HomePod and Sonos One: A Cage Match No One Will Soon Forget

HomePod and Sonos One: A Cage Match No One Will Soon Forget

Or, you know, let’s just compare them.

First, a moment on my speaker history. Before the HomePod, the most expensive speakers I’d ever owned were a pair of $99 Bose Companion 2 speakers for my computer. When I got a HomePod in February 2018, it sounded great to me! I got a second one that summer and started using them in a stereo pair. In early 2019 I was using Android more and wanted a speaker I could use from an Android device, so I picked up a Sonos One.

Overall HomePod Impressions

I like my HomePods quite a bit. They sound amazing and have gotten quite a few updates to Siri over the past 2 years to fill in many of the gaps I thought the product had when it launched.

It’s not perfect though, as I wish it was less buggy when acting as an Apple TV speaker, I wish it could talk to my Android devices, and I wish it had a wired connection so I could plug things like my PS4 into it and get great sound from my video games.

The HomePod was $349 at launch, and I thought that was too high. It now costs $299 which is better, but still a bit steep for a lot of people, but if you see it on sale for $249 or less, I think it’s a great buy (so long as you and everyone you live with are 100% bought into Apple’s ecosystem).

Overall Sonos One Impressions

The Sonos One has been kind of a dream for me. It does not sound as good as the HomePod (although not everyone agrees) but it definitely still sounds good. It has less bass, which for music makes it sound not as good to me, but for things like podcasts and audiobooks it makes no discernible difference to me.

The big disappointment for me was that while this does work with Android phones, it only works via the Sonos app, which I deplore. You can’t just be using something like Pocket Casts on your Pixel and cast to the Sonos, instead you have to use the Pocket Casts app inside the Sonos app to play directly on the speaker. This does not sync listening position or anything like that, so it’s a pretty garbage option for Android, in my opinion.

However, as primarily an iOS user, it’s amazing because it’s also an AirPlay 2 speaker which makes it show up right next to my HomePod and it can do all the fancy AirPlay 2 things you’d want.

Here’s my pitch for selling Sonos Ones to iOS folks: The Sonos One sounds great, is a first class AirPlay 2 speaker, and has Google Assistant/Alexa built in. It’s the best assistant with the best wireless speaker tech, all inside something that sounds almost as good as a HomePod. Oh, and it’s $199. And if you don’t care about the voice assistants, Sonos sells the Sonos One SL for $179 and the only difference is it does not have a microphone.

The Comparison

Both of these speakers have similar problems.

  1. Neither has a wired input to act as a dumb speaker.
  2. Neither uses Bluetooth audio to connect with any device you want.
  3. Each is entirely dependent on the internet to really function (aka in 20 years there’s a good chance neither of these function).

But these also share many good features.

  1. They work great with Apple devices since they support AirPlay 2.
  2. They sound wonderful.
  3. They support multi-room audio if you buy a few of them.
  4. They can be configured into stereo pairs.
  5. They look nice.
  6. They have voice assistants built in (and can be disabled if you don’t want that).

The notable differences to my eye (ear?) are:

  1. HomePod sounds slightly better.
  2. HomePod is better at hearing me talk to it over music.
  3. HomePod setup is so much simpler (aka none, compared to a minute long “walk around your room, waving your phone around” Sonos setup)
  4. Google Assistant on the Sonos is so much better than Siri at most things.
  5. HomePod looks nicer, but they both look good.
  6. Sonos has an option for Android users, even if I don’t think it’s a really good option (I’d much rather they make it a cast device so Android users could get a similar experience).

My Recommendation

I think both of these speakers will make most people happy, as long as they know what they’re buying. For me, the Sonos One has a better assistant, works like a dream with my iOS devices, and costs $100 less than the HomePod, so it’s the one I’m likely to recommend first to people. Also, if you ever decide to switch away from the iPhone, it doesn’t become an expensive paperweight.

But don’t discount the HomePod. I think it sounds better by a decent margin, and for some people Siri is going to be a more useful assistant since it is better integrated into iOS’s core services. If they were the same price I think it would be a toss up on which one each person should get. At a $100 premium, I think you really need to care about the HomePod advantages and not have much interest in the Sonos’s differentiators.

