Apple's new HomePod speaker has launched in the UK - the technology giant's take on the smart speaker market currently dominated by Amazon and Google.
But how does the speaker, which Apple says is more of a music device than a smart home hub, compare to the popular smart speakers?
- How much does it cost?
HomePod is significantly more expensive than its smart speaker rivals, costing £319 compared to £74.99 for the Amazon Echo and £129 for the Google Home.
- Why such a big difference?
The key reason is the amount of additional audio technology built into the HomePod. Whereas the Google Home houses a solitary speaker and the Amazon Echo one woofer and one tweeter, HomePod houses a large woofer and array of seven tweeters to bring sound output more akin to dedicated home speaker systems than a smart home device.
The result is significantly more powerful audio performance from the HomePod compared to its two rivals. A better comparison would be the Sonos One home speaker for example - a dedicated music speaker - and HomePod may have an audio edge on that too.
- What else can HomePod do?
Because it has Apple's virtual assistant Siri built in, HomePod is able to follow basic voice commands around playing music, but also answering some basic trivia questions and controlling other smart home accessories such as lighting, similar to both the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
When using Apple Music though, the HomePod can display an impressive level of knowledge. Using the device's Musicologist feature, it is able to provide extensive details on tracks when asked, including details on who is playing what instrument, as well as year of release and album details.
- What are its limitations?
Despite the impressive music set-up, the HomePod does have some limitations.
HomePod is locked into Apple's own ecosystem, meaning it is only compatible with Apple Music. In contrast its rivals support a range of streaming services, including Spotify.
HomePod also lacks some basic functionality such as the ability to run more than a single timer at once, to stream live radio, or provide recipe details when asked.
The voice of Siri also lacks the natural flow of either Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant - among the artificial intelligence systems it still sounds the most robotic.
- Do I need an existing Apple device for it to work?
Yes - in order to set-up HomePod you'll need an iOS device running the most recent version of the software (iOS 11.2.5). A connection via Apple's own AirPlay technology is needed to connect the speaker to the internet, and link an Apple Music account to it for streaming.
The set-up process is less cumbersome than for the Echo or Google Home, which use a companion app and require some WiFi network selection.
In contrast, HomePod set-up begins simply by holding your iOS device close to the speaker, this then automatically sets-up the device, including syncing Apple Music account and WiFi network information.
- What's the verdict?
HomePod is an exceptional home music player, the best in its price range and several above it, offering a music listening experience that will delight any audiophile.
If your desire is a home audio system to be envied, then HomePod is for you.
However, in other areas the device is limited by how locked into Apple's own ecosystem it is. Anyone considering investing in a HomePod must be both an Apple device user already, and be willing to use only Apple Music as their streaming service on the device.
This is also a big ask for a product that still lags behind its Amazon and Google rivals in the virtual assistant stakes. Siri on HomePod is by far the most limited of the three when it comes to smart interactions and so if you're looking for a smart device to run your smart home, you should consider looking elsewhere.