The Sonos One is Basically a HomePod with Google Assistant

Abner Li writing for 9to5Google:

Sonos speakers are a step up for most home audio systems and the just added Google Assistant support makes the products even more appealing. The Sonos One and Beam are now frustratingly close to being a better Google Home, but ultimately are not direct replacements, especially if you’re already invested in the Google ecosystem.

Li’s main complaint is that Sonos devices still don’t support casting, which means they are not good for taking content on your phone or tablet and transferring it to the Sonos speaker. This is totally fair, and I sympathize with the frustration.

But here’s the deal, the Sonos One has AirPlay 2, so it’s a perfect device for sharing audio from iOS or macOS. And now that they have added support for Google Assistant, it does everything you can do with Google’s…assistant. that means playing music from Spotify or YouTube Music with your voice, or adding tasks to your Google account, or doing more elaborate information queries, or all the other great things Google Assistant can do.

I think that there are people out there who want something like a HomePod. They want something that sounds good, looks nice, can play the music they want, has a voice assistant built in, can play music across multiple rooms, can be paired to add stereo sound, and the like, but they don’t want Siri and they don’t use Apple Music. For those people, a HomePod was not going to work because it simply couldn’t do the things they wanted to do.

But with Google Assistant built in,these folks can spend $100 less than a HomePod and get great sound (not as great, but in the same ballpark), but with the assistant they prefer and the music services they use. And on top of that, they don’t lose any of the AirPlay 2 magic that you get with a HomePod. You can still “cast” to it like a HomePod and you can still ask Siri on your phone to play something on the Sonos speaker. Hell, I have 2 HomePods in the living room and constantly have them paired with a Sonos One in the kitchen to play something everywhere and it’s just as easy as if it was another HomePod in the kitchen.

I still really like my HomePods and I don’t think everyone should go out and buy a Sonos instead, but if you want AirPlay 2 for your other iOS devices and you’re either deep in Google’s ecosystem or prefer Spotify for your music, then this is a really compelling HomePod alternative.

I’ll add here at the end that i kind of agree with Li about it not being as great a Google Home alternative. The fact you can’t Chromecast audio to it and it lacks Bluetooth entirely means your only option on Android is to use the Sonos app, which I very much find to be the worst way to use any of the services that work with it.

Killzone Shadow Fall: An E3 Demo Come to Life

Killzone Shadow Fall was not an amazing game. I’ve been leaning this channel more towards games that I have undying love for, but Shadow Fall doesn’t really fall in that category for me, so why am I talking about it?

Well, Killzone Shadow Fall was a launch title for the PlayStation 4, and by most accounts it was the premiere launch title for the system. Exclusive launch titles for new consoles exist largely to prove the value of new hardware. New game consoles are expensive, and they tend to come out when the previous generation of hardware has hit its groove so many people don’t see the need for something new just yet. Launch games like Killzone are meant to show people that experiences that were completely impossible on the old hardware are now possible. Sometimes we get classics like Breath of the Wild or Mario 64, but more often than not we get short, shallow games that don’t stand the test of time.

I think Killzone Shadow Fall lands closer to the forgettable side, but I’m talking about it today because it absolutely kills it in terms of showing off the PS4’s capabilities. Hell, I’m playing this on a PS4 Pro in 2019, 6 years and 1 hardware iteration after this game came out and it’s still astounding me today!

The best way I can describe this game is to ask you to think about what you’re used to seeing at E3 game reveals. You know, the ones that happen years before the game is released. These demos have tons of effects and little animation flourishes that make the game look more immersive than basically anything else out there. Then the game is released and those extra flourishes are typically removed in the interest of creating a more consistent game. Maybe we don’t need so many dust particles in those super dramatic light beams, or maybe the character doesn’t need to bounce around so much because the game will be easier to play if they move a little more smoothly.

Killzone Shadow Fall feels like you’re playing an E3 demo from start to finish. It’s full of overly-agressive animations and visual effects that likely would have been sanded down in other games, but not here. Killzone feels like an adventure in excess, and it’s kind of awesome.

  • Guns have elaborate and excellent reload animations.
  • Environments are vast, and often let you see way off into the distance to make the world feel huge.
  • Your character has very weighty movements that make the game feel very grounded in reality.
  • Character models have super high polygon counts and the cinematics make sure you notice them by putting the camera right up in their faces.
  • Lighting effects are turned all the way up to make the world look incredibly dynamic.

Even things like load times are kept to an extreme minimum. It’s a little thing, but I was super impressed with how quickly the game itself launches. Check out how long it takes to get from the PS4 home screen to the game’s menu:

Check out the video above.

When I compare this to every other game that comes out which has a long title card and a half dozen unskippable company logos that appear on game launch, this is super refreshing. Mark Cerney is out there right now talking about how fast games will load on the upcoming PlayStation 5, but Guerrilla Games did this on the PS4 6 years ago and it’s worth recognizing.

But let’s move past the visual flourishes and talk about the game itself. On the one hand, Killzone Shadow Fall has satisfying gunplay with a surprising amount of mission variety, all packed into a game that’s a pretty perfect length. On the other hand, the controls are a little imprecise, the game feels a bit old school, and the story is not very engaging.

