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The Verge’s creator gift guide: ideas for streamers, TikTokers, and more

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Finding that perfect gift for a creator can be challenging, which is why we’ve compiled all kinds of useful and fun ideas for all kinds of folks, from TikTokers and Twitch streamers to photographers.

A creative idea for a video, a photo, or an entertaining livestream can prove more valuable than any piece of gear, but you can’t really give that as a gift to the creator in your life. And what’s worse, content creators are often hard to buy for — with very specific needs that get very costly very quickly. But even if you don’t know a Twitch stream from a TikTok split screen, we’ve put together a gift guide with a bunch of ideas that are fun yet functional for creators of all types, including those who just want to look professional on a Zoom call.

When it comes to creative video needs, good lighting and nice-sounding audio are of the utmost importance, so we’ve picked out the Rotolight Ultimate Vlogging Kit ($64.99) and the Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB microphone ($69.49) as excellent starting points. Want to go big on video quality instead? The Nikon Z30 mirrorless camera kit ($796.95) is built with helpful presets and settings designed specifically for vlogging. And if you don’t want to focus on the gear that makes the content, try gifting your creator something that ups their on-camera decor, like Divoom’s adorable Ditoo Plus speaker ($99.90) or a sleek desk mat from KBDfans ($12).

It may feel daunting to buy gifts for a creator, but we’re here to guide you through all kinds of options they’re sure to find handy — even if it’s just as simple as a convenient spot to hang their headphones ($11.21).

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price range:

 

Anker 511 Charger (20W)

Any on-the-go creator needs to keep devices juiced up, even while traveling light. Fortunately, this tiny 20W charger from Anker is as small as the 5W chargers Apple used to supply with everything, yet it can still fast-charge an iPhone or Android device while taking up minimal space. Plus, it comes in a bunch of fun colors that will help it stand out in your kit bag.
Price: $13.99

 

Rode VideoMicro

The ultra-compact Rode VideoMicro is perfect for mounting on a camera that’s going to be filming close to a subject, such as when you’re vlogging. The excellent shotgun mic works great mounted on a DSLR or mirrorless camera for run-and-gun filming or even when paired with a smartphone via an add-on grip or selfie stick-like setup.
Price: $49

 

Elgato Stream Deck MK.2

Elgato’s Stream Deck MK.2 from last year is a helpful tool for more than just Twitch streamers. The device’s 15 programmable keys can trigger just about any custom macro function you dream up, letting you control things like Zoom and your smart lighting with just the press of a button. In fact, a collection of our editors and writers have grown so fond of this versatile tool, they did an entire Vergecast episode dedicated to its many uses.
Price: $119.99

 

Insta360 Link webcam

It’s time to say goodbye to bad webcam angles and annoying Center Stage-like software tricks. The Insta360 Link is a webcam that sits atop a small gimbal, one that physically tracks your face as you move and keeps you perfectly in the frame and looking your best. That tech comes at a steep price, but the Link also features great software, loads of potential, and 4K chops to back it all up with great video quality.
Price: $284.99

 

Nikon Z30 camera kit with 16–50mm lens

Nikon’s first foray into a vlogging-centric mirrorless camera pairs a 20.9-megapixel APS-C sensor with an articulating screen for self-recording and quality 4K video. Its tracking autofocus can seamlessly lock on a subject’s eyes, shift to something they hold up to the camera, and return back to their face. That vlog-friendly setup pairs well with the all-purpose 16–50mm kit lens.
Price: $796.95

 

iPad Mini (2021)

Apple’s redesigned iPad Mini is a handy tablet whether you plan on using it at home or on the move. Its A15 Bionic CPU is powerful enough to do some mobile video editing or photo processing with a more convenient screen size than your phone, and it’s great for note-taking and controlling the various smart home tech lining your desk. Just don’t count on a headphone jack.
Price: $399.99

 

DJI Osmo Mobile 6 gimbal

The latest DJI smartphone gimbal, the Osmo Mobile 6, launched just recently and features a lighter design, a new side wheel with manual focus controls, and a longer extension arm that allows for more varied angles. It can magnetically attach to nearly any smartphone, too, helping you stabilize your shots when capturing photos or video in either landscape or portrait orientation.
Price: $159

 

GIGABYTE AERO 16 XE5

With its remarkable sharp images and vivid colors, the GIGABYTE AERO 16 XE5 is the perfect companion for any creator on the go. The 4K UHD ultra-wide AMOLED panel displays accurate colors right out the box and boasts powerful specs like the Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, allowing you to manage all of your creator tools flawlessly.
Price: 1,299+

 

iPhone 14 Pro

Apple’s newest flagship iPhone features great performance, an always-on display, and more megapixels in its main shooter, making for a truly impressive camera array. You can even shoot 48-megapixel RAW files if you like working with big files, and its video features now support Action mode for smoother filming without the need for additional accessories. Plus, you know, Dynamic Island and all that.
Price: $999.99

 

Keychron V1 QMK keyboard (fully assembled)