Buy whatever you want, of course. Either way, you’re going to get a good speaker that you’ll probably enjoy.

The Sonos One is Basically a HomePod with Google Assistant

Abner Li writing for 9to5Google:

Sonos speakers are a step up for most home audio systems and the just added Google Assistant support makes the products even more appealing. The Sonos One and Beam are now frustratingly close to being a better Google Home, but ultimately are not direct replacements, especially if you’re already invested in the Google ecosystem.

Li's main complaint is that Sonos devices still don't support casting, which means they are not good for taking content on your phone or tablet and transferring it to the Sonos speaker. This is totally fair, and I sympathize with the frustration.

But here's the deal, the Sonos One has AirPlay 2, so it’s a perfect device for sharing audio from iOS or macOS. And now that they have added support for Google Assistant, it does everything you can do with Google’s…assistant. that means playing music from Spotify or YouTube Music with your voice, or adding tasks to your Google account, or doing more elaborate information queries, or all the other great things Google Assistant can do.

I think that there are people out there who want something like a HomePod. They want something that sounds good, looks nice, can play the music they want, has a voice assistant built in, can play music across multiple rooms, can be paired to add stereo sound, and the like, but they don’t want Siri and they don’t use Apple Music. For those people, a HomePod was not going to work because it simply couldn’t do the things they wanted to do.

But with Google Assistant built in,these folks can spend $100 less than a HomePod and get great sound (not as great, but in the same ballpark), but with the assistant they prefer and the music services they use. And on top of that, they don’t lose any of the AirPlay 2 magic that you get with a HomePod. You can still “cast” to it like a HomePod and you can still ask Siri on your phone to play something on the Sonos speaker. Hell, I have 2 HomePods in the living room and constantly have them paired with a Sonos One in the kitchen to play something everywhere and it’s just as easy as if it was another HomePod in the kitchen.

I still really like my HomePods and I don’t think everyone should go out and buy a Sonos instead, but if you want AirPlay 2 for your other iOS devices and you’re either deep in Google’s ecosystem or prefer Spotify for your music, then this is a really compelling HomePod alternative.


I’ll add here at the end that i kind of agree with Li about it not being as great a Google Home alternative. The fact you can’t Chromecast audio to it and it lacks Bluetooth entirely means your only option on Android is to use the Sonos app, which I very much find to be the worst way to use any of the services that work with it.

Apple Music Coming to Google Home

I saw this this story on MacRumors tonight and immediately thought about selling my HomePods. I immediately went to my Google Home app to see if I saw the same thing.

Hell yeah!

Now, I probably won’t, as I enjoy AirPlay 2 enough to probably keep them around, but Apple Music is the primary factor that keeps HomePods in my life. I use a lot of Google services and since I’m constantly moving between phones, it’s more than a little annoying to have a speaker that straight up does not talk to any non-Apple products.

I’m not making any moves yet, but I’m a hell of a lot more interested in the Google Home Max than I was a few hours ago. It works with iOS, Android, and I can plug my PS4, Switch, and TV into it as well to get the best audio in my house from the same speaker.

A Minor HomePod Annoyance (timers with multiple HomePods)

https://youtu.be/TPEc1R6BbdU

The biggest current annoyance I have with the HomePod is how the interact with each other. Basically, if you have multiple HomerPods, none of them know what timers the others are running. So if I set a timer in the kitchen, I can’t make it stop from my HomePod in the living room. There may be some design behind this decision, but it feels wrong and is unlike how the other smart assistants on the market behave. I’d love to see Apple make this work more seamlessly for people like me who are living the multi-Pod lifestyle.

9 Months With HomePod

I’ve had a HomePod in my life since they released on February 9 this year and I’ve used mine everyday. Since then I’ve even bought a second HomePod and have tried them out in a bunch of different setups. I wanted to talk about that as well as revisit my original review and see if I still feel the same about the things that I liked and disliked about the product.

My HomePod Setup

My original setup was a single HomePod that sat in my living room next to the TV. It mostly acted as a voice assistant and played music, but I liked having it next to the TV so we could use it as a speaker for the Apple TV. I don’t have any external speakers for my TV, so the HomePod is a far better option for movies than the built-in speakers on my TV.

