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Apple HomePod (2nd gen) review: A smarter smart speaker

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When Apple debuted the HomePod in 2018, it was already late to the smart speaker game. Sure, the company has never been worried about tardiness, choosing instead to focus on being the best. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with its first attempt. The HomePod sounded good, but lacked a lot of the basic functionality and voice assistant smarts the likes of Amazon and Google offered. Apple has spent the last five years improving both HomePod and HomePod mini, adding features like multi-room audio, multi-user support and an intercom tool.

In 2021, Apple discontinued the original model in favor of the $99 HomePod mini. But now, the larger version is back with a familiar look, but lots of changes on the inside. Like the first, the new HomePod ($299) is best suited for those who’ve committed to Apple’s ecosystem. So if that’s not you, I understand if you don’t want to go any further. If it is, just know that the company has given its speaker a lot more tools than it had at launch five years ago, including more capable assistance from Siri and more smart home abilities. Plus, the second-generation HomePod is $50 cheaper than the original was at launch.

A familiar design updated on the inside

If you were hoping for a wholesale redesign with the new HomePod, Apple undoubtedly disappointed you. However, there are some noticeable changes upon close inspection. First, the speaker’s touch panel is now slightly recessed like the HomePod mini. On the original version, that panel sits flush with the top rim. When you trigger Siri, lighting for that panel now goes all the way to the edge too. Next, the power cord is now detachable. This means if you have an issue with that very necessary component, it should be easier to get a replacement (via Apple Care). If you have excellent vision, you might also be able to discern the 2023 model is 0.2-inches shorter at 6.6-inches tall (vs. 6.8 inches) if they’re sitting side by side.

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On the inside though, Apple made a host of changes. Both versions have an upward facing woofer with a group of tweeters around the bottom. For the second-generation, Apple reduced the number of tweeters from seven to five, angling them slightly upward where previously they were almost perfectly side-firing. The company also cut the number of voice microphones from six down to four. And perhaps the most important change internally, Apple swapped the iPhone 6’s A8 chip for the much more modern S7 – the silicon that powers the Apple Watch series 7.

Software and setup

Despite the lack of changes on the outside, the second-gen HomePod is a better speaker because Apple has been improving it and the HomePod mini over time. The company added stereo pairing and multi-room audio alongside AirPlay 2 a few months after launch of the first generation model. Multi-user support and audio handoffs were added in 2019 and the intercom feature arrived ahead of the HomePod mini in 2020. And in 2021, HomePod gained the ability to play any TV audio via an Apple TV 4K over eARC and both spatial audio and Apple Music lossless streaming. So many of the key features Apple is chatting up on the new HomePod are things it has been slowly adding since 2018. And many of which, I’d argue, should’ve been there from there from the start.

Everything you need to set up and control the HomePod is found in Apple’s Home app. First, you’ll need to add a new speaker like you would any other smart home device with this software, including assigning it a room or location in your home. The app allows you to set up Automations and Scenes along with configuring how you’d like to interact with Siri.

Apple Home appApple Home app
Apple Home app

You have the ability to disable voice cues or the long press on the HomePod’s touch panel in order to activate the assistant (both are enabled by default). You can also have the speaker light up and play a sound when using Siri – or do one or neither. The Home app will let you use Siri for Personal Requests too, where the speaker can recognize your voice for things like messages, calls and reminders so long as your iPhone is close by. The software allows you to disable the HomePod’s intercom feature as well, should you prefer not to use that tool.

Like the first HomePod, the 2023 model is equipped with room calibration. This detects reflections off of walls and other surfaces to configure the sound for the best performance. The HomePod does this the first time you play music, but it isn’t constant monitoring. Instead, like it did on the previous generation, the setup leverages an accelerometer to determine when it has been moved. If it has, the speaker will then reinitiate the room sensing process when music is played.

A smart home with Siri

Apple HomePod (2nd gen) reviewApple HomePod (2nd gen) review
Apple HomePod (2nd gen) review

When we reviewed the original HomePod in 2018, one of our biggest gripes was with Siri’s limited abilities. Sure the speaker sounded good, but the lack of polish with the voice assistant made it seem like a work in progress. Apple has done a lot to improve Siri over the last five years, so a lot of those issues with the original have been fixed.

First, the HomePod, like Siri on your iPhone, is capable of recognizing multiple users. Personal Requests can allow it to peek at your Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Messages, Find My and more when you ask. Plus, HomePod can give each member of your family (up to six people) their unique responses from certain iPhone apps. What’s more, Siri can create recurring home automations without you having to pick up your phone and swipe over to the appropriate app.