Basically, it feels to me like every good thing I can say about this game comes with a “yeah, but” attached to it. For example, I think the guns feel really good and they all feel distinct, buuuuut the game doesn’t effectively communicate how effective you are when shooting at the enemy. Are you hitting them? Are they dead? The game doesn’t tell you very clearly either way. Each mission has a different gameplay loop, whether it be playing as a child, snaking through an enemy stronghold, navigating zero-gravity space stations, teaming up with a partner to snipe enemies in an industrial zone, or slowly picking off small groups of soldiers in an open-ended jungle environment, buuuut imprecise controls make some of these sections more challenging than they should be.

I think that you can boil this all down and legitimately say that Killzone Shadow Fall is a mediocre game that is propped up by an impressive visual presentation. I completely get that position, but I think Shadow Fall deserves more than that. It is absolutely a flawed game, but I think much like a summer blockbuster movie, the presentation could be worth the price of admission alone. Add onto that a game that I think has surprisingly good pacing, more mission variety than most contemporary shooters, and guns that feel all sorts of satisfying, and you get a package that I personally find to be a fun revisit every couple years or so. It’s not one of the greatest games of all time, nor is it even one of the best games on the PS4, but I think that it’s a fun enough game with enough moments that make you go “whoa” to warrant a play through.

At the time of recording in 2019, Shadow Fall has settled down to $19.99 and goes on sale relatively often. If you enjoy shooters and are looking for something fun with visuals you can drool over, I think Killzone Shadow Fall is worth the cost of admission.

How Good is the Google Pixel’s Camera?

I’ve said on many occasions that I think the Google Pixel 2/3/3a have amazing cameras and they get shots that I really enjoy most of the time. Not only that, they get photos, usually at night, that I simply can’t get with my iPhone. But here’s an anecdote that made me question everything. No, not change my mind entirely, but it made me ask a question:

Is the Google Pixel camera really that good?

The question will surely be meet with scoffs and calls of me being a fanboy1, but this is what happened to me today and it made me reconsider everything.

I’ve had the same Slack photo at work for about a year, and I felt like I needed a change, so I looked through my recent photos and picked on I thought looked pretty good. I went with one I took for my recent camera comparison post. I shared the Pixel 3a version of the photo because it was a little more contrasty and I thought would look good in an avatar icon. I uploaded it, cropped it just right, saved the change, and went to a meeting.

An hour later I got back to my office and the rest of my team wanted to have a word with me. They didn’t care for the photo I used for my Slack profile. I wish I had written this down sooner, but the feedback was mostly in the vein of “that photo just looks so fake.” The feedback was around it looking way over-processed, having a weird perspective, and the bokeh just looking weird.

This was surprising feedback to get from a room of developers, most of whom would gladly tell you the Pixel is the far and away winner in terms of smartphone cameras. These are people predisposed to say Pixel photos look better than iPhone shots, but when shown a Pixel portrait, a photo taken in a mode literally tuned to make people look their best, they thought it looked fake.

Thankfully, since this was a photo comparison shot, I had the exact same photo taken on my iPhone and I swapped in that copy. I have thus far received no negative feedback on this version of the shot.

I share this for what it is; an anecdote. This is not proof the iPhone is the supreme camera champion or anything, but it did shake me a little. I still see value in photo comparisons and I think that in the right hands this sort of thing that help people figure out what they like best, but I wonder if we sometimes judge cameras based on flawed metrics. Maybe over-sharp facial details and extreme saturation aren’t the best metrics for seeing which camera is best.

There was one quote from someone that I did write down and I found very compelling. They said it was like how Best Buy has their TVs all set to crazy saturation and contrast levels in the store so they pop and appeal to people who don’t know what they’re looking for, they just see brighter colors in a showroom and that wins them over.

Marques Brownlee found a very similar thing when he had his blind smartphone camera contest at the end of 2018. Poor cameras won out over far better ones in his blind tests, and the difference came down almost exclusively to exaggerated colors and contrast.

Which brings me back to the question: is the Google Pixel camera really that good?

I think the answer is still yes, the camera is very good, but Google’s processing is not the silver bullet for photography that many in the tech bubble suggest it is. I mean, for god’s sake, these are two versions of the photo Google suggested to me in Google Photos:

Now I’m sure there are people who will love these, and that’s fine, but I think that Google has a very stylized version of photography that might be more tuned to winning photography showdowns than always taking the best photos.

Which makes me then ponder if Apple, with its more conservative image processing, and its focus on capturing reality, not a heightened reality, might be a more compelling sell than us nerds give them credit for. Perhaps, people like us who obsess over every new thing and camera crave something different than what we know, are getting more excited about something that’s different than something that’s consistently getting better at a more predictable rate. We saw literally this with the Galaxy Fold reviews just a few weeks ago, after all.

This post is just me asking some questions, not putting my flag in the ground on any single idea expressed. I got thinking about it, and what good is a blog if I can’t use it to start a conversation. Let me know on Twitter what you think.

  1. A reputation that I have spent close to a decade working very hard to avoid, focusing on what I hope is some of the most level, but opinionated coverage of the smartphone market you can get.