Video: Apple HomePod vs. Amazon Echo 2nd generation
Apple's HomePod is more than twice as expensive as Amazon's second-generation Echo, incorporates a less capable virtual assistant in Siri and is limited to Apple's ecosystem of service. So why would anyone choose it? It's all about sound quality.
Underscoring HomePod's reliance on Apple products, users need an iOS device to set the device up. Native HomePod streaming is restricted to Apple services like Apple Music, Beats 1 Radio and iCloud Music Library, though third-party content from Spotify and Pandora can be sent to the device using AirPlay.
Amazon's Echo, on the other hand, supports voice control for various music streaming services, and Alexa on a whole is far superior to Siri. The Echo is smaller and lighter than the HomePod, and it has a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can output audio to better speakers if you're not happy with its sound quality.
Both speakers have touch controls on top to turn the volume up and down, and invoke their smart assistants. HomePod's touch panel also allows you to switch tracks. The Echo boasts a microphone mute button, which the HomePod lacks.
With HomePod, everything sent to Apple is both anonymized and encrypted, so anything you say to Siri cannot be traced to you or your Apple ID, emphasizing user privacy. But HomePod lacks the ability to recognize voices, so if you have personal requests turned on, anyone can ask Siri to read your messages.
You can send text messages using only your voice on both speakers, but only the Alexa can do hands-free calling. With the HomePod, you'll have to make a call on your iPhone, and then switch the output to your HomePod manually.
It's clear Alexa is far more functional than Siri on HomePod, so let's talk hardware. The Echo has one 2.5-inch woofer and one tweeter, which puts out 360-degree audio.
The HomePod, however, has a 4-inch woofer and 7 tweeters located around the device's base. Each tweeter has its own custom amplifier and is horn-loaded to focus sound to different parts of the room. The HomePod can even detect direct and ambient sound, as well as left and right audio channels, and then split those channels between its 7 tweeters. Apple also includes a dedicated low-frequency microphone, which constantly analyzes the bass from the subwoofer and dynamically tunes it on the fly to make sure it never distorts.
At max volume, the Echo's highs are very loud and overpower the mids. Audio is fairly tinny and practically has no bass at all when compared to the HomePod. The HomePod, on the other hand, sounds very well balanced and clean, lacking any distortion even at full volume. Every instrument and note is perfectly reproduced.
At normal listening levels you can instantly notice the difference in bass, with HomePod taking a clear lead. The Echo's highs are very loud and sharp, but that's about all you get. The mids seem to suffer and get blended in with the lows.
Both speakers have microphone beam-forming technology, making it easier to pick up user commands in a noisy environment. HomePod also uses the technology for spatial awareness, which analyzes the reflection of audio waves to detect where it's at in a room, then automatically tune itself to output balanced sound.
Echo devices support multi-room audio, so you can tell Alexa to play music everywhere. You won't be able to natively pair two HomePods for true stereo sound and multi-room audio until AirPlay 2 is released.
Amazon's Alexa has the skill system, which allows companies to develop personalized content for their users. The HomePod completely lacks a comparable system for Siri, instead relying on Apple's own services like HomeKit. This means Echo is currently compatible with more smart home devices, but HomeKit support is on the rise.
Alexa also works with Amazon Prime, so you can ask her about weekly shopping deals and order products using only your voice. Both Alexa and HomePod will work with reminders, and they'll tell you about nearby stores and shopping hours.
Overall, the Echo destroys the HomePod in functionality, especially if you use Amazon Prime. But the HomePod completely blows the Echo out of the water in terms of sound quality. Every instrumental note stands out and is reproduced at an incredibly clean and clear level.
If you're on a budget, get the Echo. It doesn't sound too bad, but if you care at all for bass, skip it.
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