5 things I wish I'd known before buying Apple HomePod smart speakers

Apple's smart speakers sound fantastic – but there's still plenty of room for improvement

Apple HomePod smart speakers in red, yellow, blue and white
(Image credit: Apple)

As the mostly happy owner of both the original Apple HomePods and their smaller successors, the HomePods mini, I've put in a lot of hours listening to and talking to Apple's best smart speakers – and as you'd expect, the more time you spend with a bit of tech the more obvious its joys and its weak points become.

If you're not all-in on Apple's ecosystem HomePods are probably not the best wireless speakers for you, but if you're a Siri-using, Apple Music-streaming, Apple Fitness-tracking iPhone and/or Apple TV owner then they're the perfect partners for the rest of your Apple kit.

Mostly.

Here are five lessons I've learnt the hard way from owning two generations of HomePods.

1. Siri kinda sucks

I didn't set out to do an A/B test, but when I replaced my Amazon Echo speakers with HomePods my kids were so used to saying "Alexa..." that I kept one of the Echos in my front room. And without fail it recognises my voice better and responds to commands more quickly than Siri does, and it also does a better job of answering my kids' questions. So many questions.

Despite various software updates Siri still feels like it's lagging behind, sometimes literally: there's a very noticeable gap between making a command to any of my HomePods and getting a confirmation, no matter how close to the speakers or how quiet the room. It's one of those little things that starts to nag at you the more you experience it.

2. You can't trust Siri's alarms

I don't use alarms very often – I'm self-employed and work from home – so when I do it's because I need to be somewhere important. And Siri on my HomePods has let me down enough times that I just don't trust it any more: despite confirming that it will indeed wake me up at 7am, sometimes during the night Siri decides that it just can't be arsed. Cue morning panic, angry bosses and so on.

It's happened a few times in the kitchen too: timers I've set timers that Siri has confirmed and then just forgets about them as soon as my back is turned. The most recent casualty was a lasagne I was really looking forward to on Sunday night. 

3. Buy the black model

The lightest coloured HomePods look dynamite, sure, but they are absolute dust and dirt magnets, managing to look dusty even as you're cleaning them. At least the black ones hide it a little bit longer. So, if you're lazy and don't like cleaning, go black and never look back.

4. The big ones are better

The HomePods mini sound fantastic for their size, but "for their size" is the important bit here. If you like bass, and I really like bass, they're not big enough to be your main speakers: they're fine on a desktop or bookshelf or kitchen counter, but if you want to really sit back and feel the music or movie soundtrack then the big ones are a completely different league. They were also quite ridiculously expensive, but hopefully Apple's learnt that particular lesson and won't make its next generation quite so pricey.

5. It's best with Apple Music

Third party streaming support still isn't brilliant (you can AirPlay the services HomePods don't support, although you have to do that from the appropriate app), but that's not the only reason HomePods work best with Apple Music: they can differentiate between different family members if you have Apple Music with family sharing, ensuring that everybody in the house gets a personalised music experience. That's pretty clever, and being able to use Intercom to shout at the kids is pretty cool too.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).