The HomePod's looks seem to emphasize its functionality as a speaker first and an intelligent assistant second. That's probably not a surprise considering the way Apple talked about it on stage -- Phil Schiller, Apples senior VP of worldwide marketing, referred to the machine more as a "breakthrough home speaker" rather than the avatar of a virtual assistant. That's almost certainly because Siri isn't ready for it yet, but Schiller wasn't wrong. The existing crop of intelligent home assistants sort of suck at audio.
The HomePod however, sounded crisp and bright no matter the musical genre flowed through it -- it rendered the Eagles as well it did Kendrick Lamar. As a reminder, there's a huge woofer and seven tweeters inside, all meant to make audio sound as vivid as possible no matter where you are in a room. It works. The PLAY:3 was generally very good, but audio felt remarkably closed-off when I wasn't sitting right in front of it. (Note: It's unclear whether the PLAY:3 was tuned using Sonos' Trueplay technology, which can make a big difference in sound quality.)
And the Echo? Well, I'll put it this way: If listening to the HomePod was like listening to a CD, then audio through the Echo sounded like AM radio. In my experience it's excellent for audiobooks, but if given the choice, I'd rather have the HomePod pump out my jams.
It'll be a while before the HomePod officially goes on sale, but right now it has one clear edge over the competition: It's just a killer speaker. It's important to note that we have no idea how the virtual-assistant angle works, though -- Alexa in its current form is very capable, and Google Assistant is getting more sophisticated by the day. We know Siri is getting some more elegant voices, but we'll have to see if how it makes the leap into this new body before rendering a final verdict.