We pick out the best brainy boom box
£319 features Siri, Bluetooth (not used for audio playback), Wi-Fi, AirPlay
Credit to Apple for so many things here. Since HomePod’s release in February, it has been given software updates to add multiroom playback, stereo pairing with impeccable balance, and a lot more. When running the latest firmware, HomePod offers a great experience; it’s perfectly adept at hearing your commands for Siri, the audio quality is simply excellent, the networking utterly stable, and a HomePod can act as a home hub, negating the need to keep an iPad plugged in and online.
So, it’s absolutely the best way to centralise Siri in your home. But darn, these things are expensive – considering you could fill a home full of Echo devices for the price of one HomePod, you’ll have to really want to buy in to buy one.
Amazon Echo Plus
£139.99 features Alexa, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect
By the time you read this, Amazon’s second-generation Echo Plus will likely be almost upon us, all cloth-clad and pretty – but, conceptually, it’s only a tiny step on from the original Echo Plus that we’ve tested here. This version sounds great, listens oh-socarefully – its microphone array blows that of the smaller Echo Dot out of the water – and it acts as a home hub, in this case for Zigbee-compatible devices.
Zigbee is a protocol that, like HomeKit, is available for third parties to use, and a whole host of them have; Zigbee compatibility is rarely as well publicised as the Alexa name, so look for that instead. Given Amazon’s range of directly Alexa-compatible devices, you’ve got an ecosystem that’s growing fast and shows no sign of stopping.
Google Home Max
£399 features Google Assistant, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Chromecast Audio
It’s obvious that Google has thought hard about sound quality on its big-boy Assistant-powered speaker, because this thing is loud and impressive. It is, by a small margin over HomePod, the most impressive of all three in terms of sound quality, and it has no problem hearing commands even at high volume.
Like HomePod, though, it’s a touch overpriced for what it does, and unlike our other contenders, it doesn’t confer any further smart home functionality beyond its built-in integration with Google Assistant, which is a shame. Really, this is just a way to make your music loud, with an interface to Google’s robo-helper built in; if you’re not having a party, the adequate Google Home (£129) might be a better purchase.