Every creator’s desk needs a handsome keyboard they can gawk at when procrastination sets it. Thankfully, the fully assembled Keychron V1 is an affordable option from a reliable brand known for producing practical yet great-looking mechanical models. The keyboard’s 75 percent layout is compact without missing any essential keys, and it’s set up for use with macOS right out of the box.
Price: $75.60+

 

Razer Blade 14

If you or the creator in your life prefers Windows, this particular configuration of Razer’s portable Blade 14 is perfect for tackling digital workflows like Photoshop or Premiere. The 14-inch laptop features a high-end RTX 3080 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and an eight-core processor — specs that also make it suitable for some excellent QHD gaming when the work is wrapped and your buddy can’t stop pestering you to get online.
Price: $2.999.99

 

GoPro Hero 10 Black

Action mode is cool and all, but nothing beats a GoPro when it comes to versatility, especially when you need to mount your action cam in hard-to-reach places to capture that unique angle. The GoPro Hero 10 is much faster than previous models but remains compatible with the same accessories as the last-gen Hero 9, and it now achieves 5.3K 60fps and 4K 120fps recording. That’s some very fast high-resolution video.
Price: $349.99

 

Anchor Pro headphone mount

If you’re looking to store your headphones out of sight and keep your desk space tidy, Elevation Lab’s Anchor Pro is the way to go. The sturdy, inexpensive double hanger is great for a shared workspace or if you use monitor headphones by day and a monstrosity of a gaming headset by night.
Price: $11.21

 

Divoom Ditoo Plus Bluetooth speaker

Sometimes your desk decor needs some love just like we need self-care. Luckily, Divoom’s retro-inspired Ditoo Plus Bluetooth speaker is an adorable desktop companion that can pump out some tunes while decorating your space with customizable pixel art on a 3.55-inch display that gives off some Lite-Brite vibes.
Price: $99.90

 

DJI Mini 2

While the newer Mini 3 is the latest compact drone from DJI, the last-gen DJI Mini 2 offers a bit more in-flight reliability at a price that’s easier on your wallet. The portable drone connects via Ocusync, allowing for a better remote connection with your phone and can record up to 4K video at 100Mbps bitrate up to 30fps.
Price: $449

 

Peak Design Everyday Sling (10L)

Peak Design’s Everyday Sling is one of the most versatile and functional camera bags on the market — one that also doesn’t make you look like the huge nerd. The 10L version can fit a 13-inch laptop, a camera and a couple of lenses, and plenty of small tech accessories. The bag’s flexible dividers and weatherproof shell are just a plus.
Price: $143.95

 

Zoom H1n recorder

Want better audio recordings on a tight budget? Look no further than the Zoom H1n. The incredible tool is versatile enough for capturing interviews with its built-in mics or recording audio through a variety of external microphones, complete with monitoring via headphones. Whether your giftee is a journalist or a budding naturalist looking to capture field recordings, the Zoom H1n is more than suitable.
Price: $97.99

 

KBDfans Deskmat

Every laptop or desktop setup deserves a fun desk mat. They’re comfier on your palms and mouse and even make your keyboard sound better. For the uninitiated, KBDfans offers a variety of cool designs that cater to all types of styles, whether you’re a fan of solid colors and minimalist patterns or something a bit more extra.
Price: $12

 

Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB microphone

Audio-Technica is known for producing affordable tech that doesn’t skimp on quality, and the ATR2100x-USB is a mic that punches above its weight class while offering the simplicity of USB plug and play. These are some of the very mics we trust for our remote guests on The Vergecast.
Price: $69.49 to $79

 

14-inch MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 512GB)

Apple’s exceptional M1 Pro-equipped laptops are some of the best creator laptops available today. The 14-inch model, like the 16-inch config, is incredibly fast and features a brilliant Mini LED display that supports Apple’s ProMotion 120Hz high refresh rate. It also offers the handiest port selection of any Mac in years, one that heralds the return of the SD card slot and MagSafe charging.
Price: $1,599+

 

Elgato Green Screen

Whether you’re streaming on Twitch or recording an Instagram Reel, a green screen is a helpful tool for knocking out the background or totally replacing it without gross software artifacts. The Elgato Green Screen easily folds down and deploys just as quickly, so you can keep it neatly tucked away for when you need it most.
Price: $129.99

 

AirPods Pro (second-gen)

A great pair of wireless earbuds can help you focus when you need to engage in deep work or outfit you with a microphone when you need to make a call. Apple’s new AirPods Pro are one of the better offerings available right now if you’re already tapped into the Apple ecosystem, especially since they feature more effective noise cancellation than the first-gen model, better mics, and overall improved sound quality.
Price: $199.99

 

Logitech MX Mechanical Mini

For anyone who wants a straightforward mechanical keyboard with a sensible layout, Logitech’s MX Mechanical Mini is a great fit. It’s a little on the no-frills side and lacks customizability options, but it’s got a sleek monochromatic design and exceptional battery life with USB-C fast charging. It can also pair with and save up to three devices, allowing you to effortlessly switch between them with a simple keyboard shortcut.
Price: $142.49

