Apple HomePod 2023 review
HomePod has made a surprise return and it sounds just as good as we remembered
What we love
- Truly stunning sound
- Simple set-up if you own an iPhone
- Easy linking to other HomePods
- Bass booms and can be switched off
- Intelligent audio settings work well
What we don’t
- Very expensive
- No good for Android fans
- Still no sign of the BBC
- Siri not as smart as its rivals
The HomePod has made a surprise return and it sounds just as good as we remembered. Apple’s first smart speaker, which was suddenly discontinued back in 2021, was regarded as one of the best in the business and its reincarnation has lost none of that ear-pleasing charm.
Tucked under its soft mesh design are five tweeters, a custom woofer and clever Spatial Audio which all help it offer a supreme audio experience. Every track gets an incredible level of clarity with each strum on a guitar string, press of a piano key or clash of a symbol sounding ludicrously detailed and crystal clear.
Pump up the volume and things never get distorted with the HomePod easily good enough to get your next party started.
Now we can’t talk about the sound without mentioning the bass. Apple has pushed things to 11 on the new HomePod and it will certainly rattle your walls. If you hate too much bass you can easily switch this boost off which calms things down a bit.
Of course, it’s all powered by Siri which means you can bark orders at it and get some pretty useful responses.
The HomePod is a fabulous speaker but we do have some gripes. At £299 it’s £100 more than the award-winning Sonos One.
Despite Siri getting better the HomePod is still not quite as smart as devices such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Then there’s the issue with the BBC. Ask the HomePod to play BBC Radio 1 and this speaker stays annoyingly silent. It’s long been a bugbear of these Apple devices and it’s still not sorted out years after the issue first reared its ugly head.
There’s no question that the HomePod is the best-sounding smart speaker on the market. Just be aware that it’s very expensive and not quite as clever as some of its cheaper rivals.
The HomePod is back with a bang! Yes, after being sent packing back in 2021, this premium smart speaker is back in stores and its audio credentials will certainly make a very big impression on anyone who buys it.
The big question is, should you really spend £299 on this device or simply fill your home full of vastly cheaper Amazon Echos?
Express.co.uk has been putting the all-new HomePod 2023 through its paces and here is our full review.
The HomePod is a breeze to set up
Set-up and design
As long as you own an iPhone – and it’s updated to the very latest version of iOS 16 – the HomePod is a breeze to set up. In fact, from the unboxing to belting out the first tune you’ll only be waiting a few minutes with Apple doing all of the heavy lifting for you. Plug this speaker into the mains then simply hold your iPhone or iPad nearby. Everything else is then taken care of with the HomePod automatically connecting to your Wi-Fi and linking up to your iCloud account so that Siri can add reminders to your calendar, set alerts and add things to your shopping list.
It’s so simple even the biggest technophobe shouldn’t have any issues – it’s worth noting that Android users should probably steer clear as this operating system isn’t supported and you can’t beam songs directly to the HomePod via Bluetooth with this device using Apple’s AirPlay technology instead.
If you were hoping that the rebirth of the HomePod would mean a shiny new design you might be disappointed as this speaker looks almost identical to before.
The HomePod’s minimalistic design still looks great and is a nice addition to any shelf in your home.
That means it still gets those curved edges and fabric finish with both White and Midnight (that’s a clever way of saying black) available at launch.
There are some subtle changes including a slightly sunken touch-style control panel plus Apple is promising that it has fixed the issue which left some users with a nasty mark on their worktops from its rubber base.
The HomePod’s minimalistic design still looks great and is a nice addition to any shelf in your home.
If we had one moan it would be that there’s no way to easily see if your Siri voice command has been heard. The famous multicoloured pattern does glow on that top-mounted touch panel but if you have the speaker higher than your eye line it’s impossible to see it.
Amazon fixed this issue by introducing a glowing light around the base of its Echo and it’s a shame Apple hasn’t followed with something similar.
You’ll also need to get the hang of the HomePod’s touch controls as there are no physical buttons to skip tracks or pause songs. It takes a minute to get used to but things work well once you learn the different taps and swipes.
Apple has packed its smart device full of speakers and clever AI to help adjust the sound
Just like the original HomePod, this new smart speaker is really, really good. No matter what your taste in music, this device will make it sound sublime with a level of detail that’s pretty hard to beat.
Thanks to its circular design – and a mix of impressive hardware and clever software – the HomePod is able to offer an experience that fills a room with incredible noise. It’s actually pretty magical and at times you’re left wondering how one small speaker is able to produce such immersive audio. We know it’s a massive cliché to say the musician could be in the room with you but it’s honestly that good.
To help achieve this impressive audio, Apple has tucked five tweeters, a custom-engineered high-excursion woofer and a powerful motor that drives the diaphragm to 20mm under the fabric shell. This all helps produce impressive highs, rich lows, crystal clear vocals and very deep bass (more on that later).
To help make sure every user gets the ultimate experience, there is also a new S7 processor inside and sensors that adjust the sound depending on where it is placed within a room. For example, the HomePod knows if it’s pushed up against a wall or has been placed right in the middle of the kitchen with it then adapting the sound in real-time.
There’s also full support for clever Spatial Audio. For those that may not have heard of this technology, Spatial Audio give artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity. This basically makes the sound appears to hit your ears from all directions making things sound much more true-to-life and engaging.