Even with fewer microphones to pick up your voice, the new HomePod doesn’t suffer any performance setbacks. It’s just as capable as ever at picking out your voice even in a noisy room. And, while playing music with voice commands used to be limited to Apple Music, services like Pandora, Deezer and several others can now be controlled via Siri.

HomePod is also a smart home hub, easily pairing with HomeKit and Matter accessories. The new model is equipped with temperature and humidity sensing, and that info is displayed prominently in the Home app. Of course, you can use that data to create automations with other smart home devices. I don’t have a compatible smart thermostat, but I was able to successfully trigger a smart plug once the HomePod detected a certain temperature in my living room.

Sound Recognition is arguably the most notable new feature that Apple is debuting with the new HomePod, but it’s not ready yet. It can listen for smoke or carbon monoxide alarms and send a notification to an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. What’s more, you’ll be able to “check in” on what’s happening via an audio feed or camera. Sound Recognition won’t arrive until later this spring, so we’ll have to wait to test it.

Sound quality

Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt. Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.
Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.

Audio quality wasn’t an issue with the first-gen HomePod and it’s still great here. But like the first version, Apple’s choice for tuning won’t appease everyone. There’s a continued emphasis on voice, so things like vocals in music or dialog on a TV show or movie take center stage. At times it’s fine though, with some genres and content, it leads to a rather subpar experience.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part HomePod sounds outstanding, especially when you put it up against other smart speakers. The fact is many of those don’t sound very good at all, so Apple continues its track record for making a device that has serious audio chops and smart features. RTJ4 has ample bass for its bombastic hip-hop beats while Sylvan Esso’s No Rules Sandy gets enough low-end for its synth-heavy rhythms. Thanks to the HomePod’s excellent clarity, detailed styles like bluegrass and jazz shine. Sometimes the bass is a little too subdued for metal (Underoath’s Voyuerist) or full-band country (Zach Bryan’s 2022 live album), and the vocals too forward, but overall, it sets the standard for smart speaker sound. And the HomePod only shines brighter as a stereo pair.

When you add the second HomePod in the Home app, the software asks you if you want to use them together. Once you tell it which side the additional unit is on (left or right), the app completes the setup for you, assigning the appropriate channel to each speaker. Now everywhere you previously saw a single HomePod icon, you’ll see two, constantly reminding you of the stereo arrangement. The double speaker option is great for music. On Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart, the two-speaker arrangement adds a lot of dimensionality to each track. There was already a spatial element to the tunes, but dual HomePods heightens the sensation, making it seem like you’re in the middle of the musicians while they record each song.

Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt. Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.
Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.

When you select a HomePod for use with the Apple TV you still need to deselect your TV speakers. Those aren’t disabled just because you’ve asked the streaming box to also send audio to a HomePod or two. TV audio with stereo pair is fine, but I can’t see using a single unit for the same purpose. In a multi-room setup you might want to send the sound from a live event like the Super Bowl to a solo speaker, but having just one as your lone living room audio from a TV isn’t a great experience. While the HomePod beams sound in all directions, with a single speaker it’s clear the sound is coming from a fixed location – something that’s a lot less noticeable with a pair or with a soundbar.

As is the case with vocals, dialog takes prominence with a HomePod and Apple TV. At times it can seem slightly muffled when watching things like live sports. Otherwise, there’s good clarity, nice bass and great dimensional audio when streaming Formula 1: Drive to Survive or Slow Horses. But, honestly, if you’re looking to improve your living room audio, a soundbar and sub is a better option. The driver arrangement in those speakers does a better job of filling a room completely and evenly. Plus, most companies give you the ability to use adjustments or presets to dial in how much you want those speakers to focus on dialog so you can fine-tune things to your liking.

The competition

Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt. Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.
Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.

Because the HomePod is best suited to people who have married themselves to Apple’s ecosystem, the best alternative to the second-gen HomePod is the cheaper HomePod mini. If all you’re after is some Siri assistance with your smart home and a speaker that’s good enough for casual listening and podcasts, the $99 option will work well for you. Plus, Apple just unlocked the smaller speaker’s inactive temperature and humidity sensor and it’s due to get Sound Recognition.

Wrap-up

Apple has been preparing for a new HomePod for five years, constantly improving both the original version and the HomePod mini. And the fact that the company has made Siri a more capable companion certainly helps. Plus, there’s more smart home abilities than before. Apple hasn’t strayed from its emphasis on the spoken (or sung) word for HomePod’s sound profile, but that’s okay. It’s clear that the company is focused on expanding the toolbox for its smart speakers after their debut, so I’d expect that much like the original HomePod, this is just the beginning for the second generation.

