Our Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo comparison lines these smart speakers side-by-side, to see which is best for you. From AI assistants to audio quality, connectivity and other features, is the HomePod worth waiting for?
Apple has just given us a sneak peak at its first foray into the world of smart assistant powered speakers, just one of many launches from WWDC 2017. HomePod is its name, and Siri smarts is what drives it.
However, Apple won't be releasing the HomePod for some months to come, despite Amazon already having its Echo smart speaker firmly implanted in thousands of UK homes. In fact, the Echo is already spawning crazy siblings, such as the Echo Look and Echo Show, to take over every room in our houses.
Echo already has strong rivalry too, in the form of Google’s Home speaker, which is also growing fast in popularity.
Is Apple too late to the smart speaker party, or can its high-end HomePod successfully infiltrate homes when it finally arrives? We’ve compared the best bits of each AI-fuelled speaker so you can compare and decide if the HomePod will make it onto your gadget Christmas wish-list when it launches in the UK in December 2017.
HomePod vs Echo vs Home: Design and control
Apple is known for its design ethos, which aims for minimalist perfection in every product. As such the HomePod does looks pretty good - a bit like the hopeful mock-ups made before it was actually revealed, in fact.
The HomePod is a 7-inch tall circular speaker with a grill mesh that runs around the entirety of the outside and a plain panel up top, which appears to show off the colours of Siri. That top edge is touch controlled so you can tap to play, pause or adjust volume. It looks a lot like a Mac Pro or, as some are saying, a stripped-back UE Wonderboom.
By comparison, the Amazon Echo is a taller speaker at 9.25-inches. It's also slimmer and boasts 360-degree output. The Echo favours a circular LED light ring around its top, which actually might be more effective than Apple's HomePod design. After all, you can see if from anywhere in the room, so you know for sure when Alexa is listening. The HomePod lights appear to be on the very top edge, so you can only see them when stood close and towering over it.
That ring on the Echo can also be twisted, to adjust volume levels. Plus there are separate mute and listen buttons.
Google Home, at 5.6-inches, is the smallest speaker of the three. The Google device also features a selection of LED lights on the slanted top, so it can be seen across the room. One of the Home's more unique features is a removable bottom which allows you to change the LED colour on demand. The Home also features a mute button, so you can deactivate voice control when desired - something you can also do with the Echo.
The Google Home features a rechargeable battery, meaning it can be moved around whenever needed without sourcing a spare mains point. HomePod, like Echo, is mains only.
HomePod vs Echo vs Home: Speaker audio quality
The Apple HomePod is built for powerful sound, so should comfortably beat the Echo and Home - in theory, at least.
The Echo comes with a 2.5-inch woofer and 2-inch tweeter, plus seven microphones to hear you no matter where in the room you're stood. The Home comes with a less impressive 2-inch driver and dual 2-inch passive radiators, plus “far-field microphones”.
Apple’s HomePod is clearly going for a more powerful speaker, offering with a seven tweeter “beam-forming array”, 4-inch forward facing subwoofer and an A8 chipset to learn the room it's housed in and adapt its output to fit the acoustics. Apple's smart speaker also features a six-microphone array, so it should pick up your voice anywhere in the room.
HomePod vs Echo vs Home: Smart assistant
When it comes to mobile assistance, Google Now and Apple’s Siri are well developed. But for home use, Amazon’s Alexa has been working for longest - so it’s learned the most about what we need and already has a lot of third-party partners on-board.
That means Alexa can be used to control a lot of smart home gadgets already and can also offer up the kinds of features we need when cooking, cleaning or slumming around the home.
HomePod will simply be used to control music and a limited number of other functions, such as asking “who’s the drummer in this song?”, “turn off the lights”, “what’s the news?” or “set a timer”. So you’re likely limited to Apple’s HomeKit smart home gadgets.
The idea is to offer maximum privacy, so HomePod won’t have access to all the brains of Siri on iOS or macOS - which seems like the thing that could actually make it better than Alexa. Siri will learn tastes and offer songs based on what you should like, but that’s likely limited to Apple Music only.
We're pretty sure that this will all change come 2018, after users demand more functionality.
HomePod, Echo and Home are all multi-room speakers
Apple has said that HomePod will work with its latest AirPlay 2 system, meaning it can be used as part of a multi-room setup, controlled from within the Apple Music app. This also means Apple TV connected speakers can be used as part of that system, with controls via Siri.
Amazon Echo has its smaller Dot siblings and now spin-off speakers like the Echo Show. These are a more affordable solution than Apple's ecosystem, if you wish to place several speakers about the home for a multi-room system. But then you don’t get AirPlay 2 support, so it isn't likely to be as seamless an experience.
The Google Home speaker can work with Google’s Chromecast devices, so you can multi-room control sound through TVs or speakers plugged into those devices. Again, this is a cheaper option than Apple's solution.
The problem here is that Apple has said HomePod will work with Apple Music, but not mentioned any other services. Will Spotify or your stored music or radio work? That remains to be seen.
HomePod, Amazon Echo and Google Home UK price and release date
Apple has confirmed that its HomePod smart speaker will be priced at $349 (£270) when it emerges at the end of 2017.
The Amazon Echo can be picked up for £149, although the smaller, cheaper Echo Dot costs just £49. Meanwhile the Google Home is £129 here in the UK. You can of course buy these devices right now, so you don't have to hang around to jump on the smart speaker bandwagon.