The Apple HomePod is an excellent smart speaker, but how does it match up to rivals from Amazon and Google? We're going to compare it to the Echo and Home speakers in various categories to help you choose which one to buy.

There's a lot to think about when buying a smart speaker, especially when they might set you back £300. We're going to compare the HomePod with Echo and Home/Nest devices on price, design, digital assistants and sound quality to help you decide which one to buy.

Price

In fairly typical Apple style, there's only one model of the HomePod to choose from. You can just decide whether you want it to come in space grey or white. Either way it costs £279/$299 making it one of the more expensive options on the market.

If we compare to Google, the Home Max is the closest rival at £299/$299 making it even more pricey for UK buyers. You can spend a lot less, though, if you opt for the regular Google Home at £89/$99. Then you can drop down to the tiny Nest Mini (2nd gen), which is just £49/$49

It's a little confusing as Google has started to switch over to Nest branding so the 1st gen is the Google Home Mini and is still available for £19/$25.

Google Nest Mini

Moving onto Amazon and there's is an overwhemling amount of different Echo speakers to choose from, especially if you include the Show models which are smart displays with a speaker built-in. Similar is true with Google's Hub screens, of which there are two.

We're sticking to dedicated speakers and the latest versions of each, but you can get older generations from Amazon if you don't need the latest features.

Starting at the top-end you can get the Echo Studio with its '3D sound' for £189/$199.  The Echo Plus (2nd gen) has a hub built-in for smart home devices and costs £139/$179.

Amazon Echo Studio

Then there is the regular Echo (3rd gen) for £89/$99, which is similar to the Google Home. The smallest and cheapest is the Echo Dot (3rd gen), which is £49/$49 - it also comes in a version with an LED clock display for £59/$59.

It's not a proper speaker, but it's worth mentioning the Echo Flex which plugs into a wall socket and is an option if you don't need decent sound quality for things like music streaming. It's available for £19/$24. You can also pair an Echo Sub with speakers for extra bass at £119/$129.

All of the above prices are RRP (recommended retail price) but Amazon and Google regularly offer the products for lower prices. Find out how the HomePod compares to the Samsung Galaxy Home here.

Design

When it comes to design, you can choose which speaker you like the look of. Generally they are all pretty similar with fabric mesh covers, sometimes in a choice of colours.

Echo Dot with Clock

We do particularly like the HomePod which is, we think, the most stylish of the speakers here. It also manages to strike a balance when it comes to the size, where Amazon's and Google's models are offen tiny or rather large. The compact size of the Echo Dot or Nest Mini might appeal, though, especially if you want it on your bedside table. 

As well as controlling them with your voice, they all have touch controls or physical buttons to do things like change the volume and mute the microphones.

Digital assistants

A smart speaker is so called becuase it can do a lot more than simply play music. With integrated microphones and internal hardware, you're able to speak to these devices and have them talk back. An Apple Music subscription is £9.99/$9.99 a month but you sign up to get a free trial.

This means that there is all manner of things you can do starting with simple things like ask what the weather forecast is, adjust the volume or get the answer to a question you would otherwise Google. Then there are more advanced things like control your heating, and other smart home devices or read out your calendar appointments.

You might think the possibilites are endless but they're not, and not all digital assistants are created equal. Thanks to software updates, they can easily get better over time without you needing to buy a new speaker and that's what the companies are all doing.

Your choice in this comparison is between Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant - we've used them all and can safely say that they can all do the above tasks. You can download the Amazon Alexa app for iPhone here.

Opinion is split around the Macworld and Tech Advisor office as to which is best, proving that there isn't really a way of objectively declaring one of them the winner.

It's clear that context and personal preference is a huge factor here so if you're a regular Macworld reader using lots of Apple devices daily then the Homepod with Siri is an obvious choice. It started off a long way behind but things have improved over time with the ability to recognise different users and Siri Shortcut - commonly known as routines in the smart home world. Find out what the HomePod can do.

If you're more open to using another system then we'd advice you to see which Amazon or Google devices suit your needs and budget best. One this is clear, once you commit to one, you're pretty commited as it doesn't really work well to try and use different asssistants around the house. If you already have an Echo Dot, for example, there's little point in buying a Google Home.

You might not have any existing smart speakers but think about what music streaming service you use. Apple, Amazon and Google all have their own so it would make a lot of sense to pair them up with the right speaker.

The other thing you need to consider is whether these assistants support any existing smart home products you already own or have your eye on. This could be a smart heating system like the Nest Thermostat or Philips Hue lightbulbs. There are countless out there so check before you buy.

Many will support both Alexa and Google Assistant, but it's clear that Apple's HomeKit doesn't have the same level of compatibility.

Check the Apple shop for HomeKit accessories and supported devices.

Check Google for Assistant supported devices.

Check Amazon for Alexa supported devices.

Look for these symbols when buying smart devices.

Sound Quality

Moving on from the smart element of the speakers, sound quality is very important, especially if you're spending a lot of money and want to play lots of music.

At its not so wallet friendly price, it's a good job that the HomePod sound excellent thanks to its upwards facing high-excursion woofer and seven tweeter array, each with a dedicated amplifier. The sound is rich, room-filling and 360 degrees. There's very little to dislike and if you can afford two, then you can create a stereo pair.

Google also allows stereo pairing if you buy two of the same speaker. As you would expect, the sound quality gets better as you move up the range with the Nest Mini and Home pretty good for their size and then a huge jump to the Home Max if you want something very high quality that can stand up to the HomePod.

In fact, it has more power on offer if you need something that's got serious punch.

Google Home Max

Amazon is a similar story to Google with sound quality getting better the more you spend - although remember the Plus has the same level of sound compared to the regular Echo but has the added Zigbee smart hub. There's more choice and you can stereo pair like-for-like speakers, plus add in that Echo Sub to create a 2.1 sound system if you desire. 

The Echo Studio is the one to opt for if you want the most impressive audio, five driver array, support for HD music and 3D sound such as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360. This is the best speaker in this comparison when you look at how much it costs for the quality on offer.

Verdict

Picking a single speaker or even a platform to win isn't really possible here with too many factors involved that will vary wildly between different users.

The HomePod is the Macworld favourite, and if you're an Apple user with an iPhone and or iPad then it makes a lot of sense to stay in the ecosystem. You won't be disappointed with the design, build or sound quality. Siri was previously a long way behind rivals but has improved a lot since the speaker first launched.

That's not to say Amazon and Google speakers aren't worth a look. They both offer a nice range of speakers and will be the only choices if you want something smaller and cheaper - namely the Echo Dot and Nest Mini.

While the Google Home Max is the most impressive speaker when it comes to sound quality, it's very bulky and expensive so the Echo Studio is a a more well-rounded option.

You can read about what the second generation HomePod might offer here.