Against my original inclination, I ended up ordering the new Apple home speaker aka HomePod. Since I've been kind of entrenched in the Amazon universe for my home speaker needs, I felt like it would be silly to add another one in the mix.
But... as I am weak to new (Apple) tech, and the positive reviews rolled out, and then Best Buy emailed me to say I could order it (yesterday) and still have it today, I lost my willpower. So I picked it up over lunch and gave it a quick whirl.
The sound is indeed pretty fantastic for a single speaker of this size. That might sound like too many caveats at first, but what this means is that you can put it virtually anywhere in your house (or even outdoors) and without any other setup have "room filling" sound connected to your entire streaming library. The bass in particular is incredible and kind of dwarfs all of my other Amazon smart speakers once it kicks in. I didn't think the overall sound was as drastic a difference as many of the reviews have seemed to indicate, but it's clearly a step above all of the Amazon offerings. I currently have it sitting in the kitchen which is a really open space into my living room, so that could be a limitation. I may try it out in a couple of smaller rooms to see if it has greater impact. Eventually I will likely get a second unit to see how it does with stereo sound (this won't be available apparently until later this year when Apple releases Airplay 2).
I haven't tested the smart functionality much, aside from setup, which was nearly instantaneous, and the first few suggested commands. Certainly the microphone pickup was effective, as I spoke in my normal voice facing away from the speaker while cooking. It's supposedly linked to my phone now for better or worse in terms of "learning" what music I like. The ironic thing for me is I tested it with Amazon Music since I am not currently subscribed to Apple Music, so I don't think it will get much out of me. I'm pleased to report that it still functioned well as a wireless speaker for the iphone - but only after I downloaded the songs. The pure streaming seemed to get interrupted for whatever reason.
So overall first impressions: if you are solely in the Apple ecosystem and don't have any other smart speaker, this is probably a great choice, particularly if you appreciate improved sound quality. Yes it's really pricey (relatively), but you'll be getting best in class sound/hardware performance and you can rest assured there will be many improvements and additional features coming up.
Honestly, though, if I had to make a recommendation between all the products I have, I would go with the Amazon Echo Show - that's the one with the screen. I get the feeling it's not doing too well though as it keeps going on sale. The sound quality is decent, but the screen really adds a ton to the overall experience. You can do video phone calls, ask it to show what's on a security cam, play a video, show lyrics when it plays a song, and as you walk by it always gives you suggestions, many times of commands you weren't aware of. I'm genuinely surprised it hasn't taken off; I imagine if it were an Apple product they would have advertised the crap out of it by now.