Beard Blog Tech Reviews: Apple HomePod

The gadget you don’t need until you have one

HomePod: The iPod that lives in your home

HomePod

The latest product from tech giant Apple is their own take on the very popular “lady in a cylinder”. The HomePod aims to fill the gap where the competition lacks in areas such as sound quality, ease of use, and aesthetics. I’ve spent the last month with the HomePod, testing everything I could.

It Packs a Punch

The Apple HomePod is a small cylindrical device that is about the size of a two liter soda bottle, with the top cut off. It’s covered in a thick mesh that feels soft but also sturdy at the same time. Inside, the HomePod packs a large upward facing subwoofer and seven tweeters around the bottom circumference. In between those there is a six microphone array for hearing your voice as well as to fine tune the sound based on the surroundings. The speakers and microphones are controlled by a stripped-down version of the fourth generation Apple TV. The processing power allows you to shout anything at it and it responds very quickly. 

High Fidelity

I don’t consider myself an audiophile, but I enjoy high quality music when I can get it. When I listen to music over bluetooth in my car I can hear the lower quality compared to playing over USB. That’s about the extent of my sound quality identifying experience. The HomePod does a great job of producing great sound in a small package. It sits next to my forty-eight inch, nine speaker sound bar, and the HomePod has noticeably better sound.

The music stopped and I thought “there’s no way she heard that.”

The sound output fills my living room with high fidelity music so well that you would think I have a 7.1 surround sound system setup.

Apple’s Music

The HomePod only knows one music service and that’s Apple’s own Apple Music. That means the HomePod cannot play music from Spotify, Tidal, Google, or any other music service out there. You can play songs from Apple’s giant library, your own iTunes library, or songs you’ve previously purchased from iTunes, so there is a lot of variety. If that is not enough for you, you can still stream whatever you like from an iOS device to the speaker, just like you AirPlay to an Apple TV. The benefit of using Apple Music on the HomePod is you don’t need your iPhone or iPad to play it. In fact, if you turned off all your devices, it will still be able to play music from Apple’s streaming service. If you’re thinking of getting a HomePod, switching to or signing up for Apple Music is definitely worth it.

Hey Siri

Beyond playing great music, the HomePod packs the same helpful assistant as iPhones and iPads. Her name is Siri and she is very willing to help you any way she can. The HomePod doesn’t have a screen or a way for you to interact with anything, so Siri is limited. Speaking “Hey Siri…” into the air turns her attention towards you as she hangs on your next words. I’ve had moderate success with asking Siri random questions. I’ve been using Siri for a long time so I know how to ask her things and what she can and can’t do. Here are some things I asked my HomePod that resulted in the correct answer on the first try: What is 60g in oz?; What is the scientific name for a sloth?; How many tablespoons are in 20oz?; Who is Michael B. Jordan?; Who sings purple rain?

Contrary to your iPhone, Siri on the HomePod doesn’t know who you are. Whomever sets up the HomePod initially can choose to allow some details to be passed through the Apple account, but it’s still very limited. The nice thing about this is anyone that can yell “Hey Siri!” can control the HomePod. This can also cause some disagreements between people who want to hear two different songs.

One of my favorite HomePod activities is when I wake up with a random song in my head, I can shout out loud and have it played

One place where the HomePod excels over the competition is how well it can hear you. Even at whisper with music playing the HomePod picks up the “Hey Siri” command. I was in my kitchen cooking with the exhaust fan on, the HomePod was about twenty feet away with a wall between us. The HomePod was playing something from Apple Music when I said “Hey Siri skip” at a volume that a person next to me would struggle to hear. The music stopped and I thought “there’s no way she heard that.” The next song began to play and I was taken aback by how well it could hear my over all the noise.

The Kit of Home

Another way Siri on the HomePod is helpful is by controlling HomeKit devices. These are smart home devices that are compatible with Apple’s home ecosystem. I have structured the smart devices in my home around this ecosystem allowing me to take full advantage of Siri for automation and control. By shouting at the HomePod I can close my garage doors, turn up the heat, turn on/off lights, and trigger scenes I have setup. homepod The HomePod also acts as a HomeKit bridge that allows you to (if you don’t already have an Apple TV) access your HomeKit devices from outside your home network. 

Who should buy one?

If you’re deeply invested in Apple’s ecosystem (which is easy to do) with a subscription to Apple Music, HomeKit compatible devices (Philips Hue bulbs fit this bill), like listening to music in your home, and use an iOS device; the HomePod is definitely for you.

It’s going to be hard to find a lot of people that meet those criteria, which is Apple’s fault, but at the same time it helps get more people into their ecosystem.