I have since bought a second HomePod1 and set it up as a stereo pair with my first, and the sat next to my TV for a while. Since then, I’ve separated them out and one is still in the living room by the TV and the other is in the kitchen, one room over.

Stereo Pairing

When I set up my HomePods as a stereo pair, I was immediately in love. Some people say that the 3D sound stuff Apple is doing makes stereo unnecessary, but that’s a load of garbage. Setting up two HomePods to output in stereo is wonderful, and blew me away with the sound quality improvement. The beam forming audio projection Apple does makes it so you hear the sound clearly anywhere in a room, but listening to things in stereo added a ton of detail to the sound that was missing in the mono output of a single HomePod.

Pairing two HomePods is done within the Home app on your iPhone or iPad and just kinda worked. Only once or twice were they ever out of sync and they generally worked as reliably as wired speakers.

Sound Quality

The HomePod sounds great. The best feature of it in my opinion is that there is no sweet spot for the speakers. I can be anywhere in a room with a HomePod and get basically the same sound everywhere. It’s really, really cool and Apple deserves a lot of credit for nailing this.

I really like how music sounds on these speakers, and they’re doing pretty well as speakers for my Apple TV. Live music sounds especially good for some reason I can’t explain, but it does.

Despite loving the stereo sound of two HomePods, I ended up unpairing them and moving one to the kitchen. Why? I simply don’t care enough about the increased sound quality to keep all of my smart speakers in one room. I hated walking over to the kitchen and losing my ability to hear the HomePod in the living room. Having nice speakers in 2 rooms apparently is more valuable to me than having one truly amazing setup in one room.

Sound Options

There are not many sound settings on the HomePod, and it unfortunately makes it a little less flexible than I’d prefer. For example, you have very little control over the sound profile. if you find the bass to be too much or you want to spice up the high frequencies, you don’t have much wiggle room here.

More annoyingly is that the HomePod only connects with Apple devices. As someone who has Android devices in my life, as well as people who come over and have non-Apple stuff, I wish they could connect,but there is no option at all for them. Basic Bluetooth support would have been welcome, but admittedly this isn’t as good an experience as AirPlay 2, so I get it, but I’m still annoyed I can’t “fall back” to a more basic solution.

Also, the lack of a line-in plug means I can’t use any wired devices either. Red Dead Redemption 2 surely sounds great coming though a HomePod, but we’ll never know because there’s no way to connect a HomePod to a PS4. I’d love to hear movies on cable or from my DVR through the HomePod, but again we’ll never know.

AirPlay 2

More than the sound quality, AirPlay 2 is the real star of the show for me and is why I have two HomePods instead of one. Being able to send audio from my iPhone to my living room HomePod is super simple. And if I want to play that on my kitchen HomePod too, I just say “hey Siri, play this in the kitchen too,” and it starts playing in perfect sync on that speaker too.

I like that I can have completely different queues for the HomePods than my iOS devices too. If I open the Music app on my iPhone, tap the output button on the Now Playing screen, and select the kitchen HomePod, I can create a queue and play things from Apple Music without changing what my iPhone was listening to. Also, if I leave the house, the HomePod will continue playing music since it didn’t need my phone and was doing its own thing.

There are other speakers on the market that use AirPlay 2, so I assume they are just as good at this stuff, but I can say for certain that the HomePods play very nice with this feature.

It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I even remembered that AirPlay 2 wasn’t even available when the HomePod originally shipped. It didn’t come along until iOS 11.4 in May of this year. The product is far more complete and magical with this in place. Not since the AirPods has Apple made a single product/feature so perfectly wonderful.

How Smart is the HomePod?

Ehhhh… The HomePod is inescapably tied to Siri, and Siri is a bit all over the map on the HomePod.

On the positive side, Siri does a better job of hearing me than either my Amazon Echo or Google Home speakers. Even over music, it hears me without me feeling like I need to raise my voice at all to talk to it. It’s not perfect, and it hears my voice better than my wife’s, but it is certainly best-in-class here.

