HomePod: A second listen of Apple's smart speaker as pre-orders open

Today, you'll finally be able to do just that as the HomePod is now available for pre-order via Apple's website with the device expected to ship out to buyers on February 9.

The barrel-like speaker was first unveiled in June past year, and was due to go in sale in December before it was pushed back a few months.

The company has not specified if it would offer Alexa and Google Assistant on the same device, something no major smart speaker has done, or merely offer a separate Sonos One model that only supports the latter, though. Before Apple even had a chance to get their HomePods on the shelves, Sonos has made their move. It aims to diffuse the background elements more gently (this is why the HomePod's seven tweeters are on the bottom - to use the surface it's on for spreading audio), while maintaining the energy of the more prominent parts.

There are some huge problems with Apple's proposition that limit HomePod's potential appeal.

Unlike its rivals, it has no physical control buttons.

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This incredible new Apple HomePod will redefine the way you enjoy music, transforming into an incredible experience. And Siri is the way you interact with HomePod. Instead, you'll have to use your phone. If you're into jazz, this is. Not only do the Sonos Ones now have Alexa built in, but they'll be getting Google Assistant in the coming months, too.

It's hard to believe now, but little more than three years ago, smart speakers didn't exist. It issued a blog post on Thursday chastising the lack of "openness" on competing devices (read: HomePod) while promoting its own speakers' ability to work with several music services. I found that to be mostly true, although the shape of the room and proximity of the walls tended to affect the sound in a few instances.

In June I listened to a live version of the Eagles' Hotel California (a staple for audio testing) play on a HomePod, an Echo and a Sonos Play 3. Which basically means that this is an Echo on steroids, when it comes to audio quality. Within the controlled environment, the HomePod sounded head and shoulders above its competition, but given the conditions I'd be shocked if it didn't. That's no small thing, but the Home app already lets you integrate smart home devices into a central hub as well as set up routines where you can do multiple things - like turn on a coffee maker, raise the blinds, and turn up the thermostat - with a single "Hey Siri" command.

After all, Apple is positioning the HomePod as a speaker first, with smarts second. It's either a HiFi speaker created to deliver fantastic sound in any room by measuring the room and adjusting the sound profile accordingly, or it's the second coming of Siri. At the time, the company said it would go on sale in December 2017.

Sonos makes the kind of high-quality audio setup favoured by your dad available to audiophiles who don't like massive speakers and a tangle of wires.


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