One of my favorite HomePod activities is when I wake up with a random song in my head (which happens almost every morning) I can shout out loud and have it played, and it sounds great!

Measuring the Competition

Apple is late to the “lady in a can” game, which seems to be their modus operandi as of late. There is plenty of competition in this space and surprisingly the first mover here was Amazon with their Echo line. Amazon has released nine products with their Alexa assistant before the HomePod shipped. Google now has three different types of devices that use the Google Assistant for your home. Amazon, Google and Apple’s devices all have the same functions; play music, control smart devices, and try to answer your dimwitted questions.

Which one is the best? That’s a hard question to answer for everyone, and each person you ask might have a different answer. The best one for you is which system you’re invested in. Do you have Apple products throughout your home or are you more in the Google ecosystem? Amazon has the advantage of being the cheaper solution and throwing their products at consumers every way possible. It’s more likely you know someone with an Amazon product in their house than the other two.

HomePod

Apple’s HomePod is another great first generation product. A lot of people are comparing it to the the original Apple Watch, which is fair. Both of those devices are late entries to a new market for Apple and so far, both have been received very well. My time with the HomePod has been great and I don’t regret the purchase at all. I’m looking forward to the near future where Apple makes smaller/cheaper versions of the HomePod that I can stick in various places in my house.

In summary, John Gruber put it best when he wrote, “What AirPods are for your own ears, HomePod is for your home.”.

 

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First Home Owner Diaries Volume Three: Electric Garage

This past weekend my father and I decided to tackle one of the more annoying things in our new home. This is my first time having a garage, and as a guy I was really excited to work on projects and cars inside for once.

The Plan

The plan was to hang new lights and add some outlets on dedicated circuits. Of course a plan is a good start, but we had no idea what hurdles this house would throw at us during the process. I purchased four 48-inch LED shop light fixtures from Amazon and had them shipped to out home prior to project day.

After about an hour of planning and strategizing the morning of, we went to my local home improvement store to get the rest of the supplies. This was hurdle number one because my local store had some odd product choices. I was unable to find the outlets I wanted so we decided to go with 15 amp outlets and breakers, and utilize some parts I already had at home. When it came time to get the breakers, they only had twin 15 amp versions in the brand I needed. This was going to have to be fine. Later, at checkout, the twin 15 amp breakers rung up about five times more expensive than a single breaker (which they didn’t carry). Now we were forced to go to our original plan of 20 amp outlets and breakers, while spending more money on materials. Because you can’t just go to a store like this and buy what you came for, we also left with a new leaf rake.

Previous State

Old pull-chain light fixture

The wiring in the garage was about 75% original to the house (60s) and the other 25% was installed around the turn of the century (2000). In addition to the lack of new wiring in the garage, the entire home is only on a handful of circuits. If you’re not sure what that means, basically a lot of outlets go back to a single breaker. Have you ever tried making toast and watching TV and a breaker trips? That’s because the circuit was overloaded. Adding more dedicated circuits means less tripping.

old_switch
Old workbench outlet/switch

I have a beer spare refrigerator in my garage that was previously plugged in to the only outlet in the entire garage, which was also located above my workbench. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it wasn’t for the light switch also located in the area. Whoever installed this wired it so that the outlets were only active when the light switch was on. To run the refrigerator I had to keep the only light in the garage burning at all times. That light was now located half above my workbench and half above the refrigerator rendering it mostly useless for working anywhere but the workbench.

Electrifying

My father, a retired electrician, decided it would be best to tackle the lights first as they posed the most unknowns. His foresight was very appreciated later in the day. The garage had some old pull-chain type light fixtures randomly placed in the ceiling in two places. We leveraged these as junction points for our new lights. Above the workbench we cut in a new box in the ceiling to power a new light in that area. The entire ceiling in the garage is plasterboard and insulation which makes it very hard to run new wires. Using a metal wire fish tape we ran a wire from one of the pull-chain locations to the newly cut opening, then ran another wire back to the other pull-chain location to link them all on a switch. The new LED fixtures were a breeze to install. They were flush mounted to the ceiling using plastic anchors and then we cut off the plug and wired them to the junction box. There was an existing switch by the garage entrance to the house which we wired to all four lights. By the time we did all of the wire fishing, wiring, hanging, and testing, it was dinner time.

New workbench power

After dinner it was dark enough to test the lights and wow were they bright. The locations we chose were perfect to balance the room and make future work a lot more convenient. Now we could use the new lights for phase two. Next it was time to run new circuits for new receptacles. We ran two wires from the electrical panel to the workbench, each on their own breaker. The first one was to power the refrigerator and existing radon remediation system. The other was a quad outlet for the workbench where I can plug in almost anything. While we were working, we decided to add another outlet directly below electrical panel, close to a garage door, for use outdoors. This was also on it’s own dedicated circuit. After more wire pulling, stapling, wire twisting, drilling, and testing, we had 4 new fully functioning 20 amp outlets in the garage.

