Homepod long term review: What I like -- and don't -- about Apple's first smart speaker

Apple's $349 smart speaker, the Homepod, hasn't made much of unit sale dent against much cheaper smart speakers from Amazon and Google. But bragging rights aside, I've been living with the HomePod for almost a year. Here's what I've found.

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The HomePod is a squat -- less than 7 inches high -- unobtrusive speaker that, per Apple, is loaded with technology, including 7 beam-forming tweeters, 6 microphones, an Apple A8 processor, and a upward firing woofer. All reviewers agreed that this technology achieved the finest quality of any smart speaker, such as this CNET review sums up:

Apple's $349 (£319, AU$499) Siri-powered HomePod smart speaker produces awesome sound across a broad range of genres, making it stand out, particularly compared to the $199 Sonos One, Google's $399 Home Max and Amazon's next-gen $100 Echo.

So, other than to say the sound of the Homepod -- and my long time audio system uses excellent Dynaudio speakers -- is great, I'm not going to heap more praise on their audio quality. Instead I'll talk about the rest of experience.

Setup

If you have an iPhone, it is quick and painless. A welcome example of Apple's "it just works" mentality. Your iOS device just needs the Home and Apple Music apps installed.

A big caveat: setup requires an iPhone or iPad. If you aren't already in the Apple ecosystem, and have no interest in joining, the Homepod isn't for you. Stop reading now.

Setting up two HomePods for stereo is almost as easy. Go to the Home app, and link the two speakers. Once done, the stereo has worked flawlessly.

Content

The Homepod only accepts content from Apple Music or an Airplay-enabled device, including Macs and Windows using iTunes, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TV.

You can also ask Siri for the weather, the latest news, control HomeKit connected devices, set timers and reminders, check your calendar, or edit notes, if your iOS device is present.

Controls

The HomePod has only two physical controls: the wall plug is the on/off switch; and touchscreen-based controls on the top of the HomePod. Using just the touchscreen you can adjust volume, pause and play, and go to the next or previous track. Other than the stereo setup through the Home app, and the iOS Control Center, all other controls are through Siri.

The Siri control works, but not as well as I'd like. Volume adjustments are usually easily done, but not always, as sometimes Siri doesn't seem to hear the command.

Trying to find obscure music, such as Balinese monkey chants, in Apple Music can take a while, much as searching for something quite specific in any search engine, as you try different queries. But most requests are efficiently handled.

I can't compare the HomePod/Apple Music combo to other services, since I've never used one. But if you are bought into the Apple ecosystem the Homepod and Apple Music integration is seamless. 

Privacy 

 All voice commands are encrypted before they leave the HomePod and sent to Apple's servers. I'm privacy first, and I like that.

Apparently most other devices send info about your listening and/or viewing habits so the vendor can monetize the information. I hate that.

The invisible stereo

But the best thing about the HomePod -- besides the excellent sound and Apple's privacy policies -- is that Homepods are so inconspicuous and easily wired. Once they're set up, you can unplug the power and move them wherever you want at home, and they'll boot up ready to play music. I did have to reset the HomePod once early on, and since then they've worked perfectly.

I compare that to my elaborate 5.1 surround sound system, with cables everywhere, and it feels like freedom. I'm thinking of selling my old system because the HomePod is so easy.

The Storage Bits take

I've been through so many hype cycles over the decades that I'm a permanent sceptic about "new and improved" anything. But I'm sold on streaming music after using it for almost a year.

Long ago I was a DJ at a Silicon Valley radio station with a 5,000 LP music collection. We thought that was enormous, and, back in the day, it was. But today's streaming services dwarf that, and I love it.

The stripped down esthetic of the HomePods, the overall ease of use, the excellent sound quality, and -- on sale -- cost makes me glad I bought them. I can't say that about every tech purchase. If you have an iOS device and love music, I recommend them.

Comments welcome.