Apple’s “all-new” HomePod speaker is more of a do-over than a successor. Unlike when it introduces a new iPhone or Mac, there are zero references to the original HomePod in any of Apple’s marketing materials. That might seem a bit odd, but in context, it makes sense. For as good as it may have sounded, and despite six years of development time, the inaugural HomePod was a flop due to its high price and Siri’s shortcomings. Apple discontinued it in March 2021, leaving the $99 HomePod Mini as its lone smart speaker for nearly two years. “We are focusing our efforts on HomePod Mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod,” Apple flatly said at the time.
Prioritizing the Mini was the right decision: it has evolved into a very useful smart home gadget that sounds quite good for its very compact size. And to its credit, Apple has continued bringing new features to the original HomePod long after it left store shelves, though some owners have encountered hardware reliability issues over the years.
But you can only have a “Mini” product without a larger companion for so long. Now there’s once again a full-size HomePod in the mix. And just by looking at the $299 device, which is available starting on February 3rd, it’s clear that Apple has chosen to rework its first concept rather than start over from scratch. There are some new sensors and guts inside, including more smart home capabilities, but anyone who has seen (or heard) an original HomePod will find this one very familiar. This is clearly not the revamped HomePod with a screen that has been rumored (and many have been hoping for).
And despite now costing $50 less, the new HomePod still demands a much higher premium than other smart speakers, including Amazon’s $199 Echo Studio and the $219 Sonos One. The original HomePod wasn’t the hit Apple hoped it’d become, and the new model doesn’t change the formula much.
As the resident home theater and audio reviewer here at The Verge, I (Chris) have been testing the ins and outs of the new HomePod’s performance as a smart speaker. My colleague Jennifer Pattison Tuohy has been getting deep into the weeds of its smart home and virtual assistant capabilities, and we have included her perspective later on.
The second-generation HomePod looks very similar to the original. It’s still wrapped in spongy mesh fabric, and the newer model is slightly shorter and lighter than the first. That’s not the sort of thing you’ll spot just eyeballing them side by side, but you will notice that the top-side LED animations now span the entire glossy surface. These were confined to a much smaller circular cutout on the OG HomePod; now, the whole thing glows whenever you interact with Siri or push one of the volume buttons. (Those volume buttons are permanently printed on the surface this time; they were backlit on the old model and could thus disappear from view, which is a thing volume controls really shouldn’t do.) The actual animations are very similar: they’re still just swirling colors — only bigger this time. You’re not getting a full touchscreen.
The glossy top section is now set into the top, which makes it much harder to clean, unfortunately. (Prepare for dust to embed itself in the edge where the panel meets the fabric body.) Apple is offering the new HomePod in “midnight” — let’s not kid ourselves, it’s black — and white. Apparently, fun colors just aren’t allowed for the company’s higher-end devices; only the Mini gets those. Many original white HomePods have developed stains and other grime over the years — it’s likely this new one will have similar issues.
Thankfully, Apple has switched to a fully user-removable power cord. It was possible to remove the original’s with some force, but now it’s much easier. And Apple is using a traditional figure-8 connector instead of the strange proprietary plug from the first model. I swapped the included braided cord for a ubiquitous black power cable from another product, and the HomePod worked just fine, albeit without the round cap fully sealing off the hole. At least this makes life easier if your original power cable is somehow damaged.
Under the HomePod’s fabric shell lie other changes: there are now five beamforming tweeters handling the higher frequencies (down from seven in the OG model), four microphones (compared to six last time), and the chip powering everything is Apple’s S7, which first debuted in the Apple Watch Series 7, instead of the iPhone-based A8 found in the first HomePod. The reduction in mic count hasn’t affected Siri’s hearing: Apple’s assistant still picked up my voice requests over music at moderate volume. As for the processor, the S7 gives the HomePod more headroom for Apple’s audio tuning capabilities. Apparently, the change in SoC also resulted in a downgrade for Wi-Fi (from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 4), but I haven’t noticed any problems.
The second-gen hardware also gains a U1 Ultra Wideband chip, meaning it has the same convenient handoff trick as the HomePod Mini: just bring a supported iPhone near the touch surface, and you’ll be prompted to play whatever you’re listening to on the speaker — or vice versa if you’re about to leave the house. Owners of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max will also see a HomePod icon appear in the Dynamic Island when they’re in close proximity to the speaker; you can long-press to see what’s playing or adjust volume while multitasking.