Additionally, Siri has gotten marginally smarter since the HomePod debuted. The biggest addition for me is multiple named timers. It’s bizarre to me that this is not something any other Apple device has, but being able to set a couple timers at once is one of the reasons I moved a HomePod to the kitchen. My Google Home was handling all kitchen needs before that because it had a great timer setup. Apple closed the gap there and is all the better for it.

They also now let you make phone calls, search for songs with lyrics, and use Siri Shortcuts. I don’t make many phone calls, but the lyrics search is pretty nice. Siri Shortcuts integration is decent too, but most of my shortcuts do things specifically to my iPhone or iPad, so they don’t usually make sense to run from the HomePod. That said, if you use Shortcuts for things that do play nice with the HomePod then this feature will be great for you.

That’s really all that’s changed and there are still quite a few gaps that would make the HomePod a better smart speaker. the biggest thing from me is support for multiple voices. Today, the HomePod doesn’t care who asks it to do something, it does it all the same. I wish it would behave like the Google Home where it knows multiple voice and will tell each person their own info based on who’s asking. At the very least, I wish it was like my iPhone where it would only do some things if it recognizes my voice is asking.

Miscellaneous Notes from my Original Review

HomeKit has only gotten more support since I got the HomePod, and today every smart product in my home (minus the Nest) works with Siri on my HomePod. It’s great at knowing what I want it to do, and the excellent microphones mean I almost never have to ask it to do something twice. I used to use my Echo for most smart home stuff, but now I do it all (again, minus the Nest) from the HomePod.

I said this in February about a night mode:

Google Assistant devices have a concept of “night hours” which has the speaker automatically behave slightly different at night. This dims the top-mounted LED and quiets the volume of music and voice feedback during the hours you request. […] Listening to loud music at 5PM and then asking a question at midnight should not result in Siri yelling her answer to me.

This is still an annoyance, as Siri is louder than I’d like at night. Google’s night hours feature still works great, and Amazon has updated the Echo with a cool “whisper mode” that will whisper its responses back to you if whisper to it.

On another note, I still wish that the HomePod could do things with more Apple devices. Apple did add calendar access and the ability to say “where is my iPhone” and ping my phone, both of which are things I wished for in my review, but I still wish that I could do things with the Apple TV from the HomePod. I can set my HomePod up as the audio output for the Apple TV, so why not also let me say “hey Siri, show me movies by Darren Aronofsky” like I can into the Siri Remote already?

Final Thoughts

I really do like my HomePods. They are the best speakers I’ve ever owned, and I get a lot of mileage out of them as just that: really good, smart, easy to use speakers. I remain a little let down on the smart features too, but they are certainly moving in the right direction. Apple has put all of its user-facing development effort this year towards the smart features of the HomePod and it’s all the better for it.

  1. The 2 people on Twitter who seem to think I’m a HomePod hater, take note.

A Few Strong Smart Speaker Opinions

One: Amazon got this whole “voice in a can” revolution going, and they deserve tons of credit for figuring that out. When the original Echo was announced, we all thought it was going to flop. Instead, it has heralded a wave of innovation (and $$$) in this new category. This extends to making “flash briefing” style podcasts more popular, as people are now into daily podcasts in a way they never were before the Echo hit the scene.

Two: Amazon’s hardware chops aren’t enough to keep up with the other players entering this market. In terms of looks and build quality, Amazon’s devices are worse than what Apple and Google are making. From the Dot to the Show, the Echo lineup sounds and looks worse than the products Google and Apple are making right now. Look at the new Lenovo Smart Display and tell me that isn’t worlds better than the Echo Show.

Three: As the innovator in the market, Amazon was able to get by on mediocre design, but as more players enter the playing field, they are losing ground. This will hurt them in selling to average folks.

Four: Nobody wants to install Skills. First, the vast majority of Skills on the Echo platform are straight up garbage. Even browsing the main Skills page with featured content reveals little in the way of exciting things to do. So finding good content is hard, and even when you do get a skill that you want, it is not a good user experience needing to “install” it to your Alexa manually. Compared to Google Home, where everything the service does is built in, with only smart home platforms really needing to be linked to your Google account. Meanwhile, Siri requires you to have apps installed on your iPhone to use their abilities, but you probably already have those apps, so it feels like zero work.

