Apple’s pricey HomePod sounds great but exacts some trade-offs

Technologies

USA Today Personal Tech Columnist Ed Baig discusses his experience with Apple’s HomePod.Josmar Taveras

HomePod may be a latecomer on the smart loudspeaker scene, but Apple’s entry onto the dance floor is about to liven up the party. At least for well-heeled Apple die-hards who share my passion for all kinds of music.

If you fit that description and are willing to fork over $349 plus embrace the subscription-only Apple Music streaming service, HomePod is well worth the wait, an outcome I reached after testing the speaker for just shy of a week. Apple makes no bones that HomePod is a music-first speaker, and it sounds terrific, all the more notable given how small it is. Vocals were pure, bass deep.

At the same time, the new speaker can be an exercise in frustration at times, especially when you request something of Siri that Apple’s digital assistant can’t deliver on HomePod. In answering to your “Hey Siri” vocal commands, Apple’s assistant can perform many of the same table-stakes tasks as Amazon’s Alexa on Echos or the Google Assistant on Google Home speakers — from setting timers and reminders to informing you of the weather and traffic, turning on smart lights or solving math.

But Siri on HomePod cannot currently hail you a ride through Lyft or Uber, launch a trivia game or arrange for an audiobook to be played.

And while you can use HomePod as a speakerphone, Siri on the new speaker cannot initiate the call.

You can play podcasts and Apple’s Beats 1 radio or listen to news from a variety of sources (NPR, CNN, CNBC, ESPN, Fox News, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, NBC, BBC), too. But you’re far more limited in what you can hear outside Apple’s ecosystem, unless you bring your phone or tablet and exploit Apple’s AirPlay wireless streaming technology.

That’s how I was able to play Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM and other services through the speaker, without any assistance from Siri.

Besides Apple Music ($9.99 per month), you can have Siri play music you’ve purchased through iTunes, but unless you also subscribe to iTunes Match ($24.99 a year), not the songs in your library that you may have ripped off CDs way back when or imported from some other source.

Also worth noting here: if you’re on Android you are fat out of luck — this is an Apple speaker that implores you to go all in on Apple.

Here’s more on what went well during my tests and where some of the sour notes are.

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