The new HomePod includes temperature and humidity sensors similar to those that were quietly built into the HomePod Mini (but dormant until just recently). And last, Apple says there’s an “all-new system sensor” that enhances the HomePod’s real-time audio adjustments. The original speaker automatically optimized its sound based on a room’s acoustic characteristics, and the idea behind the added sensor is to step up those background tuning capabilities.
When it comes to audio performance, the most important component of Apple’s new HomePod remains the high-excursion woofer, which can be driven up to 20mm to push as much air as possible and maximize bass response. Powerful lows are where the HomePod sets itself apart from similarly sized speakers like the Sonos One, Amazon Echo, and Nest Audio. But bass is rarely flabby or overpowering: here again, the internal mics are dynamically monitoring and calibrating output to keep the low-end kick powerful but tight and clean.
Just like the first time around, Apple Music is still core to the HomePod experience. You can set a few other services like Pandora and Deezer as the default for Siri song requests, but Spotify unfortunately still isn’t playing ball. Other alternatives like Amazon Music and YouTube Music can’t fill the default role, either. It’s possible to AirPlay audio from any of these apps on an Apple device to the HomePod in a matter of seconds, but the lack of deeper integration means that this $300 speaker is still primed for Apple Music subscribers first and foremost. There’s still no support for Bluetooth playback nor an aux input, and getting a turntable and HomePod to play nice is a little more tricky than in Sonos’ universe. The HomePod’s existence is still centered around Apple Music and Siri.
Audio quality is similar (but not identical) to the original HomePod
How does it sound, then? After several days of listening to the new HomePod (both solo and in a stereo pair), I still think its sound signature remains true to the original HomePod. If you were a fan of that speaker, you’ll be satisfied with the second-gen version. Sure, you can hear subtle differences in how music is rendered when comparing both generations side by side with the same track. The newer HomePod might bring out a guitar solo with slightly more emphasis than the original. But the central traits are the same. Nilay’s original HomePod review went in-depth on Apple’s approach to audio processing and virtualization, and although the driver configuration has changed, the underlying methodology is unchanged.
Apple’s real-time tuning focuses on crystalline vocals and tries to build a rich, full balance by analyzing its environment and bouncing sound off nearby walls. It usually succeeds at that, and since it’s firing sound all around its sides, you don’t need to worry about being in a sweet spot for the best listening experience.
But there’s not much warmth to the HomePod’s audio. My editor Dan Seifert described it as clinical — like what lab tests might show to be the ideal sound signature — and he preferred the sound characteristics of Sonos speakers in comparison. I’d rank a single HomePod above the most popular smart speakers from Amazon and Google in overall performance. And I personally prefer its wider sound field to a Sonos One. But be aware that you can’t adjust the HomePod’s sound; it disregards whatever EQ preferences you’ve set for Apple Music on your iPhone. All you’re able to do is temporarily reduce the bass in settings if you’re having a late-night listening party.
Even at $299, a solo HomePod can only do so much. Combining two of them as a stereo pair lets Apple Music’s lossless streaming library shine more. And spatial audio is better realized and more convincing in this scenario than the gimmicky experience you get from headphones and earbuds. With two HomePods firing a virtual array of soundbeams throughout the room, certain spatial tracks do feel more atmospheric, though poorly mixed Atmos tracks are still worse off than stereo.
But there can be software bugs. Occasionally, my HomePod review units seemed to get confused about whether they should play a spatial audio track or just stick with lossless instead. More than a few times, the Now Playing screen didn’t show a badge for either Atmos or lossless. Frustratingly, you can’t toggle spatial audio on or off with voice commands, which seems like an option that should be in there. (Without it, you need to venture deep into the Home app to find settings for lossless and spatial audio playback.) And Siri still has a tendency to give up on what should be easy music requests. “Sorry, that was taking too long” is a response you’re guaranteed to hear more than once.
Outside of a much more immersive stereo music experience, the other key advantage of linking two HomePods is the ability to use them as wireless speakers for an Apple TV. (This can be done with a single unit, but the results are less impressive.) With the latest Apple TV 4K and a modern TV, it gets better: you can plug the streaming player into your TV’s eARC port and set the HomePods to handle audio from everything coming from your television.
