I’ve had a HomePod in my life since they released on February 9 this year and I’ve used mine everyday. Since then I’ve even bought a second HomePod and have tried them out in a bunch of different setups. I wanted to talk about that as well as revisit my original review and see if I still feel the same about the things that I liked and disliked about the product.
My HomePod Setup
My original setup was a single HomePod that sat in my living room next to the TV. It mostly acted as a voice assistant and played music, but I liked having it next to the TV so we could use it as a speaker for the Apple TV. I don’t have any external speakers for my TV, so the HomePod is a far better option for movies than the built-in speakers on my TV.
I have since bought a second HomePod1 and set it up as a stereo pair with my first, and the sat next to my TV for a while. Since then, I’ve separated them out and one is still in the living room by the TV and the other is in the kitchen, one room over.
When I set up my HomePods as a stereo pair, I was immediately in love. Some people say that the 3D sound stuff Apple is doing makes stereo unnecessary, but that’s a load of garbage. Setting up two HomePods to output in stereo is wonderful, and blew me away with the sound quality improvement. The beam forming audio projection Apple does makes it so you hear the sound clearly anywhere in a room, but listening to things in stereo added a ton of detail to the sound that was missing in the mono output of a single HomePod.
Pairing two HomePods is done within the Home app on your iPhone or iPad and just kinda worked. Only once or twice were they ever out of sync and they generally worked as reliably as wired speakers.
The HomePod sounds great. The best feature of it in my opinion is that there is no sweet spot for the speakers. I can be anywhere in a room with a HomePod and get basically the same sound everywhere. It’s really, really cool and Apple deserves a lot of credit for nailing this.
I really like how music sounds on these speakers, and they’re doing pretty well as speakers for my Apple TV. Live music sounds especially good for some reason I can’t explain, but it does.
Despite loving the stereo sound of two HomePods, I ended up unpairing them and moving one to the kitchen. Why? I simply don’t care enough about the increased sound quality to keep all of my smart speakers in one room. I hated walking over to the kitchen and losing my ability to hear the HomePod in the living room. Having nice speakers in 2 rooms apparently is more valuable to me than having one truly amazing setup in one room.
There are not many sound settings on the HomePod, and it unfortunately makes it a little less flexible than I’d prefer. For example, you have very little control over the sound profile. if you find the bass to be too much or you want to spice up the high frequencies, you don’t have much wiggle room here.
More annoyingly is that the HomePod only connects with Apple devices. As someone who has Android devices in my life, as well as people who come over and have non-Apple stuff, I wish they could connect,but there is no option at all for them. Basic Bluetooth support would have been welcome, but admittedly this isn’t as good an experience as AirPlay 2, so I get it, but I’m still annoyed I can’t “fall back” to a more basic solution.
Also, the lack of a line-in plug means I can’t use any wired devices either. Red Dead Redemption 2 surely sounds great coming though a HomePod, but we’ll never know because there’s no way to connect a HomePod to a PS4. I’d love to hear movies on cable or from my DVR through the HomePod, but again we’ll never know.
More than the sound quality, AirPlay 2 is the real star of the show for me and is why I have two HomePods instead of one. Being able to send audio from my iPhone to my living room HomePod is super simple. And if I want to play that on my kitchen HomePod too, I just say “hey Siri, play this in the kitchen too,” and it starts playing in perfect sync on that speaker too.
I like that I can have completely different queues for the HomePods than my iOS devices too. If I open the Music app on my iPhone, tap the output button on the Now Playing screen, and select the kitchen HomePod, I can create a queue and play things from Apple Music without changing what my iPhone was listening to. Also, if I leave the house, the HomePod will continue playing music since it didn’t need my phone and was doing its own thing.
There are other speakers on the market that use AirPlay 2, so I assume they are just as good at this stuff, but I can say for certain that the HomePods play very nice with this feature.
It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I even remembered that AirPlay 2 wasn’t even available when the HomePod originally shipped. It didn’t come along until iOS 11.4 in May of this year. The product is far more complete and magical with this in place. Not since the AirPods has Apple made a single product/feature so perfectly wonderful.
How Smart is the HomePod?
Ehhhh… The HomePod is inescapably tied to Siri, and Siri is a bit all over the map on the HomePod.
On the positive side, Siri does a better job of hearing me than either my Amazon Echo or Google Home speakers. Even over music, it hears me without me feeling like I need to raise my voice at all to talk to it. It’s not perfect, and it hears my voice better than my wife’s, but it is certainly best-in-class here.
