Speakers Corner

The Big Three

With Apple’s Homepod speaker now available in the marketplace, we have three major players vying for the smart space in our homes.

But which one should you go for?

We spent some time with all three and the results are interesting to say the least.

Amazon

Amazon is very much the granddaddy of the pack, having launched first and achieved huge market penetration since it hit stores in 2015. Of course, biggest selling doesn’t make it the best but for overall ability and the widest variety of skills, it remains the market leader.

Its product range is also quite diverse, starting with the small, disc sized Echo device right up to the Echo Show, which also includes a colour touchscreen. It feels like overkill on a product that is more about voice than vision and whose purpose is to blend into - rather than stand out of - our environment but I’m probably just being pedantic. For what it delivers it is still – just – the best value.

Amazon is also keen to play with others and the recent release of the Sonos One speaker, which features its technology built in, is the perfect illustration of this approach, with many more companies apparently interested in doing the same.

If you’re looking for decent sound and the most comprehensive set of skills then Amazon is the one to go for.

Google

Arriving a year or so after the first Amazon devices, Google’s Home product was initially very basic in its functionality, not even offering users the option to connect their smartphone or tablet to the speaker via Bluetooth.

However, the company is clearly in it for the long run and further to a number of updates we are now seeing the true potential of the system starting to take shape.

Back to back with Amazon it has come a long way and in some cases has already surpassed its rival in the fields of intelligence and understanding. We ran several of the same applications, including Phillips Hue lighting and Nest’s heating thermostat on both devices and were surprised that where Google was behind twelve months ago, in 2018 it was no longer the rookie on the block.

Sound wise it also offers a slightly better audio experience, with a more defined range.

If you’re looking for the speaker with the most potential then we feel Google is the investment for the long-term.

Apple

Last out of the blocks and coming with the biggest price tag, it might be a little unfair to compare Apple’s Homepod speaker to the more mature offerings from Amazon and Google but one could argue that the Cupertino bunch have had the advantage of learning from their rivals.

If it was a question of aesthetics then the Homepod wins hands down. It’s much bigger than its rivals and certainly feels more substantial, although you’d expect nothing less when it sells for over £300.

Naturally, a lot of that money manifests itself in the audio quality, which is truly exceptional. From vocals and music to sheer power and volume, Homepod beats the opposition hands down and in this respect, a more favourable comparison would be with the Sonos One. However, even here Apple’s device is the clear winner.

It’s only when we come to judge its smart speaker skills and Siri that we see the devices biggest failing. Despite some nice touches, as things stand this is the weakest of the three systems. Also, unlike its competitors, Homepod doesn’t play with anyone! If you’re not plugged into the Apple ecosystem then this probably isn’t the speaker for you.

Overall

Best for all round use – Amazon

Best for the long term – Google

Best for audio performance – Homepod

George R Vaughan