I was shocked at how well this worked when gaming with a connected PS5; I played a game of MLB The Show and noticed no obvious latency or audio sync issues during the crack of a bat or smack of a catcher’s glove. And those woofers in the HomePods do a very good job at lending some bass punch to movies, shows, and games. The fact that this all works smoothly — the eARC feature only came out of beta with the recent release of tvOS 16.3 — has me convinced that Apple has more home theater products in the pipeline. Why bother putting in so much work otherwise?
Obviously, this isn’t a cheap proposition: you’ll be out $600 by buying two HomePods. But if you can spring the cash, it’s one of those Apple ecosystem tricks that come together better than I expected.
Speaking of ecosystem, the HomePod’s secondary duty is to serve as a smart home hub and virtual assistant. For more on that, I’ll pass things off to our resident expert Jennifer Pattison Tuohy.
Just like the original HomePod, the new HomePod can be an Apple Home Hub, the controlling brains of your Apple Home-based smart home. But the new model also comes with a faster processor and some new smart home-specific technologies, such as a Thread radio and temperature and humidity sensing features.
Both HomePods can also act as Matter Controllers to onboard Matter devices to your home network, but the second gen’s Thread radio makes it a Thread border router, too. This lets you use Thread-enabled devices in Apple Home and in Matter. Most of these things will be more relevant in the future — there are very few Matter-compatible devices available, and the ones that work with Matter today don’t include any that didn’t previously have HomeKit versions.
The $299 HomePod and the $99 HomePod Mini now have the same smart home capabilities.
Notably, with all these upgrades, the $299 HomePod and the $99 HomePod Mini now have the same smart home capabilities, including Matter and Thread support. There’s nothing unique that you need the new HomePod for when it comes to the smart home. A Mini can do all the same tricks.
And because the new HomePod has the same glowing top panel as the HomePod Mini (read: it does not have a real touchscreen), the main way you use it to control your smart home is via voice commands to Siri.
What is Matter?
Matter is a new smart home interoperability standard that provides a common language for connected devices to communicate locally in your home without relying on a cloud connection. Developed by Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung, Matter uses Wi-Fi and Thread wireless protocols and, in its first rollout, supports smart sensors, smart lighting, smart plugs and switches, smart thermostats, connected locks, and media devices, including TVs.
All this means that if a smart home gadget you buy has the Matter logo on it, you can set it up and use it with any Matter-compatible device and with any Matter-compatible platform. Matter devices are starting to become available, and we expect to see a lot more arrive this year.
Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Apple Home are some of the big platforms that support Matter, and they have all updated their compatible hubs to be Matter controllers.
Siri is now a better smart home assistant than when the first HomePod debuted in 2018. Not only are there more devices that work with Apple Home (and, thanks to Matter, more coming soon), but Siri has been catching up with competitors in key areas like setting multiple timers and responding to future commands such as “turn the lights off in an hour.” It even finally got a “Personal Update” feature that runs through the weather, your next appointments, and the news. It’s limited in customization and content compared to similar options from Amazon Alexa and Google Home, but is still useful. I particularly like that it adjusts the content throughout the day rather than focusing just on the morning.
New features with the latest iOS and HomePod software update to 16.3 include being able to ask Siri where your friends and family are through the HomePod, setting up Apple Home automations with just your voice, and getting less wordy responses to basic smart home commands. More safety-focused features are also coming right around the corner.
But you still can’t get Siri to read you a recipe (it makes you go to your phone and repeat the request). At least send the recipe to my iPhone or iPad. Or, even better, give me a HomePod with a usable screen attached. You can’t change the wake word (though you can change the voice to different accents and genders), and you have to be precise with syntax when issuing requests.
I want Siri to respond to two or more commands at once — “Lock the front door and turn off the kitchen lights” — but it can’t handle that. Speaking of locks, I don’t like needing a phone near me to confirm an unlock command. Google and Amazon let you use pin codes, which are clunky but don’t require you to reach for another device. I’d also like to see more options for alarm sounds, there’s just one, and it’s… peppy. Jarring, some might say. More alarm tones doesn’t seem like a big ask (although you can choose something from Apple Music or the newly remastered ambient sounds as an alternative). On that note, more doorbell ringtones for HomeKit video doorbells would be nice, too.