Additionally, Siri has gotten marginally smarter since the HomePod debuted. The biggest addition for me is multiple named timers. It’s bizarre to me that this is not something any other Apple device has, but being able to set a couple timers at once is one of the reasons I moved a HomePod to the kitchen. My Google Home was handling all kitchen needs before that because it had a great timer setup. Apple closed the gap there and is all the better for it.
They also now let you make phone calls, search for songs with lyrics, and use Siri Shortcuts. I don’t make many phone calls, but the lyrics search is pretty nice. Siri Shortcuts integration is decent too, but most of my shortcuts do things specifically to my iPhone or iPad, so they don’t usually make sense to run from the HomePod. That said, if you use Shortcuts for things that do play nice with the HomePod then this feature will be great for you.
That’s really all that’s changed and there are still quite a few gaps that would make the HomePod a better smart speaker. the biggest thing from me is support for multiple voices. Today, the HomePod doesn’t care who asks it to do something, it does it all the same. I wish it would behave like the Google Home where it knows multiple voice and will tell each person their own info based on who’s asking. At the very least, I wish it was like my iPhone where it would only do some things if it recognizes my voice is asking.
Miscellaneous Notes from my Original Review
HomeKit has only gotten more support since I got the HomePod, and today every smart product in my home (minus the Nest) works with Siri on my HomePod. It’s great at knowing what I want it to do, and the excellent microphones mean I almost never have to ask it to do something twice. I used to use my Echo for most smart home stuff, but now I do it all (again, minus the Nest) from the HomePod.
I said this in February about a night mode:
Google Assistant devices have a concept of “night hours” which has the speaker automatically behave slightly different at night. This dims the top-mounted LED and quiets the volume of music and voice feedback during the hours you request. […] Listening to loud music at 5PM and then asking a question at midnight should not result in Siri yelling her answer to me.
This is still an annoyance, as Siri is louder than I’d like at night. Google’s night hours feature still works great, and Amazon has updated the Echo with a cool “whisper mode” that will whisper its responses back to you if whisper to it.
On another note, I still wish that the HomePod could do things with more Apple devices. Apple did add calendar access and the ability to say “where is my iPhone” and ping my phone, both of which are things I wished for in my review, but I still wish that I could do things with the Apple TV from the HomePod. I can set my HomePod up as the audio output for the Apple TV, so why not also let me say “hey Siri, show me movies by Darren Aronofsky” like I can into the Siri Remote already?
I really do like my HomePods. They are the best speakers I’ve ever owned, and I get a lot of mileage out of them as just that: really good, smart, easy to use speakers. I remain a little let down on the smart features too, but they are certainly moving in the right direction. Apple has put all of its user-facing development effort this year towards the smart features of the HomePod and it’s all the better for it.
- The 2 people on Twitter who seem to think I’m a HomePod hater, take note. ↩
Just a quick comparison of video quality on the iPhone XS and the far less expensive OnePlus 6.
Apple unveiled their new iPad Pro lineup yesterday and I’m so freaking on board.
Earlier I shared 6 things I really like about the OnePlus 6, so it’s of course time to look at the things that bug me about this phone.
Garbage menu bar
I wrote about this already, but I’m still annoyed how the top right of the menu bar is chock full of junk that never gives me any useful information.
Alignment is all off everywhere
Check out the clock in the menu bar:
It seems randomly aligned and is awkwardly placed in the curved corner of the screen. Also, the full set of icons on the right side of the notch is not centered in that space either, it’s too far right.
The rounded corners of the screen are also all over the place. The screen itself is equally rounded on all 4 corners, but many apps black out the menu bar and either have sharp corners on top or, even worse, have artificially rounded top corners that are completely different than the bottom corners.
This is really a picky problem, but it bothers me.
The speaker is straight up terrible
Reviewers commented on how the speaker was a little lackluster, but I think they gave it too much credit. This speaker is bottom-firing and can be totally muted by putting a pinky finger over it. Worse, it’s so quiet I can hardly hear it from across a room, and it feels like 0-50% volume is basically muted.
And worst of all, the quality of the sound this produces is basically unusable. I listened to my own podcast on it and thought I needed to go delete the episode because the audio quality was so bad. I listened on my iPhone’s speakers to confirm and realized it was indeed just the speakers on the OnePlus, not my show that sounded so bad.