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World Video Game Hall of Fame: here are the new inductees

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — The World Video Game Hall of Fame inducted its 10th class of honorees Thursday, recognizing Asteroids, Myst, Resident Evil, SimCity and Ultima for their impacts on the video game industry and popular culture.

The inductees debuted across decades, advancing technologies along the way and expanding not only the number of players, but the ages and interests of those at the controls, Hall of Fame authorities said in revealing the winners. The Hall of Fame recognizes electronic games of all types — arcade, console, computer, handheld, and mobile.

The Class of 2024 was selected by experts from among a field of 12 finalists that also included Elite, Guitar Hero, Metroid, Neopets, Tokimeki Memorial, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and You Don’t Know Jack.

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The honor for Atari’s Asteroids comes 45 years after its 1979 debut in arcades, where it was Atari’s bestselling coin-operated game. The game’s glowing space-themed graphics and sound effects made their way from more than 70,000 arcade units into millions of living rooms when a home version of Asteroids was made available on the Atari 2600.

“Through endless variants and remakes across dozens of arcade, home, handheld, and mobile platforms, Asteroids made a simple, yet challenging game about blasting rocks into one of the most widely played and influential video games of all time,” said Jeremy Saucier, assistant vice president for interpretation and electronic games at The Strong museum, where the World Video Game Hall of Fame is located.

The next inductee to debut was Ultima, not necessarily a household name but a force in the development of the computer role-playing genre, digital preservation director Andrew Borman said in the news release. Designed by Richard Garriott and released in 1981, Utima: The First Age of Darkness inspired eight sequels and is credited with inspiring later role-playing games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

The urban design-inspired SimCity was released by Maxis in 1989 and found an audience among adults as well as children who were challenged to build their own city and respond to problems. Among the sequels and offshoots it inspired was 2016 World Video Game Hall of Fame inductee The Sims.

“At a time when many people thought of video games in terms of arcade shooters or console platformers, SimCity appealed to players who wanted intellectually stimulating fun on their newly bought personal computers,” Aryol Prater, research specialist for Black play and culture, said.

The adventure game Myst sold more than 6 million copies, making it a best-selling computer game in the 1990s. The 1993 Broderbund release used early CD-ROM technology and allowed for a level of player immersion that until then had not been available in computer games, the Hall of Fame said.

“Few other games can match Myst’s ability to open imaginative worlds,” collections manager Kristy Hisert said. “It was a work of artistic genius that captured the imagination of an entire generation of computer game players, and its influence can be seen in many of today’s open-world games.”

The final honoree, Resident Evil’s “cheesy B-movie dialogue, engrossing gameplay, and chilling suspense” helped popularize the “survival horror” genre following its release by Capcom in 1996 and offered mature entertainment for older teenagers and adults, video game curator Lindsey Kurano said. Created by game director Shinji Mikami, it also inspired an action horror film series that as of 2022 had grossed more than $1.2 billion, according to the Hall of Fame.

Anyone can nominate a game to the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Members of an international selection advisory committee submit their top three choices from the list of finalists. Fans also are invited to weigh in online. The public as a whole is treated as a single committee member.

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Apple apologizes for its controversial iPad Pro ad

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Apple has apologized and admitted it “missed the mark” with its latest iPad Pro advertisement.

The ad, posted on social media Tuesday by Apple CEO Tim Cook, was met with backlash from internet users who felt that the ad celebrated technology’s destruction of human creativity and art.

In a statement to AdAge, Apple’s vice president of marketing communications, Tor Myhren, apologized.

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“Creativity is in our DNA at Apple, and it’s incredibly important to us to design products that empower creatives all over the world. Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad,” Myhren said. “We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

Apple confirmed the statement it provided to AdAge but declined to provide further comment.

The ad shows symbols of human creativity, like musical instruments, paint cans, an ’80s arcade video game and a bust of a human head crushed by a giant hydraulic press. As the metal slabs of the hydraulic press lift, Apple’s new iPad Pro is revealed.

“Meet the new iPad Pro: the thinnest product we’ve ever created, the most advanced display we’ve ever produced, with the incredible power of the M4 chip. Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create,” Cook wrote in a post on X accompanying the video.

Internet backlash to the ad was instantaneous: “The symbolism of indiscriminately crushing beautiful creative tools is an interesting choice,” wrote one social media user. “This ad effectively convinced me I need less technology in my life,” wrote another.

Other users said the ad was in poor taste amid growing fears that AI could replace workers – even those in creative fields. Actor Hugh Grant wrote on social media that Apple’s ad represented “the destruction of the human experience.”