I prefer my assistants a bit dumber over being buggy as hell but hot on sports scores
It’s the lack of features like this that make Siri less flexible than Amazon’s Alexa, with its seemingly infinite selection of third-party skills (Siri is still tightly locked down) and wide options for customizability.
Apple’s voice assistant is also still less helpful for general knowledge than Google’s Assistant with its direct conduit to Google’s wealth of information. I asked Siri who would play in the Super Bowl the day after the teams were decided, and it couldn’t tell me. Google knew immediately (for that matter, so did Alexa).
But for most needs in the smart home, being a know-it-all is not a requirement. I prefer my assistants a bit dumber over being buggy as hell or slow to control my home but hot on sports scores. Siri is typically a better smart home controller because of its tighter focus and more robust local control. In fact, Siri has been my go-to choice for smart home control for a couple years now, and the new HomePod solidifies that choice.
In testing the speed and responsiveness to voice commands, the new HomePod performed superbly, responding to all requests promptly and noticeably faster than the Mini. Side by side, it was always the one to take the request. I got far fewer “One sec” and “Still on it” responses to commands than I’m used to with the Minis. And the HomePod heard me consistently regardless of what other audio was playing — surround sound on my TV from my Sonos system or loud music on the HomePod itself.
The biggest problem I had with Siri on the HomePod is not related to its hardware specifically but to Siri and the Apple Home ecosystem in general. Personal requests are a mess. To be fair, I’ve struggled to get personal requests to work on all the major smart home platforms. Google flatly refuses to add my husband’s voice to its database, and the Amazon Echo Show, with its visual ID option, consistently confuses my daughter and me. But here is where Apple has the advantage: every member of my family has a personal iOS device, so it has the context the others lack.
Despite this, I could not add all my family members to my Apple Home and have personal requests — which are based on voice recognition — work reliably. It would constantly ask, “Who is this?” when I made a request, such as to add a Reminder or send a text message. Sometimes it would work when I answered with my name (an annoying extra step), but other times, it would say, “I don’t recognize your voice. You need to set up personal requests in the Home app.” (They were already set up).
With my kids removed from my Apple Home, I could make personal requests. And it’s an incredibly useful feature that works more smoothly than comparable options on Amazon’s Alexa (I’ve not tested Google Assistant integrations with a Pixel). I loved being able to hear and respond to text messages on the speaker, set up reminders, and get an update on what’s on my calendar. I just wish my whole family could do this.
Surprisingly, the new ability to create automations with your voice is more useful than I’d anticipated. In my five days of testing, I created about half a dozen automations on the fly. “Hey Siri, close the dining room shades every day at 6PM.” “Hey Siri, lock the front door every day at 9PM. “Hey Siri, turn out all the lights at 10PM every day.” My automations page in the Home app is a bit of a mess now, and I would like the option to disable with voice, too, but it’s been a helpful addition.
I am also enjoying the new option to find your friends and family through the HomePod. I can just ask where my daughter is and get an approximate location as she travels home on the school bus or check in on my husband during his busy work day (he’s a firefighter / paramedic, so he’s never in one place for long). Everyone has to opt-in to share their location in the Find My app for this to work, but once it’s permissioned, it’s easier than pulling out my phone and opening the Find My app (which risks sucking me into some other distraction while I’m there).
Perhaps the most useful new smart home feature of the HomePod is built-in temperature and humidity sensing (again, this is also on the Mini). The speaker can tell you how hot it is in your bedroom or how humid it is in your bathroom (assuming that’s the room it’s in) just by asking Siri. The readings show in the Home app, too, and you can use the sensors to set up Apple Home automations when the temperature or humidity drops below or rises above a certain level.
Using an automation, I controlled an Ecobee smart thermostat from a temperature reading off one HomePod, and it worked reliably. However, it took a few minutes longer to adjust to temperature changes than the stand-alone sensors I tested it against. Ecobee has its own external temperature sensors, but many smart thermostats don’t come with or work with room sensors, or you may not want extra little white boxes in all your rooms. I also successfully tied the temperature reading to a smart plug to turn on a fan connected to it.
Ideally, I’d love to see Apple add motion sensing into its HomePods, as Amazon has done with its Echo speakers (which also measure temperature). Amazon’s implementation of this uses ultrasound tech and is surprisingly good (although not yet fast enough for something like turning on the lights). The HomePod has its U1 Ultra Wideband chip, which could potentially be used for motion sensing, or perhaps Apple could figure out another solution.
