This is beautiful. Not only is it useful to continue your conversations because we usually have more than one command to issue, now — as promised at Google I/O 2018, but it brings to life the realization of a more “present” assistant.
How it works?
What happens when you say the “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” wake phrase, the user will see the lights on their Google Home device light up, indicating that Google Assistant is listening. From there, a question is asked followed up by a succinct and hopefully, correct response. With Continued Conversations, this changes to an abrupt ending to Assistant continuing to listen for 8 seconds for additional commands, which it will respond to if issues or delete the audio if no commands are issued. When the user is done issuing commands, simply say “Thank you” and Assistant will reply, “No problem” letting you know that the conversation is over.
With Google arguably having the smartest assistant, the brings this digital assistant to the next level.
Easily one of the most aesthetic, beautiful smart speakers on the market.
Enter Apple HomePod.
Let’s start off by saying that Apple is marketing this as a device that is “speaker first”, meaning that they are aiming to provide a device that gives you excellent sound quality with a voice interface, which is controlled by Siri. That doesn’t necessarily make it a smart speaker right? Well, it sort of does, especially when you can control HomeKit devices, send iMessages and play music — all tell tale signs of smart speakers. So although Apple doesn’t want the comparisons — there will be and I’d argue that there should be and is, based off of what this device does.
Apple has noted that HomePod has been in development for 6 years. That being said, this product aims to mesh together the worlds of audio, smart assistants and more in a pint sized package.
As I noted, the design of the Apple HomePod is nothing short of fantastic. It is a hefty, yet small speaker featuring a soft mesh outer covering housing the many speakers, tweeters and microphones crammed inside. There are two colors that HomePod comes in, white, which gets dirty quickly and space gray. When it comes to ports on the device — there are none, with the only thing coming from the HomePod is it’s power cable, which is of exceptionally high quality featuring a woven covering. Note that are no other ports on the device, no aux in, no USB, which should be fine for most, as we are moving to a predominately wireless world.
I was able to get in a solid test, standing fairly close and moving my head all around in a local Apple Store and I was thoroughly blown away. The key thing to remember about how this sounds is “sound separation”, a listener can literally hear all of the sounds coming from the speakers, every instrument, every differentiating aspect of the song is clear and very crisp. This is one of the biggest differences when comparing to a Google Home, which I currently own, or Amazon Alexa. Google Home in comparison sounds slightly muffled and sounds mesh together, while HomePod seems to produce the music in a very accurate way. However, when it comes to overall volume, the Google Home Max still takes the cake in this department — that thing is just loud with very good bass.
See a sound test below comparing the HomePod to other smart speakers as well as Sonos Play (which I believe has an edge over HomePod, with Google Home Max being louder but lacking the auidble clarity due to distortion at higher volumes):
On the other hand, the only sound that you can ask Siri for is for music from Apple Music. No Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, Tidal (laughs) or others unless you choose to AirPlay them, which somewhat takes the intuitiveness out of it. If I have to grab my phone, go to an audio source and Air Play that source to the HomePod — then what are we doing? It’s simply too much effort when voice is my supposed interface. In fact, to set the device up, you must have an iOS device running iOS 11.2.5. So all of the Android users that utilize Apple Music — you cannot setup this device.
Note: Since this review and hands-on was done in store, I was unable to test “Hey Siri” functionality.
This device is heavily integrated into the Apple ecosystem and it’s thought process on devices and services you should have. With that being said, the lock-in here is huge with only Apple Music being at the forefront with no other alternatives even being available to control via voice unless you’re noting for it to move to the next track.
Unfortunately, at this time, Siri cannot support multiple users. An example is that if you ask it to read personal details such as text messages and your notes, it will read those items off to anyone that issues the “Hey Siri” command to it. This is especially odd, since Apple touts this device as being very private and other Apple-centric analysts on podcasts are quoted as saying, “I’d never have a Google or Amazon speaker in my house due to privacy“. Siri can differentiate between voices on your iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, but can’t on HomePod. This is a huge miss and being someone, who is privacy focused and someone who deletes my voice data weekly from Google Home, I understand the need for differentiation of voices on smart devices — yet this goes full circle to Siri not being that smart and the fact that there are multiple versions of Siri spread across Apple’s ecosystem. You have Siri on iPhone and iPad, which are identical, then you have the gimped versions on Apple Watch, Mac OS, Apple TV and finally HomePod. So let’s not talk about “privacy” (this is talking to you, Rene Ritchie from Vector) until Siri can stop being so fragmented across devices made by the same company. Additionally, HomePod doesn’t offer a mute switch for the microphone either, which is featured on Google Home and Amazon Echo devices — instead, you must ask Siri to mute the microphone using a command.
If you are engrossed in the Apple ecosystem and are in the market for a speaker that can deliver excellent sound quality, HomePod may be right for you. However, no product comes without it’s limitations, as Apple simply isn’t open to many other companies when it comes to HomeKit integrations or third party music platforms and if you’re accepting of that, this could be right for you. AirPlay 2, stereo pairing with other HomePod devices and other features are slated to be released to the devices later in 2018. Siri capabilities are quite a disappointment as Siri on your iPhone can do more than on the HomePod.
At the end of the day, if an only if you’re committed to everything Apple would I recommend this.
“Ok Google! Turn down the lights and make me a sandwich!” — Isn’t this something you’ve been waiting to shout into the depths of your home? Of course it is, except for maybe the sandwich part.
My friends, the time is here. Meet Google Home.
We’ve seen and heard the fuss that Amazon’s Echo has made in the digital assistant and smart home world, but it’s time for our friend Google to try it’s hand at it with Google Home, powered by Google Assistant. That’s right, Google Now and search have been prepping us for this moment and it’s here. How? Your voice searches are saved (you didn’t know?) and are used intelligently (not shared) by Google to help power it’s natural language platform that will allow for the Assistant to communicate with you and understand you better. Doing so simply makes it easier to get the information you need faster based off of the questions you ask.
Google Home will additionally serve as a central automation hub for your home, which will further propel you into the internet of things (IoT). The device is slated to work with Chromecast, Nest and Philips Hue with certainly more to come. What does this mean? While using the Google Home as your hub with you other devices, this will unlock a range of capabilities that will make controlling each of them that much simpler.
The design of the device is simply beautiful and blends in seamlessly with your interior decor. In the housing are far-field microphone that will help to decipher your voice, in addition to a hi-fi speaker that is designed to deliver crystal-clear highs and rich bass. On top, there are touch controls that gives the user full control of the device complete with a microphone mute button on the back.
Did I mention that Google Home is hands-free?
Bottom line: This is what has taken Google 18 years to design, build and create for us. The future is now and the internet, a recipe, the weather, your to-do list are all literally one keyword away. Pre-Order yours today, here.
Tech for the masses, meant to empower, educate and inform by Dexter Johnson.