Apple no longer plans to run the ad on TV, according to AdAge.

The mea culpa was rare for Apple, though the ad has not been deleted from Cook’s X account.

 

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iPad Air vs. iPad Pro Buyer's Guide: 30+ Differences Compared – MacRumors

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The iPad Air is now available in two size options, just like the iPad Pro. Yet after a significant update to the ‌iPad Pro‌ that introduces a thinner design and OLED displays, how different are the two product lines and which should you buy?

iPad Pro 2024 vs iPad Air 2024 Feature
The introduction of the fourth-generation ‌iPad Air‌ in September 2020 brought the device much closer to the ‌iPad Pro‌ in terms of design, and with the most recent model, the ‌iPad Air‌ gained the same M2 chip and Apple Pencil hover support as the previous ‌iPad Pro‌, bringing them even closer together. The latest ‌iPad Pro‌ models introduced a large number of significant new changes, such as the M4 chip, OLED displays, and a higher price point, and it means that the high-end iPad models are now further differentiated from the ‌iPad Air‌ than before.

Should you consider purchasing the ‌iPad Air‌ to save money, or do you need the high-end features of the ‌iPad Pro‌? Our guide answers the question of how to decide which of these two iPads is best for you.

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‌iPad Air‌ (‌M2‌, 2024) ‌iPad Pro‌ (M4, 2024)
Liquid Retina display
LED backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
Ultra Retina XDR display
Tandem OLED
ProMotion technology for refresh rates up to 120Hz
SDR brightness: 600 nits max SDR brightness: 1,000 nits max
XDR brightness: 1,000 nits max full screen, 1,600 nits peak (HDR content only)
Nano-texture display glass option on 1TB and 2TB models
‌‌M2‌‌ chip (5nm, N5P) M4 chip (3nm enhanced, N3E)
8-core CPU Up to 10-core CPU
Hardware-accelerated ray tracing
Hardware-accelerated H.264 and HEVC Hardware-accelerated 8K H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW
ProRes encode and decode engine
AV1 decode
100GB/s memory bandwidth 120GB/s memory bandwidth
8GB of memory 8GB or 16GB of memory
Improved thermal design with graphite sheets and copper
Touch ID in top button TrueDepth camera system for Face ID
Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High-Key Mono)
Animoji and Memoji
LiDAR scanner
Adaptive True Tone flash
Rear ambient light sensor
ProRes video recording up to 4K at 30 fps (1080p at 30 fps for 256GB capacity)
ProRes video recording up to 4K at 60 fps with external recording
Two microphones Four studio-quality microphones
Audio zoom
Stereo recording
Landscape stereo speakers Four speaker audio
Weight: 462 grams or 617 grams Weight 444 grams or 579 grams
Depth: 6.1 mm Depth: 5.3 mm or 5.1 mm
USB‑C connector USB‑C connector with support for Thunderbolt / USB 4
Supports Magic Keyboard Supports Magic Keyboard for ‌iPad Pro‌ (M4)
128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB storage
Available in Space Gray, Starlight, Purple, and Blue Available in Space Black and Silver
Price starting at $599 Price starting at $999

Overall, the ‌iPad Air‌ is the better option for the majority of users, simply on the basis of value for money. For most people, the additional $400+ needed to buy the ‌iPad Pro‌ is not justified to get the likes of ‌Face ID‌, four-speaker audio, and a ProMotion OLED display with refresh rates up to 120Hz.

Some ‌iPad Pro‌ features, such as LiDAR, up to 16GB of memory, and Thunderbolt connectivity are only practically useful to a small niche of users and most will never use some of these high-end capabilities. Many features such as Audio zoom and stereo audio recording may not be meaningfully utilized by many users.

Professionals who have a clear use case for needing larger amounts of RAM and storage, a matte display, Thunderbolt connectivity, and OLED for HDR content will clearly benefit from buying the ‌iPad Pro‌. That being said, “prosumer”-style customers who simply want the best ‌iPad‌ will enjoy features such as 120Hz ProMotion for smoother scrolling and gaming, deeper blacks and more vivid colors with the OLED display, and the Adaptive True Tone flash for document scanning, even if they are not necessary.

Beyond these individual circumstances, the ‌iPad Air‌ is the best value for money and will be more than ample for most users’ needs. With the ‌iPad Air‌, users can get a modern all-screen design, the ‌M2‌ chip, practical features like USB-C and 5G connectivity, and compatibility with the core Apple accessories for a price well below that of the ‌iPad Pro‌.

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