With the new sensors, Apple warns they’re only “optimized” for temperatures between 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 Celsius) and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) and relative humidity around 30 to 70 percent. This isn’t a wide margin, and the company also says accuracy isn’t guaranteed if the speaker is playing music for long periods of time at high volumes — likely because the components heat up in this scenario.
Despite these limitations, the temperature readings were largely accurate compared to three other sensors in close proximity — an Eve Weather, an Aqara TVOC, and an Ecobee room sensor. They were consistently all within a degree or two of each other, but, as noted, the HomePod took longer to adjust to changes. The humidity readings were more varied — with the HomePod reading 60 percent when the Eve was 59 and the Aqara 64. It’s worth noting that Apple’s Home automations for humidity only adjust in increments of 5 percent.
Coming in an update this spring, the new HomePod (and the HomePod Mini) will be able to listen for the sound of smoke and CO alarms going off in your home and send an alert to your phone. Amazon Alexa’s speakers do this with its free version of the Guard feature, and Nest smart speakers offer it with a Nest Aware subscription. Bear in mind none of these are actual smoke detectors. They are all just listening for the unique signatures of the alarms you already have and will send a notification when they hear it.
As it’s not live yet, I couldn’t test the sound recognition. But Apple showed me a demo, and when the HomePod hears the alarm, the Home app sends a critical alert notification to your phone. You can tap on this to start two-way talk through the HomePod and check in if you’re not home. You can’t, however, tie the alert into any other smart home automations, to say, trigger the lights to turn on, the HVAC system to shut off, and the doors to unlock — all useful things to have happen automatically in an actual fire or carbon monoxide emergency.
Agree to Continue: Apple HomePod (2023)
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
The HomePod requires an iPhone or iPad for setup, which means you’ll already have agreed to the standard terms for those devices:
- The Apple terms of service agreement, which you can have sent to you by email
- Apple’s warranty agreement, which you can have sent to you by email
The HomePod also requires you to agree to:
- The HomePod Terms and Conditions
- iCloud Terms and Conditions
You have the option of allowing the HomePod to access your messages, reminders, calendar events, and other information when your iPhone is on the same Wi-Fi network as the HomePod.
Final tally: four mandatory agreements, one optional agreement.
Apple says sound recognition will require the updated Home architecture, which it released and then pulled late last year following user complaints. As this feature is slated for spring, we can cautiously expect to see the new (improved?) Home architecture roll out around the same time.
Speaking of the new “architecture”: Apple has said it “will improve the performance and reliability of the accessories in your home.” I updated to the system when it was first offered, and the biggest change I’ve seen is more stability around which Home hub the is in charge. It’s resolutely stuck with my only hardwired Apple TV (second-gen), whereas prior, it often defaulted to a HomePod Mini.
Since I’ve had the new HomePods installed, one or the other has acted as the main hub occasionally, but the Home app mostly reverts to the Apple TV with the ethernet connection. Not being able to prioritize which Home hub is the main one has been an ongoing frustration for me with Apple Home, as automations and responses were sometimes less reliable when the Mini was in charge. While it’s still not an option, it does seem like the Home app is choosing the more reliable device on its own now.
If you are fully immersed in the Apple world and are looking for a high-quality speaker with hands-free Siri voice commands, the new HomePod will make you very happy. If you owned the original and are in need of a replacement (or if its performance has grown sluggish), you won’t be disappointed. (Unless the idea of having to replace a $350 speaker in a half-decade or less disappoints you, which is very fair.) The HomePod didn’t break any sales records, but plenty of first-gen buyers still swear by it.
But if you’re less picky about sound quality, just go for the HomePod Mini. The two share identical smart home capabilities, and paying an extra $200 for richer, bigger audio won’t make sense for a lot of people. If you’re not married to Apple’s ecosystem, then smart speakers from Amazon, Google, or Sonos can provide nearly as good audio quality with even more smart home features at a fraction of the HomePod’s price.
Apple might call the second-gen HomePod “all-new,” but in reality, this product had to be an easy lift for the company. More than anything else, its restoration in the lineup fills a self-inflicted gap and buys Apple a couple of years to work on more ambitious products destined for our homes. But with competitors like Sonos planning major new products for the coming months, I can’t help but wonder whether Apple played it too safe with this $299 speaker — no matter how good it may sound.