For a while there, it seemed like the HomePod Mini will be tasked with continuing Apple’s smart speaker business. But just over three years since its first version, the Apple HomePod is back.
It’s still among the most expensive smart speakers you can buy today, but it has a few key changes this time.
The new HomePod has fewer tweeters and microphones than its predecessor (four of each this time, instead of seven and six, respectively). It runs on Apple’s S7 chip, which debuted on the Apple Watch Series 7, and it supports the Matter and Thread smart home protocols, which means it can theoretically support a wide range of smart home accessories in future.
How does it sound?
On paper, the new HomePod sounds better than the original, but that difference is truly difficult to tell. I compared these against the Amazon Echo Studio and Google’s Nest Audio, and the 2nd Generation Apple HomePod has better sound fidelity than both of those devices. Which means that it reproduces music more accurately than the other two.
That doesn’t mean that audio on the HomePod is exactly what every artist intended, but it’s definitely more pleasant. The HomePod’s built-in woofer produces more powerful bass than most competitors, barring perhaps the smart speakers from Bose or Sony. But those won’t have the Apple-specific features that this one will (more on that later).
The HomePod still fires audio on all sides, which means they sound the same irrespective of which side of the speaker you are on.
Having said that, its key weakness, as far as the quality of audio is concerned, lies in how it reproduces the mid-range. It’ll work fine for tracks driven by guitars or other instruments that fall in the high-frequency audio range, or very bass-driven tracks that fall in the lower frequencies. But take a track like Another One Bites the Dust, for instance: the initial strums of the bass guitar as the song picks up feel muted on this speaker, which can be a downer if you’ve been listening to a better sounding speaker so far.
To be sure, comparable devices from Google or Amazon don’t do much better. However, smart speakers like the Bose Home Audio 500 (which is quite old now, but supports Alexa) sound better to my ear.
To be sure, the audio experience still ranks among the best, and I admit that I can figure out the weaknesses only because I have the luxury of comparing against a host of other speakers. On its own, the Apple HomePod (2nd Generation) is still a good speaker, especially when you consider that it’s not supposed to be just a speaker.
Which brings us to the smart stuff
As mentioned before, the HomePod 2 supports Matter, the new smart home standard created by a consortium of industry stakeholders. That doesn’t make a big difference in India at the moment, but it means that as more developers start making Matter-enabled devices, the HomePod will start supporting everything from a smart heater to a bulb, hence increasing the number of devices you can control with voice commands.
In fact, the HomePod is meant to be a hub for smart home devices, especially if you already have a host of Apple Home enabled devices. It also has a faster processor than its predecessor, and voice commands are processed just a smidge faster on this one, although that doesn’t mean that Siri understands commands better than it did earlier. I heard the failure message — which goes ‘this is taking too long’ — more often than I would want to. Alexa is the undisputed winner in this department.
Having said that, the HomePod also has a built-in temperature and humidity sensor, which means it will show you this data in the Apple Home app. You can choose to set automation, like turning on the AC if the temperature hits a certain level, using this information.
For those truly invested in the Apple ecosystem, multiple HomePods can also form a stereo pair automatically, which is a very good way to use these speakers. In fact, I will argue that if you have two HomePods and an Apple TV 4K, using the HomePod set as a speaker system for watching movies is a better idea than buying a soundbar for your TV.
The HomePod’s superior audio fidelity is great, especially for action movies or gaming. They also create a larger sound field than most speakers by firing in all directions, which means that a group of people sitting watching movies in a large room can more or less get the same audio experience.
Lastly, the second generation HomePod also has Apple’s Ultrawideband chip, which allows your iPhones to find them based on direction. Essentially, if your iPhone is playing music and you walk close to the HomePod, the phone will automatically prompt you to transfer music to the speaker with a single tap. On the flipside, there’s no Bluetooth playback on the HomePod, which means that you cannot use one of these with an Android device, without using sketchy third-party apps.
Should you buy it?
The last version of the HomePod was a great speaker to listen to music on, but it struggled in terms of the number of connected devices it supported in India. Of the six connected lights, two air purifiers and two smart plugs in my home, this new one also supports only one device at the moment. However, the fact that it supports Matter means we can be more hopeful about more smart devices (especially affordable ones sold in India) coming into Apple’s ecosystem soon.
But despite all the changes, the verdict for this new HomePod isn’t really any different from its predecessor. The HomePod (2nd Gen) is still among the best smart speakers as far as actually listening to music is concerned, and it’s obviously designed specifically to work alongside Apple devices.
At ₹32,900, it’s among the most expensive smart speakers you can buy today, and even the Sonos One is more affordable here. Which means that unless you absolutely want to be in Apple’s ecosystem, there’s a more affordable option available. If not the Sonos One, a HomePod Mini will suit most needs at a much lower price.
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