While it produces fantastic audio, Apple's new HomePod smart speaker has also annoyed early users with obtuse software limitations, a lack of real Bluetooth connectivity, and missing multi-room playback support that won't come until later this year. And now there's one more irritation to add to that list, as it seems the HomePod can damage your wood furniture.
Tagged With smart speakers
Sometimes, years pass before Apple creates a completely new product like the HomePod. During that parade of iPhone redesigns and MacBook upgrades, it can be easy to forget that when Apple enters a new space, the company does it with swagger. The products are beautiful. They work well. But they are also usually exclusively designed to work with other Apple products and services. The $449 HomePod is all of these things, and it drives me crazy.
When unexplained delays pushed Apple's smart speaker back from a 2017 debut, Apple said it needed "a little more time before it's ready" and promised an "early 2018" release. Now it seems Apple is making good on its revised launch window, as the HomePod will officially go on sale on February 9.
Yesterday, a report from Bloomberg came out saying that Samsung will launch a Bixby-powered smart speaker sometime in the first half of 2018. This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone since DJ Koh already told CNBC back in August that the company was indeed trying to put its digital assistant, which first debuted on the Galaxy S8, into a smart speaker.
It seems inevitable that one day your entire home will be wired so that smart assistants can hear your every request, no matter where you are. But if you mostly rely on a smart speaker, its built-in mic can only eavesdrop so far. Companies like Google would certainly love it if you bought a smart speaker for every room in your house, but a better solution is to just make your Google Home portable with a fancy pair of battery pants.
Thanks in large part to the low-cost Echo Dot, Amazon grabbed an early lead in the smart speaker space. But this spring Google hit back hard with the Home Mini, which has become the best cheap smart speaker to buy for most people. Unfortunately, shortly after its launch, a bug affecting the top touch controls in some Home Minis caused Google to disable the feature in order to prevent its device from recording audio at all times.
In the gadget-world, it's cliché to compare something to The Jetsons. But when it comes to a cheap little box that you talk to and that answers your questions and that controls your entire home, the comparison is just too perfect. The $US50 Amazon Echo Dot and the $79 Google Home Mini are two such boxes. They're not perfect gadgets, but they offer a lot for the money.
Despite what you may have read, the Amazon Echo was never a do-anything smart home device. Sure it could tell you about the weather and maybe control your lights, but it lacked the under-the-hood hub capabilities that could make all your connected devices work together. The new Amazon Echo Plus offers just that. I'm not sure it's worth it, but that absolutely depends on you.
Look, I don't really care about Apple's upcoming HomePod because even though it might sound fantastic, I'm not convinced I need to drop a few hundred dollars on yet another smart speaker. Even so, I appreciate a job well done, no matter how small, and the person or people responsible for the status sounds for the HomePod have created some of the most relaxing little tunes found on any device yet.
The original Amazon Echo was an ugly black tube -- a speaker meant to be set back in the corner, hidden from view. It was a cheap imitation of the computer from Star Trek. The new Amazon Echo is a much prettier device. It's not suddenly faster or smarter, and your old Echo will do the exact same thing as before, but this one actually looks pretty nice, sells for cheaper, and boy does that make a difference.
The Google Home Mini fits most of the features of the tech giant's popular Home smart speakers into a $79 four-inch-wide package, except for the larger $149 version's better acoustics. But it is still very, very good at listening.
At long last, Sonos is ready for small talk. The wireless speaker company -- whose gloss has dulled as Amazon, Google and soon Apple have released increasingly decent "smart" speakers over the last couple of years -- is finally releasing a speaker with built-in voice commands. It's called the Sonos One and it comes with Amazon's Alexa assistant built in. In 2018, Sonos says it will support Google's Assistant, too.
The smart speakers are coming! Wandering into our living rooms, listening for our voice commands, pulling random bits of trivia from the web, spitting out weather forecasts, and controlling a growing number of home appliances. But they're always listening and currently there isn't an easy to way to know when they aren't (apart from hitting a mute button). So how do you stop TV ads, young kids and dumb roommates from controlling your speakers and revealing your most intimate secrets?
Apple doesn't release new products very often, but when it does, people pay attention. In fact, it's probably safe to say that the gadget gurus at Sony were taking notes. The Japanese company just announced two products that could safely be called ripoffs of Apple's newest products: a slick set of wireless earbuds and a smart home speaker.
Google just announced new updates to Assistant and Google Home. The smart speaker leans on Assistant to offer voice controls and artificially intelligent, well, assistance. But until now, the gadget hasn't really been able to do that much. Thanks to some updates, however, that might change very soon.