The Apple HomePod range of smart speakers may not be the obvious choice in the category for many buyers, because of its very obvious ecosystem-based optimisations. However, those who are suitably invested in Apple’s hardware will see some benefit to this, particularly the ease with which the smart speaker is able to link and work with other Apple devices. The original HomePod was launched globally in 2018, and five years later it finally sees a successor which promises better features and performance.
Priced at Rs. 32,900, the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) is said to be smarter, better equipped to work with IoT devices, and can also tell you the room temperature and humidity. It’s also considerably larger and more capable than the HomePod mini (Review), the other Apple smart speaker that you can buy right now. Should you buy the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen)? Find out in this review.
Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) design and features
After the original HomePod was officially discontinued in 2021, the only smart speaker from Apple has been the HomePod mini — until now. The Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) is bigger and much more capable than the HomePod mini, although there are some reductions in specifications and potential capabilities when compared to the original HomePod.
Visually though, the new smart speaker is nearly identical to its predecessor, save for small differences in the dimensions and weight. The Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) is available in two colours, black and white, with a fabric-wrapped exterior and light-up touch-sensitive panel at the top. Personally, I’d recommend the black colour option, based on my experience with the white HomePod mini in India, and how quickly it caught grime and started to look a bit dirty.
Another big change in the design is the cable on the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen). Unlike its predecessor, the power cable is detachable on the new smart speaker, although it retains its discreet design that covers the socket entirely and gives it the appearance of being fixed in place. In addition to the cable and the speaker itself, the sales package only has the documentation for the speaker.
As before, there are no physical buttons on the HomePod, with the touch-sensitive top panel providing some physical controls for volume, playback, and invoking Siri. It also provides light-based cues for when the smart speaker is in operation, listening for commands after the ‘Hey Siri’ wake phrase, or processing a voice command to act on it.
Of course, the only way to switch the speaker off is by unplugging it entirely. Voice commands or companion devices can be used to control functions on the HomePod (2nd Gen). There is no physical mute switch for the four-microphone far-field system, but you can mute it through the app if you like.
The HomePod (2nd Gen) works with Apple’s Siri voice assistant for voice commands, and runs on the audioOS platform. The speaker also supports Apple’s AirPlay protocol to work with supported source devices, including an iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV devices, and can be stereo-paired with a second HomePod for true stereo sound. AirPlay also enables multi-room streaming capabilities, and the speaker notably has sensors for temperature and humidity readings as well.
Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) specifications and app
The Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) can be quickly set up and linked to your Apple ID and services by bringing an iOS device close to the speaker. As with the earlier HomePod devices, you will need an iOS device to set it up. After a quick and hassle-free setup process, the speaker is active and linked to your Apple services as per your Apple ID, the most important of which is Apple Music, if you have a subscription. Furthermore, the HomePod supports Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos; the format has plenty of content available on Apple Music.
It’s worth noting that while the HomePod range was earlier limited to just Apple Music to stream tracks, you can now use other services such as Pandora and Deezer through voice commands to Siri. Spotify and YouTube Music also work, provided you’re using an iOS device and AirPlay to initiate the playback. As before, the most convenient and seamless service to use on the HomePod is Apple Music itself.
Once set up, the Home app on iOS controls the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen). All Apple accessories (such as other HomePod speakers or Apple TV streaming devices) linked to your account show up here, along with temperature and humidity details as recorded by the sensors on the HomePod itself (provided your smartphone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the HomePod). You can also get temperature and humidity information by asking Siri through specific voice commands, such as ‘What is the indoor temperature?’.
These sensors can usefully be utilised for home automation functions, if you have supported IoT devices linked to your system. The HomePod also supports the new and upcoming Matter IoT protocol; although not too many products support this right now, this is expected to improve in the coming months. As before, current-generation smart home and IoT functionality and support on the HomePod is fairly limited, and considerably harder to set up than on Alexa or Google Assistant-powered smart speakers.
In terms of specifications, the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) sees a few downgrades as compared to the original HomePod, at least on paper. There is a five-tweeter array (down from seven) and a four-microphone system (down from six), along with a single four-inch woofer. Apple also claims to have computational audio with system sensing for real-time tuning, which presumably tweaks the sound slightly based on the environment, noise levels, and other factors.
For connectivity, there is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5. As is the case on the original HomePod and HomePod mini, you can’t connect a device to the speaker using Bluetooth for audio. The HomePod can stream audio through voice commands over Wi-Fi, or through the Wi-Fi-based AirPlay protocol only. The smart speaker is powered by the S7 chip, which is also used on the Apple Watch Series 7 (Review).
Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) performance
Many might consider the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) a fair bit overpriced, particularly when compared to competing options from brands such as Amazon which are platform-agnostic and don’t really need to function within the same ecosystem as your smartphone and other gear. That said, if you do have an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV 4K, or Mac computer, the HomePod (2nd Gen) offers some fairly useful benefits that might make it worth considering.
In my case, I had the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) placed in my living room right below my television, and alongside my Apple TV 4K (3rd Gen). I used it as the default speaker for the Apple TV 4K for much of the duration of my review, and also to listen to music either through AirPlay from my smartphone or through voice commands. Other features such as Siri-based assistance and Apple’s Intercom feature also came in handy on occasion.
What is most notable about the sound quality of the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) is how much more capable it is than the size of the speaker suggests. This isn’t a very large smart speaker, but it produces a loud, refined sound that does somewhat explain why this speaker costs so much more than similarly-sized options from brands such as Amazon and Google.
A single HomePod speaker is also more than capable of handling sound from the Apple TV 4K, and is able to cover a moderate-sized room with ease. Setting the HomePod up as the default speaker for the Apple TV 4K meant that the smart speaker activated flawlessly when needed, and I experienced no issues with latency or connectivity during my review. The sound is also suitably tuned for the purpose, working well with voice-focused content such as Clarkson’s Farm season 2 and Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 5.
Stereo pairing capabilities mean that if you have two Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) speakers, you’ll be able to set them up wirelessly as a stereo pair, further increasing the overall power and drive of the system. Additionally, this would also better benefit the Spatial Audio capabilities of the speaker system. However, it’s worth pointing out here that two HomePod speakers would set you back well over Rs. 60,000, which is more than enough to buy you a decent soundbar with a subwoofer.
This makes a single HomePod setup the more likely one for most buyers of this smart speaker. With one speaker, there wasn’t much of a difference in the sound with compatible Spatial Audio content as compared to regular stereo sound; the soundstage felt a bit more spacious, but the shape and size of the HomePod (2nd Gen) did finally show its limitations, which you wouldn’t typically face with larger and wider speaker systems.
Of course, the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) is much more than just a wireless companion speaker for a streaming box, but it helps that it can handle this function well where most smart speakers barely have similar ecosystem capabilities. Coming to the more obvious use case for a smart speaker, the HomePod excels at its core function as an output device for music. The multi-driver setup and the computational audio tuning seem to help the most here, with the HomePod (2nd Gen) sounding good with just about any track, genre, and volume level.
With Obsessed by Calvin Harris, the HomePod (2nd Gen) captured the upbeat vibe of the track beautifully, giving the bass just enough drive and thump, while leaving plenty of room for the dancehall-style vocals of singer Shenseea and the deep chorus of Charlie Puth. Switching to the faster, busier Paris (Aeroplane Remix) by Friendly Fires, the HomePod offered a room-filling, immersive listening experience that is arguably better than on most other smart speakers or Wi-Fi speakers I’ve had a chance to test.
There are four microphones on the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen), but they work just fine for the most part in hearing the ‘Hey Siri’ wake phrase and any voice commands that follow. I didn’t have any trouble being understood from anywhere in the room at distances of up to 4m, including when I was looking away from the speaker and talking. There were a couple of occasions where the volume was so loud that I had to speak up for the wake phrase to be heard, but this wasn’t a problem at lower volume levels.
Smart functionality on the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) really only lacks in Apple’s current shortcomings of support for many current-generation IoT devices, particularly those available in India. Other key features, including Siri’s ability to help with contextual responses, or carry out basic functions such as setting timers and alarms, work just fine, and will function in sync with your iPhone and other Apple devices.
As far as smart speakers go, the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) is undeniably expensive, and too specific in its functionality for many to even want to consider in India. However, if you have an iPhone and other Apple hardware such as the Apple TV 4K, the HomePod (2nd Gen) fits into this ecosystem as smoothly as the specific Tetris block that you were so eagerly waiting for. It’s a capable audio system for your streaming needs, it syncs and works seamlessly with your iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices, and most importantly, it sounds pretty good.
While smart devices such as the Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) might feel like more bang for your buck, the focus on being device-agnostic does have its drawbacks for specific use cases. The overall appeal of the ecosystem and its interoperability on the HomePod (2nd Gen) are definitely worth considering, although you might want to consider two (or even three) HomePod mini speakers for roughly the same or less money.
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