How to beat Apple’s HomePod: The best alternatives to Apple’s smart speaker
Apple’s HomePod is undoubtedly a brilliant bit of kit. Above all, it sounds spectacularly good for its size, but it’s somewhat hampered by Siri’s lack of smarts. As Jonathan Bray laments in his review: “Siri on the HomePod is very much like Siri on the iPhone: occasionally useful, quite proscriptive about the phrases you use and not nearly as accomplished as either Alexa or Google Assistant in picking up the naturally spoken word.”
So if Siri is not actually that smart, is there any point in forking out £319 on what’s supposed to be a “smart” speaker? Some would argue yes – after all, it does blow any other single speaker out of the water in terms of sound quality. However, others would say it’s absurd to spend so much on a device that doesn’t even offer radio or Spotify playback. Being a single speaker, stereo playback is also a no-no until there’s a software update that makes it possible to connect it to a second HomePod.
The good news is, if you’re not convinced the HomePod is right for you, there are plenty of other ways to get the smarts of Google Assistant or Alexa along with superb sound quality, without needing to spend an arm and a leg, especially if you already have a decent-sounding speaker setup.
Add a Chromecast Audio and Google Home Mini to your existing speakers (£64)
The Google Home Mini (£34) is just as smart as its larger sibling – the only thing it’s ever criticised for is its lack of sound quality, which is hardly surprising given its diminutive size. However, just because it lacks a 3.5mm jack, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to control the music playback on a superior speaker.
A Chromecast Audio (£30) plugs into any speaker or hi-fi with a 3.5mm jack or optical (Toslink) input. When used together with the Home Mini, you can cast any song or playlist from Spotify and Google Play Music not only via their respective apps, but also with your voice. Best of all, you can train Google Assistant to different people’s voices, so that it plays music from the appropriate account. There’s also native support for all BBC and TuneIn radio stations (read as: practically every radio station), so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
To use the Home Mini in this way, all you need to do is set the Chromecast Audio as your default playback speaker from the Home app. To do this, open Devices in the Home app and tap the three-dot menu and Settings on your Home Mini. From here, swipe up to “Default music speaker” and choose your Chromecast Audio. You can then place the Home Mini wherever you like, and it will act as the brains for your music system. To ensure the highest sound-quality output, make sure that “Full dynamic range” is switched on in “Device settings” for the Chromecast Audio.
Buy two Sonos One speakers (£350)
For about the same price as a HomePod, you can get yourself a pair of Sonos One speakers, which not only sound great (read our full review here), but also come with Alexa voice control, letting you set alarms, get weather updates and of course request any song that comes to your mind. From later this year, the Sonos One will also support Google Assistant.
The speakers can be used together in one room, giving you stereo sound, or in separate rooms. They support Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music and internet radio, and best of all there’s an 100-day returns policy, so if you don’t get on with them, you can just send them back.