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Jason Snell’s HomePod Review

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

That said, plenty of people enjoy listening to music but don’t care about playback quality. Growing up, most of the music in my house came via AM radio — a format so bad at reproducing music that it’s since been entirely abandoned to talk and news. Eventually I found rock FM radio stations and cassettes and CDs, but my first love of music came from an atrocious listening experience. The Amazon Echo reminds me of that, a little — though it provides a decidedly better audio experience — because for a whole lot of people it’s good enough. Even in my house, where we have access to far better speakers than the Echo, it’s ended up as the preferred player because of the ease of voice control.

The comparison to AM radio is a really good point. I wish I’d thought of that. Heck, even FM radio was often static-y back when tuners were analog and it was hard to get the frequency exactly right.

On the touch controls atop HomePod:

It’s the weak point in the HomePod’s design. Since the top is not visible unless the HomePod is lower than your vision, forget putting the HomePod high up. I placed the HomePod on the top of our upright piano and my wife complained that she couldn’t tell that Siri was activated — she couldn’t see the color blob. In contrast, the Amazon Echo’s colored activation ring goes around the edge of the device, so it’s visible even if you can’t see the top. You can’t feel for the volume controls, either, because there’s no tactile element to them at all. Even when I could see the top of the HomePod, I frequently tapped in the wrong place. I get why Apple doesn’t think physical buttons are cool, but the top of the HomePod isn’t a screen — and it would be better served with three buttons and an indicator light (that’s visible from the side as well as above).

In the weeks since I wrote my review, I’ve grown to dislike HomePod’s touch controls. Touching the middle of the touchpad to start playback sounds like a good idea, but in practice, it happens more often by accident. That might be because our kitchen HomePod is on a counter where we reach for things (including paper towels). But our Echo is at the same spot, and because it doesn’t have touch controls, we’ve never once accidentally started playing music with it. I also think the Echo’s spinning dial is a better volume controller than the HomePod’s plus/minus buttons. When you start music playing but are surprised that whoever used it last had the volume very high, you just want to make it quiet quickly.

Monday, 5 March 2018