Five: I don’t think the Echo has any real differentiating features. Google does a much better job at answering trivia style questions, while its conversation, multi-part request handling, better voice detection, and it’s direct integration to all of Google’s own properties (things you’re much more likely to be using than Amazon’s stuff) makes everything more useful to more people. Meanwhile, HomePod is better for Apple Music customers and differentiates on sound quality in general. Outside of playing Jeopardy, I can’t think of a single thing I think the Echo is best in class at doing. It beats the HomePod in some things, but I don’t really see how it beats Google at any single category.


I got into the smart speaker game with an Amazon Echo Dot, and I now have that same Dot, as well as 2 HomePods and 3 Google Homes in my house. I’m totally sold on this voice assistant future, but I think Amazon is in danger of losing the market they created. Smart speaker shipments are growing fast, and the industry grew almost 4x from Q1 2017 to Q1 2018. Amazon sold 2x as many devices over that time, but their share of the market was cut in half, mostly eaten up by Google. We should have some more estimates on sales numbers soon, and I would expect that same trend to continue.

HomePod Gets It’s First Meaningful Update

Note: HomePod did get an update last month, but no one was able to suss out any user-facing changes.

The most exciting update for me is the ability to finally ask my HomePod about my schedule for the day. My work calendar is super important to me and the fact Siri on the HomePod couldn’t see this before was mind boggling. I still wish I could say something like “good morning” to my HomePod and have it give me the weather, news, and calendar events, but I guess it’s baby steps for now.

AirPlay 2 sounds fine, but as someone with only one HomePod, it doesn’t do much for me personally. I like the idea of asking my Apple Watch to play something on the HomePod, but I don’t know how practical a use case that actually is. But with stereo pairing and multi-room audio support I expect those crazy multi-HomePod owners are going to love it.

My HomePod Mini Proposal (redux)

Almost exactly 6 months ago, a full 3 months before HomePod shipped, I wrote this piece about what HomePod model I was hoping Apple would make for the 2018 holiday season. Since then we have seen not one, not two, but three separate rumors indicating that Apple is working on a cheaper HomePod for release later this year. Maybe I was onto something 😉

Anyway, I was going to re-address the HomePod mini argument as someone who has been using a HomePod every day since it was delivered back on February 9. But after thinking about it for a bit today, I don’t actually think my opinion has changed much at all.

To recap, here are 3 changes I think Apple could make to create a HomePod Mini and one basic tip for how they could make Siri better across all devices in their lineup.

1. Cut the cost from $349 to $199

A MacBook Pro costs over $2,000, but the specs are not that much worse than other Windows laptops in the same price range. Also, if you don’t want to spend that, they have computers all the way down to $599. Likewise, the iPhone X is $1,149, but they have iPhones down to $349. Having the HomePod as their only speaker is like them only selling the 15” MacBook Pro, thereby having their only computer cost over $3,000.

The base cost of a HomePod needs to be lower. If they want to be anything besides a niche player in this game, they need to have an entry level speaker that people can buy into if they find $349 to be a ridiculous price to spend on any speaker. They don’t need to compete with the Echo Dots and Google Home Minis, but they do need to sell people on why they should spend more, and the current pitch isn’t strong enough for a lot of people.

2. Dip the sound quality a bit

Apple should simplify the audio output so that it is still excellent, but removes a lot of the advanced processing the embedded A8 processor is doing in the existing model. Reduce the 7 tweeters to 4. Maybe even remove the ability to use multiple HomePods together to get stereo sound.

I’m fairly confident Apple could make some changes and still have the best sounding smart speaker on the market and justify their still-premium price point.

The HomePod sounds great, it really does. Likewise, a 4K screen on a phone looks great too, but almost no one can tell the difference between and 4K phone screen and a 1080p screen. I fully believe that Apple could make a HomePod for $199 that sounds better than all the other $199 speakers out there and use the added benefit of Siri and Apple Music to differentiate it from the pack.