If you’ve got plenty of money in the bank you can also splash out, buy two, and turn them into a stereo pair.
We’ve been testing out this function and it really is mightily impressive – at £300 for each HomePod it’s also hugely expensive!
Thanks to its circular design – and a mix of impressive hardware and clever software – the HomePod is able to offer an experience that fills a room with incredible noise
Now, we’ve got to talk about the bass. During our first few hours of testing, the HomePod was producing some pretty intense noise which was almost unpleasant on the ears.
Luckily this issue has now gone away with things sounding much more like we were expecting. We’re guessing Apple’s clever AI listened in and tweaked the settings to make sure our room was getting the correct level of bass without being so overpowering.
If you really don’t like things sounding too bass-heavy then you can also turn things down a little via the Home app.
This is also where you can link speakers for multi-room and adjust other settings such as Siri commands and notifications.
One final feature to be aware of is that owners of the Apple TV 4K can link the new HomePod up to this streaming box to help boost the audio when watching the telly. We’re still fully testing this function and will update this review in the coming days.
Overall, there really is no question that this new HomePod sounds pretty epic and owners definitely won’t be disappointed when they pump up their playlists.
The HomePod will connect to the Apple TV 4K to improve your boxset binges
Smart features, Siri and still no BBC!
Over the years Apple has definitely improved its smart features with Siri now able to cope with almost everything you ask of it. You can play your favourite playlists, check the weather, get news reports, set timers and control things such as volume via simple commands.
If you have an iCloud account you can also set reminders or calendar entries which then instantly sync with your iPhone, iPad or Mac. Shopping lists can also be created, phone calls made and iMessages sent without ever touching your phone and there’s even a new Intercom option which allows you to summon the family down for tea without shouting up the stairs. It all works really well.
Siri even recognises voices which means it can offer improved answers for different members of the household.
However, this is all pretty standard stuff – and Alexa and Google Assistant have been able to handle all of these voice commands for years. And while Apple has been playing catch-up with Siri, Google Assistant has gotten much, much smarter.
When asking for things such as train times, Siri is still unable to answer with the assistant telling us to check the web instead. Not ideal.
Say the same thing to the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa and they will provide answers with pinpoint accuracy – even adding in some extra information, like the amount of time our next train would take to reach central London. So, it’s clear there’s still a bit of work to do before the HomePod can match the full power of its rivals.
The HomePod isn’t quite as smart as the other smart speakers on the market
The fact the HomePod isn’t quite as smart as the other smart speakers on the market is an annoyance for those paying a premium for the Apple-branded kit, but there is a bigger issue for users in the UK.
One of our biggest gripes with the original HomePod is that it couldn’t access any BBC radio stations and that issue still remains.
Shout “Play Radio 2” to your 2023 HomePod and you’ll get nothing in return, with Siri apologising that “I can’t play that radio station”.
This remains a major downside for anyone who enjoys the BBC with their morning coffee and it’s something that needs addressing especially when you consider how many people tune in to these stations every day.
Of course, there are other radio channels to listen to and, if you subscribe to Apple Music, the HomePod can keep you entertained all day and long into the night with curated music, podcasts and personalised recommendations all available. But it’s disappointing to see some of the most popular stations not be supported on HomePod in the last two years. Both Google and Amazon smart speakers support BBC out of the box.
The HomePod is getting smarter but it can’t match Alexa when asking some questions
Although the design looks pretty similar to before there are some new additions hidden under its shell.
Apple has introduced a built-in temperature and humidity sensor to the HomePod that can measure the temperature of the room it is placed in.
Owners can even then set automation such as closing blinds should things start getting too hot. It’s very clever although you will need to make sure your home has compatible smart accessories for it to work.
Another nice bonus is that speaker can hear the sound of smoke or carbon monoxide alarms and instantly send a notification to your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
Hopefully, that’s something you’ll never need but it could certainly come in handy should the worse happen.
With a £299 price tag, the new HomePod is not cheap. In fact, it’s £100 more than a Sonos One and £200 more than Apple’s compact but still pretty impressive HomePod mini. You could buy three of these diddy devices for the same price as one of their bigger brothers.
This is a premium smart speaker that does sound mighty. You’ll just need to be prepared for some bill shock especially if you fancy trying out that Stereo Pair feature which requires two of them.
Apple HomePod 2023 review
Apple HomePod 2023: Final verdict
We loved the sound of the first HomePod and its reincarnation is just as good as before. Just like most of Apple’s audio products in recent years, the new HomePod excels and anyone buying this refreshed smart speaker will be treated to an audio experience that’s rich, powerful and packed with detail.
Although we found the new bass levels a little over the top to begin with, the HomePod’s clever AI soon got that under control and we’ve been left mightily impressed by the sound this device is able to produce.
The simple set-up is also a huge bonus and, although the design hasn’t changed much, it still looks good enough to be placed in the most luxurious living rooms.
Although there’s lots to like, it’s still a shame that Siri can’t help with as many queries as Alexa or the Google Assistant.
If you love BBC content it’s also massively frustrating that you have to launch the Sounds app then AirPlay its content as Siri still isn’t compatible with this popular service.
At £299 the HomePod is also pretty expensive.
We’re still a little baffled why the HomePod was sent to room 101 only for Apple to now bring it back to life.
That said, it’s good to see this device back on sale as whilst it’s not perfect there’s no denying that it’s the best-sounding smart speaker money can buy.