Apple’s new smart speaker offers impressive audio and upgraded intelligence, but with a whole host of smart speakers to choose from, is it the right buy? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the new Apple HomePod?
The new Apple HomePod, from the outside, looks an awful lot like the very first HomePod smart speaker Apple released in 2018.
That model gave way to the smaller HomePod Mini. Apple quietly discontinued that original HomePod and most thought that Apple’s premium smart speaker ambitions had crumbled away.
It wasn’t so, and in early 2023 Apple announced the full-sized premium HomePod was back.
This isn’t just technology from 2018 that Apple’s clearing out of the warehouses, with some internal and design differences that make it a better speaker than its predecessor.
Externally, the power cable is now removable, which means it’s replaceable if something happens to it; the original unit used a sealed power cable.
Internally, Apple’s redesigned the speaker woofers and tweeters, as well as including a new four microphone array to allow it to more intelligently and quickly pick up voices. It’s easily amongst the best at voice pickup of the many smart speakers I’ve tested, even across a busy room.
Audio is, as you’d expect at this price, really very good, especially if you’re playing high resolution audio – or what Apple calls “Spatial Audio” – through it.
On the smart side, there’s support for stereo pairing – if you buy two of them – which can not only deliver much more pleasing sound, but also connect up to the Apple TV 4K to work as a very effective soundbar replacement. The effect is very good, and if you don’t like the chunky size of most soundbars and have an Apple TV set top box, it’s a great combination.
One catch here if you do have one of the original larger HomePods is that sadly, you can’t pair an old and new HomePod together in a stereo pair. Likewise, while they’ll talk to each other for functions such as intercom, you can’t do this with the smaller and more affordable HomePod Mini either.
The other detail to keep in mind is that the new Apple HomePod is resolutely an Apple product, and it requires an iPhone 8 (or newer) or iPad 5th Gen or newer for setup. You don’t have to keep that device around, but you can’t actually set it up without one.
How much is the new Apple HomePod?
Can I use HomePod with Spotify or other music services?
Like a lot of Apple products, the HomePod’s most at home when it’s talking to Apple services – which in this case means Apple Music predominantly – but it’s not hard to get other services to work too. You can’t use Apple’s voice assistant Siri to choose music, but you can use Apple’s AirPlay service to send music from Spotify or other services from an iPhone or iPad to a HomePod. Here’s how:
- Open Spotify (or other music app) and select the music you want to listen to
- Choose to AirPlay – on Spotify on an iPhone this is the little icon on the bottom left that looks like a speaker. On many other apps it’s a set of circles with a tiny triangle at the base.
- Choose “AirPlay or Bluetooth” on Spotify, or just the HomePod if your app has the direct circles-and-triangle style AirPlay icon.
- Your Apple HomePod should appear in the list of compatible devices. Tap it, and your Spotify stream should start playing immediately.
For what it’s worth, that process is exactly how you send any audio content from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to a HomePod speaker. Look for the AirPlay icon, tap it, tap your speaker when it comes up and you’re good to go.
Is the new Apple HomePod worth it?
It can be, but it’s not your only choice. It’s best suited if you’re already heavily in the Apple ecosystem with your smart home run by Siri and HomeKit and an Apple Music subscription already playing sweet music in your ears.
If that’s you, the Apple HomePod is an excellent buy that’ll seamlessly incorporate itself into your home or office.
If your technology mix is a little more varied, it will work and it is a nice premium speaker, but you may want to consider alternative options.
What are the alternatives to the Apple HomePod?
In the smart speaker world, the two big players are Amazon with its Alexa-powered speakers, from the affordable Echo Dot through to the premium Echo Show 15 or Google, with its Nest Mini, Nest Audio and Nest Hub Max Smart Display to pick from.
There’s also a smaller variety of smart speakers in Australia that mostly use Google’s Assistant, including those from the likes of LG, Panasonic and Sonos.
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