Completed lights

Now that the work is complete it can only mean that I will do more work in the garage with the proper power and lighting. I went from one small florescent fixture and two incandescent bulbs to four very bright LED fixtures. I also upgraded our power outlets from one on a shared circuit to four spread over three circuits. All in a days work.

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The Beard Blog Apple TV (2015) Review

For the last 3+ years, there as only been one Apple streaming device. The Apple TV (3rd Generation) has been around since 2012. It was a small upgrade over the 2nd generation device which debuted the previous year. Since 2012, there has been a plethora of new devices to compete against the widely-popular Apple TV. Amazon, Roku, Google, and almost every TV manufacturer have introduced a way to consume content over the internet. Most of them have been hit or miss, but by 2015 Amazon and Roku have cornered the market. This left a hole for consumers of the Apple ecosystem since the 3rd generation Apple TV was limited to Apple provided apps only.  Continue reading “The Beard Blog Apple TV (2015) Review”

Logitech Type+ Keyboard for iPad Air 2 Review

I’ve always touted an iPad or any other tablet as a second device to your computer. If you need a computer for certain things (e.g. word processing, graphics, A/V, etc.) a tablet cannot replace this and you will be unhappy with just an iPad at home. The tablet market is for when you don’t feel like being on your smartphone, but also don’t want to be on a full-fledged computer. Adding a physical keyboard to a tablet a la Microsoft Surface begins to blur the lines between tablet and laptop. To preface this so-called review I want to state that I received no compensation for this nor did Logitech provide me anything for free. I purchased this keyboard with my own, hard-earned, money. Logitech Type+ for iPad Air 2

My current iPad is called the iPad Air 2 and it is my 5th iPad that I’ve owned to date. Starting with the original iPad shortly after it’s release I followed it up with an iPad 4 with lightning connector. I’ve also had the original iPad Air as well as the original iPad Mini. Being my 5th iPad, I’ve never used an external keyboard with it. In the early days they were really thick and became more of a hinderance than a helpful accessory. Continue reading “Logitech Type+ Keyboard for iPad Air 2 Review”

My Apple Watch Review: 3 Months of Joy

From Fitbit to Apple Watch

As an avid Apple enthusiast, I’m always excited about their new products. I’ve been following the Apple Watch or ‘iWatch’ news since it was first reported on MacRumors years ago. Previously I’ve never worn a smartwatch, but I have been collecting traditional watches for some time. Just about every day I could have been spotted wearing a watch on my left hand, so you could say I was ready for the next generation of watches. I later grew tired of waiting for an Apple iWatch to emerge so I ventured in the wearables market by purchasing a Fitbit Flex. This was great, it could track my steps and only needed charged about once a week. As this point I’m wearing a traditional watch on my left wrist, and a Fibit fitness tracker on my right wrist. This is where Apple captured my interest, by combining both a watch and fitness tracker into one device, both my wrists no longer needed to be decorated with straps.

Expense over Excitement

When the Apple Watch was announced in the fall of 2014, I was immediately immersed in the hype, and by spring of 2015 I was over eager to meet my new wrist companion. The publicity since fall kind of dissipated so I didn’t know that many people taking the plunge on this first generation device. On pre-order day I settled on ordering two Apple Watches, one for me of course, and one for my wife to share the experience with me… and send my heartbeat to. For me it was the Apple Watch (Stainless Steel Case) with black sport band and the Apple Watch Sport with white sport band for my wife. After adding AppleCare+ this was a large purchase and immediately I started having buyer’s remorse. Would I actually use this thing? Will it be another great Apple product? Apple Watch

My wife’s Apple Watch Sport band arrived first, and to my surprise, my Apple Watch had yet to be shipped. This was a tiny dilemma because it was a surprise gift for her and I wanted to have both at the same time. I ruined the surprise and asked if I can wear it until mine was delivered, of course agreed as it was already adorning my wrist. Ten days later my Apple Watch arrived in glorious fashion, while I was out of town. This put my time with the Apple Watch Sport at about two weeks. I enjoyed the sport, but fell in love with the look and design of the stainless steel Apple Watch. I’m pretty rough on watches so I knew I would not only need AppleCare+, but a scratch-proof sapphire screen sold me.

Since then I’ve been wearing my Apple Watch everyday, and I have the activity history to prove it.

Three months later I’m as happy as ever, especially when people ask me if I still like it as much as the day I got it. My only answer can be, “why yes, it is essential to me everyday.”

Continue reading “My Apple Watch Review: 3 Months of Joy”