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Friday
Feb162018

Podcast #831: Apple HomePod Review

Most are probably well aware that Apple released it's smart speaker, the HomePod ($349), last week. As you would imagine you can’t click a link without somehow landing on a page that has a review. Well we’re adding our two cents to the discussion. But we’ll try to be succinct.

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Apple HomePod

Most are probably well aware that Apple released it's smart speaker, the HomePod ($349), last week. As you would imagine you can’t click a link without somehow landing on a page that has a review. Well we’re adding our two cents to the discussion. But we’ll try to be succinct.

In a nutshell, if you are not in the Apple ecosystem you can stop reading (listening) right here. There is nothing so compelling that you should shell out your $350 and buy one. If you are in the Apple ecosystem, there are some benefits over the competition, but is it worth the premium?

First and foremost the HomePod is about Apple Music and there it shines. It's pretty compelling to tell Siri to play nearly any song ever recorded and have it start playing. Of course you can do the with your phone and Airplay. Or an Echo and Amazon Prime Music. Or a Google Home and Google Play Music. So maybe not as compelling as we may have thought.

 

 

Setup

Plug it in, click a button on your iPhone, and your are done! That’s it! If you have a HomeKit home, that information transfers over, as does your iCloud, and music settings. For Apple users this is a no brainer. All in all it look less than 5 minutes to get up and running. The HomePod uses it's microphones and and drivers to optimize the sound regardless of where it is placed in your home. This is done without any user intervention.


Sound

Before we discuss the things you can do with the HomePod, let’s discuss the sound. After all, that’s why Apple is charging a premium for the device. Apple claims the A8 chip can analyse the music in real time and adjust the woofer and seven tweeters to give you “amazing” sound. After spending a week with the HomePod we can say that the claims of amazing sound are pretty accurate. You won’t find another smart speaker with this kind of bass or channel separation. The HomePod reproduces your music more accurately than its competitors giving you a richer and fuller sound. But it's all about the bass, and here we found it deep and satisfying.

But… before we move on, let’s discuss high quality audio for a few minutes. One of our favorite high quality speakers is the AudioEngine A5+ . The A5+ is a bookshelf speaker that runs $400. If you connect an Airport Express ($70 refurbished) to the A5+ you can turn an iPhone or iPad into a HomePod that is mobile. And it will sound better. Yes it will be more difficult to place the speakers, and yes it will cost about $150 more. But if you are interested in high quality audio, and you are all in for Apple products, this is a better system.  


Digital Assistant

Even though Apple is touting the audio capabilities of the HomePod it does have some Echo like capabilities. To activate the HomePod you say “Hey Siri” then speak your command. You can get news, weather, sports reports. You can ask it simple math questions, set timers, check calendars, send/read texts, and of course control your HomeKit enabled home. See detailed list below.

To do all of that the HomePod has six microphones that pick up your requests. We tested it when there was loud music playing or from across the room and it worked quite well. We did have one occasion where there were a lot of people in the house and everyone was talking over each other trying to pitt the Echo against the HomePod. Both devices got confused and the HomePod even said it was too noisy in the room for it to do anything. Under normal circumstances the HomePod heard and responded to every request we made.


Future Enhancements

Something that was pitched but didn’t make the first cut was the ability to use two Homepods together to form a stereo pair. At first you might think that this is a bummer but really who can afford two of these things just to form a stereo pair. After a week with the singular device I don’t think it's that important. The single HomePod does a great job at creating a wide soundstage. I am sure it will be better with two but not $350 better. You would be better served placing the second HomePod in another room. Which leads us to the other future enhancement.

AirPlay 2 is the next generation of AirPlay. Currently you can only AirPlay from your mobile device to one remote set of speakers. Note - if you AirPlay from a computer you can transmit to multiple speakers albeit the same sone to each remote speaker. With AirPlay 2 you will be able to send your music to multiple HomePods and beyond that you can send one song to one HomePod and another song to a second HomePod. AirPlay 2 is not restricted to HomePods. There will be speakers from other manufacturers that support this functionality.


Is the HomePod Worth It?

It's an easy question for the non-Apple people. No it's not worth it. If you are an Apple person the answer is, it depends. The HomePod is expensive and yes the sound is very good. Not good enough that it's worth the premium in price alone.  However, if your home is setup with HomeKit and you have an Apple Music account, then I do feel that the HomePod is something you should consider.


Things you can do with the HomePod:

General knowledge

  • “Hey Siri, who was the 13th president of the United States?”
  • “Hey Siri, what’s the tallest mountain in Germany?”
  • “Hey Siri, what does happenstance mean?”

Traffic and what’s nearby

  • “Hey Siri, where’s the nearest coffee shop?”
  • “Hey Siri, how long will it take me to drive to Milwaukee?”
  • “Hey Siri, what time does The Meatball Shop close?”

Alarms, timers, and world clocks

  • “Hey Siri, set a 3-minute timer.”
  • “Hey Siri, wake me up at 5 a.m.” (and “Hey Siri, snooze” when it goes off!)
  • “Hey Siri, what time is it in Stockholm?”

Weather

  • “Hey Siri, when is sunrise in Paris?”
  • “Hey Siri, what will the weather be like in Yosemite this weekend?”
  • “Hey Siri, will it snow in Denver today?”

Sports

  • “Hey Siri, what was the score the last time the Cubs played the Brewers?”
  • “Hey Siri, who has scored the most goals in Spanish soccer?”
  • “Hey Siri, when do the Suns play next?”

Unit conversions and math

  • “Hey Siri, what’s 38 percent of 299?”
  • “Hey Siri, how many cups are in a quart?”
  • “Hey Siri, what’s 50 dollars in euros?”

Stocks

  • “Hey Siri, what’s the market capitalization of Apple?”
  • “Hey Siri, how is the stock market doing today?”
  • “Hey Siri, where’s the NASDAQ today?”

Translation - Siri can translate into French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish.

  • “Hey Siri, translate “this is delicious” into Chinese.”
  • “Hey Siri, how do you say “I love you” in French?”

 

 

 

 

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