3. Make it a little smaller

At 6.8 inches tall, the HomePod is pretty darn small already (the Amazon Echo Plus is 9.3 inches tall), but removing some of the speakers and speaker tech could surely cut the size of the device down a bit (4.5 inches in this mockup). This isn’t a required change, but size matters when it comes to speakers, and people will inherently see a smaller speaker as less premium than a larger speaker.

If you’re going to call it a”mini” you may as well make it smaller.

Siri tip: iCloud App Library

This change would impact both models of HomePod, but I had to mention it here. Apple should add an option to install an app to your “iCloud App Library” upon installation. The idea of this new feature is that apps would be able to run their Siri functionality in the cloud and not require its app to be installed on each device you use.

This would just make Siri better everywhere. Let apps install themselves to your iCloud account rather than your local devices. That way, when a request comes in for that app, you don’t have to have it installed on your device, the request will just work.

If Apple Never Makes a Cheaper HomePod, it Would be a Major Break from History

In 2001, the iPod was released at $399. Just 9 months later the second ten iPod came out, pushing the original model to $299. By 2003, the 3rd gen iPod started at $299 as well. In 2004, the iPod mini released at $199.

In 2007, the Apple TV launched at $299. The next version (3 years later) dropped all the way down to $99. Even the top-of-the-line Apple TV today is $199.

In 2007, the iPhone launched at $499/599 on contract. A few months later, the 8GB model dropped down to $399, and by 2008 the iPhone 3G sold for $199 on contract.

In 2010, the iPad launched at $499. 2 years later the iPad mini released at $329. Not to mention older iPad models were on sale for less than the original $499 prices.

In 2015, the Apple Watch launched at $349. The next year, the Series 1 launched at $269. Even today, the Series 3 Apple Watch starts at $329.


From a hardware perspective, the HomePod is great: there’s basically nothing Apple needs to do to make this a better speaker. But in terms of positioning in the market and software quality, they have a lot of work to do. Using history as a guide, it seems pretty much guaranteed that Apple will have a revision of the HomePod in the near future that brings the entry price down.

Also looking at each one of these products, it wasn’t until each one dropped in price that they really started to take off. I know many people are happy with the HomePod as it exists today, but I really expect a cheaper ($149-199) model will help expand the HomePod’s reach, and it appears Apple may be thinking the same thing.

On the HomePod's Supposed "Lagging Sales"

Report: HomePod sales lagging - Six Colors

Yes, the HomePod is a great sounding speaker. Yes, it’s ability to recognize its wake word, no matter the volume, is better than the Echo’s. But the amount of tasks that it simply falls down on gives me little reason to use the voice control part of it. Even something like playing music, which is supposed to be its bread and butter, is unreliable in my experience.

While I agree with Dan here, and I have been saying for months that the HomePod is too expensive and is focusing on features that don’t appeal to a mass market…let’s not jump to conclusions just yet.

January 22, 2018 - Is Apple About to Cancel the iPhone X? Poor Sales Mean Device Faces ‘End of Life’

January 29, 2018 -  iPhone X Failure Forces Apple Into Drastic Action

And then…

February 1, 2018 - Apple Reports Record Results for 1Q 2018

“iPhone X surpassed our expectations and has been our top-selling iPhone every week since it shipped in November,” said Tim Cook

And of course there was hoopla around the Apple Watch as recently as last year:

May 17, 2017 - The Biggest Sign Yet the Apple Watch Is Failing

September 30, 2017 - Why The Apple Watch Series 3 Is Ultimately A Failure

And then…

February 1, 2018 - Apple Reveals Storming Apple Watch Success In Best-Ever Quarter

In the earnings call that followed the publication of the results, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, ‘It was our best quarter ever for the Apple Watch, with over 50% growth in revenue and units for the fourth quarter in a row and strong double-digit growth in every geographic segment.’

‘Sales of Apple Watch Series 3 models,’ Cook went on, ‘were also more than twice the volume of Series 2 a year ago. Apple Watch is the most popular smartwatch in the world and gained in market share during the quarter, based on the latest estimates from IDC.’

So while I’m more than happy to say, “I was right!” I have been around the block enough to know for sure.