The screen is dim
The screen on the OnePlus 6 is plenty high resolution (1080px across) and it looks good, but it’s so dark. You can boost the brightness up to 100% and it looks pretty good, but if you use auto-brightness like me, it likes to set itself to 10-20% brightness all the time, even when I’m in a well-lit environment.
Android Pie’s adaptive brightness feature is supposed to learn how bright I like my screen and adjust brightness according to my taste, but I’m seeing nothing of the sort here.
The gestures are a trove of compromises
The OnePlus 6 has 3 navigation options, none of which are particularly good.
(1) You can have the old school 3 buttons, which I find hard to use after getting used to gestures on the iPhone.
(2) You have Android Pie’s gesture navigation, which I have used since May and still think is bad. It’s actually somehow worse than it is on the Pixel 2 which I was using before, too. The animations are not as fluid and it just feels unresponsive much of the time.
(3) OnePlus’s custom gesture interface, which is essentially swiping up to close apps and swiping up from the left or right bottom of the screen to go back. This one is okay for closing apps, but bringing up multitasking is slow and you lose quick app switching. Also, the “pull up from the bottom right/left to go back” gesture is completely unnatural and throws me every time.
Yes folks, as is the problem for all Android phones, I just don’t find the software itself to be terribly compelling. Android still has iOS beat in terms of managing notifications, but but I prefer basically everything else on iOS. The quality of apps I’m used to on iOS simply aren’t here and Android makes getting these apps to work together for me to get actual work done much harder.
Now listen, the OnePlus 6 has a very low chance of dethroning my iPhone XS for my day-to-day phone, but there are some things I really like about it and had to share them here. And yes, I know OnePlus announced their OnePlus 6T today, but a lot of what I’m about to say is true of that phone too.
The OnePlus 6 is a zippy phone. Not only does the phone have top-end specs, but OnePlus has sped up the system animations for things like opening and closing apps so that things just feel faster than on “stock Android.” With a Snapdragon 845 and 8GB RAM, these are about as high end as specs get in 2018, and they come in a package that’s half the price of most flagships this year.
The chin is totally fine
One thing that people (including me) love about the iPhone X line is that the chin is exactly the same as every other bezel on the phone. It’s hard to get the screen to need that little space on at least one end, and Apple gets top marks for getting as close as anyone to eliminating it.
That said, the tiny chin on the OnePlus 6 is a total non-issue in my opinion. Yes, it could be like 1-2mm smaller, but it’s not something I notice at all when using the phone.
The alert slider is one of a kind (on Android)
One of the things I miss the most whenever I switch to Android is the alert toggle on the iPhone. It’s been there since the start and it’s always been amazing. OnePlus has a very similar slider and I love having it.
Instead of Apple’s 2 state toggle, the OnePlus’s has 3 states (ring, vibrate, and silent) and slides up and down the side of the phone. I find this is a little less easy to toggle quickly and the 3 positions means you have to be a little careful with getting it on the right one (vibrate, which is in the middle), but it’s much better than what I’m used to with all the software-based options on other Android phones.
Those clicky buttons
While we’re on the topic of buttons, all of the buttons on the OnePlus 6 are satisfyingly clicky. They’re a tiny bit less premium than on the iPhone Xs but it’s damn close.
Dark theme all the things
Credit to OnePlus for beating both Google and Apple to a real dark theme for their phone. Apple has nothing in this regard and Google added a “dark” mode in Pie that just made the notification shade darker, none of the actual system UI.
Meanwhile, OnePlus has a dark mode that actually turns the system UI black. It looks really nice on the OLED screen, and just like with their default light theme, you can select an color you’d like as your accent color.
The only downside of this is that since Android doesn’t have a dark mode, you need to hope every third party app (and Google app) that you use has a dark theme you can manually switch to. Otherwise it’s very much like dark mode on macOS right now: some apps have it and look great, while others have not updated and blind you when you open them.
The official case is excellent
I’m not one for cases, but when I do, I try to go with ones made by the manufacturer of the phone. For my iPhone, this means the Apple Leather Case, which costs $49 and makes the phone feel secure in my hand and looks classy. OnePlus has the ”protective case” which is basically a very thin shell around the back and sides of the phone. Oh, and it’s half the price of the Apple one I like, so that’s nice.
I don’t know how much protection this thing actually provides for a drop, but it feels like it adds almost nothing to the bulk of the phone and it gives a little more grip to the back side as it’s made of a soft-touch plastic that just feels good.
I’ll have more to say about the OnePlus 6 in the near future, but these are some of the things that stood out to me as what makes the OnePlus experience something that could convert “stock Android” fans like myself.