakers with coasters – the accessory industry is happy to sell you expensive underlays! It is quite possible, however, that Apple will solve the problem by changing its production without announcing changes to the material.

Tips & Tricks for the Apple HomePod

Dissatisfied with the sound of the HomePod? Just lift it!

Inside the HomePod hides an accelerometer. Thus equipped, the loudspeaker detects when it is lifted up and then adjusts to the new spatial conditions that may be present when it is put back down. If you are dissatisfied with the sound, you should start the automatic calibration process, which only takes a few seconds, by simply lifting it up and putting it back. It’s best to change the location as well – removing a loudspeaker only a few centimeters from a corner can also significantly improve its sound beyond the results of an automatic calibration.

Use the HomePod over the iPhone

Primarily, the HomePod is controlled via voice commands initiated via “Hey Siri”. What the HomePod currently plays can also be experienced via an iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch in the same WLAN. Simply go to the Control Center on the appropriate device:

• Open the Control Center.
• Tap the small icon in the upper right corner of the Music tile.
• In the then the list that opens will scroll to your HomePod, which is represented by the name, usually the room name. Wurde bereits Musik wiedergegeben, finden sie hier zudem das Cover des Albums, den Songtitel und den Interpret.
• Tippen Sie auf vorgenannte Einblendung, um die Wiedergabesteuerung für den HomePod einzublenden. Ein zweites Tippen öffnet dann die Musik-App.

Persönliche Hörgewohnheiten schützen.

Über den HomePod wiedergegebene Musik beeinflusst die von Apple Music unterbreiteten persönlichen Empfehlungen, von Apple in seiner Musik-App als „Für dich“ bezeichnet. Wer in Angst um die seitens Apple persönlich abgestimmten Musik-Empfehlungen lebt, etwa ob der Nutzung durch seine Teenie-Kinder oder wildgewordene Partygäste, kann das Herbeiziehen des Hörverlaufs auf dem HomePod zu den „Für dich“-Empfehlungen deaktivieren. Gehen Sie hierzu wie folgt vor:

• Öffnen Sie die Home-App auf ihrem iOS-Gerät.
• Tippen Sie einen Augenblick länger auf die HomePod-Kachel in der Liste  „Bevorzugte Geräte“ bis sich die beiden Schaltflächen Wecker und Details zeigen. Tippen Sie auf letzteren Button.
• Scrollen Sie in der Detail-Ansicht bis zum Bereich Musik & Podcasts.
• Schieben Sie hier den Schalter unter Hörverlauf verwenden auf die Aus-Position. Sie können den Schalter beispielsweise nach einer Party auch wieder auf die An-Position setzen, um ihre persönlichen Musikwünsche weiterhin auf Apples Empfehlungen an Sie einzahlen zu lassen.

Den HomePod als Freisprecheinrichtung verwenden.

Telefonate direkt über den HomePod beginnen oder annehmen? Geht nicht. Was aber funktioniert, ist es, einen Anruf an den HomePod weiterzureichen, um diesen dann zum Freisprechen zu verwenden. Wählen Sie hierzu einfach Ihren HomePod als „Audio“-Option aus dem gleichnamigen Menü in der Telefon-App Ihres iPhone aus.

Siri ein Lauschverbot erteilen.

Wo andere Smart Speaker, wie etwa der Sonos One und selbst der kleine Amazon Echte Dot, über eigene Taster zum Ausschalten der Sprachaktivierung mit sich bringen, muss man beim HomePod auf solcherlei Luxus verzichten:

• Öffnen Sie die Home-App.
• Tippen Sie auf das Symbol für Ihren HomePod-Lautsprecher aus der Liste „Bevorzugte Geräte“ und lassen Ihren Finger einen Augenblick auf dem Symbol liegen.
• Tippen Sie nun auf die Details-Schaltfläche unten rechts und scrollen Sie bis zur Siri-Kategorie.
• Stellen Sie hier den Schalter unter Hey Siri auf die Aus-Position.

Aktivierung von Siri via Signalton bestätigen lassen.

Von Werk aus signalisiert ein Aufl euchten des kleinen Bildschirms an der oberen Seite des HomePod die Aufmerksamkeit Siris. Wer sich Siris Bereitschaft zur Annahme von Sprachbefehlen zudem per Signalton bestätigen lassen will, kann diesen über die Home-App in den Detail-Einstellungen unter Siri und dort unter „Bei Siri Ton abspielen“ aktivieren. Hier lässt sich auch das HAL-esque Aufleuchten des Bildschirms ausschalten, hierzu unter den Details schlicht den  Schiebeschalter neben „Bei Siri aufleuchten“ per Fingerzeig auf die Aus-Position bewegen.

Den Lautsprecher im Fernseher ersetzen.

Auch am Fernseher lässt sich der HomePod verwenden, zumindest so die Wiedergabe über einen Apple TV erfolgt. Wählen Sie einfach den HomePod als Audioausgabegerät, indem Sie während der Wiedergabe auf der Fernbedienung nach unten wischen, um den Info-Bereich aufzurufen. Navigieren Sie hier zu den Audioquellen und wählen Sie Ihren HomePod aus – voila! Sie können nun sogar die Video-Wiedergabe auf Zuruf pausieren und wieder starten.

Der HomePod-Pressespiegel: Das sagen die anderen

Auch andere Magazine und Zeitungen haben den HomePod in ersten Tests bereits ausgiebig zur Probe gehört oder gar bewertet. Hier die Meinung ausgewählter Vertreter der deutschen Presse im schnellen Überblick:

„Klanglich zeigt Apple der Konkurrenz mit dem HomePod die Rücklichter. Einen besseren Sound wird man in dieser Preisklasse kaum bekommen. Apples Lautsprecher ist die Premium-Option für guten Sound beim Musikstreaming. Allerdings nur für Apple-Nutzer. Ohne iPhone oder iPad läuft beim HomePod nichts.“
Matthias Kremp für Spiegel Online [Link]

„Mit dem HomePod hat Apple einen hervorragenden Lautsprecher für all jene entwickelt, die ein iPhone oder iPad benutzen. Die Klangqualität beeindruckte im Test, und mit Siris automatischer Song-Zusammenstellung machte das Musik-Entdecken richtig Spaß. Die intelligente Assistentin bietet aber auf dem Lautsprecher bislang nicht alle Funktionen, die sie auf dem iPhone bereithält – und knüpft sie zudem an ein einzelnen Benutzer.“
Sven Stein für Bild [Link]

„Beim Klang ist Homepod einer der besten smarten Lautsprecher. Ungewöhnlich ist der für seine geringe Größe beeindruckende Bass, den wir sogar im Bauch spüren. Bei den Mitten ist der Sonos One allerdings besser. Wir ziehen keinen der Lautsprecher eindeutig vor. Es hängt vom Geschmack und der bevorzugten Musikrichtung ab, welches Gerät der Nutzer wählen sollte.“
Ingo Pakalski, Tobias Költzsch für Golem.de [Link]

„Der HomePod hinterließ einen zweispältigen Eindruck: Auf der einen Seite klingt er außergewöhnlich gut. Auf der anderen Seite machte Siri mit ihm weniger Spaß als auf dem iPhone oder iPad, weil einige Möglichkeiten fehlten. Auch wäre es schön, mehr Musikquellen nutzen zu können, schließlich gibt es iPhone-Nutzer, die Spotify, Deezer und Co gegenüber Apple Music bevorzugen. Bis zum Deutschlandstart bessert Apple da hoffentlich noch etwas nach, denn guter Klang allein ist für einen smarten Lautsprecher zu wenig.“
Holger Zelder für Mac & i auf heise.de

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