 

Rotolight Ultimate Vlogging Kit

Every vlogger or TikTok creator deserves some good lighting. Rotolight is known for making LEDs with exceptional color tone and accuracy, and its flexible vlogging kit is perfect for holding your smartphone and illuminating your face when you need a touch of that oh-so-soft beauty lighting.
Price: $64.99

 

Logitech Litra Glow

The beauty of Logitech’s adjustable Litra Glow lies in its simplicity. It’s a tiny yet effective LED light that’s intended to illuminate your face during Zoom calls and other broadcasts without taking up a lot of space or requiring a ton of messy wiring to make it happen. Just mount the USB-powered light on your laptop or monitor and go.
Price: $49.99

 

Wacom Cintiq 16

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro designer, the Wacom Cintiq is oft-considered the gold standard for illustrators and artists all over the world. The Cintiq 16 may carry a hefty price, but it’s worth it for a generous 15.6-inch pen display and a stylus that offers more than 8,000 levels of pressure sensitivity without ever needing to be charged.
Price: $599.95

 

Apple Pencil (second-gen)

Did your giftee recently pick up a newer iPad Pro, iPad Mini, or iPad Air? If so, the second-gen Apple Pencil is a handy drawing tool that will allow them to doodle or take notes directly on their newfangled slate. It also offers tilt and pressure sensitivity, gesture controls, and charges magnetically while docked to the side of compatible iPad models.
Price: $89

 

4-in-1 Lightning to SD Card Reader

You can do all kinds of content creation with just your smartphone, though a multiport hub adapter will certainly make your life easier. This simple third-party one is great for connecting external microphones, plugging in an SD card from your camera, or even using wired earbuds and charging at the same time. Plus, it’s stocking stuffer cheap.
Price: $15.88

 

Sony SF-G Series Tough SD Card (64GB)

It might not be fun to gift SD cards, but any photographer or videographer will appreciate receiving such an essential as a gift — especially these speedy Tough cards. Sony’s little memory cards are made of metal and carry an IPX8 waterproof rating, rendering them as rugged as their name implies and giving your giftee some peace of mind when it comes to their footage.
Price: $99.99

 

Ricoh GR IIIx fixed-lens camera

You don’t need a fancy full-frame camera or vintage film camera to do street photography. The Ricoh GR IIIx, a unique camera with a fixed-lens equivalent of a 40mm lens, is a great case in point. It lacks an EVF, but it’s borderline pocketable and great for capturing everyday life in higher detail than any phone can achieve.
Price: $996.95

 

Apple Magic Trackpad

Apple’s latest Magic Trackpad makes for a great addition to any desktop or laptop setup, even if you already have a mouse you love. The comfortable gadget can be your main interface to your computer, especially as it provides you with more real estate than a MacBook trackpad, or you can just use it for its multitouch gesture controls. Either way, it’s a valuable asset for a busy creator.
Price: $139

 

Elgato Cam Link 4K

Elgato’s Cam Link 4K is a staple among Twitch streamers and creators who want to plug their full-size cameras into their computers via a simple USB connection. It takes a clean HDMI-out signal of up to 4K resolution and makes it easily accessible to software like Zoom as well as OBS Studio, giving you a quick means of turning your DSLR or GoPro into a 4K-ready webcam.
Price: $112.99

 

Neewer Ring Light Kit (18-inch)

If you’re working with a larger home recording setup, a bigger ring light can help create softer, more pleasing lighting conditions. Neewer’s 18-inch model — which comes with a full-size tripod, multiple light filters, and a remote — is perfect if you want a touch-up before hopping on a Zoom call or hammering out a batch of TikTok videos for your devoted followers.
Price: $84.20

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Why Live Casinos are Taking the Canadian Gaming Community by Storm

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Live Casinos

Were you aware that there are currently more than 2,100 online casinos which solely cater to Canadian players? Ever since the dawn of high-speed Internet, a growing number of fans have become attracted to these platforms thanks to their flexibility and decidedly user-friendly nature. Whether referring to slots, poker or a quick game of bingo, there are numerous options to explore.

However, it is also wise to take a look at some of the latest trends. Perhaps the most interesting involves the notion of live casinos. What do these portals offer, what makes them different than traditional platforms and why might live dealer games represent the next digital wave of the future?

The Basic Concept of Live Online Casinos

The main principle associated with any live casino involves the ability to interact with a human. This normally comes in the form of a dealer. As opposed to playing games that rely solely upon random number generation (RNG), a human dealer will be present via a live streaming portal. This helps to provide what some have called a rather “organic” nature to the games themselves.

For instance, a live casino ontario may offer players the ability to take part in a game of virtual poker. They will be competing against other members of the same table while taking careful note of which cards are dealt. In many ways, this level of interaction closely mirrors the experiences associated with a physical gaming establishment.

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What Games Can be Accessed?

Now that we have taken a quick look at the fundamental principles of live casinos, what types of games can users play? Answering this question will partially depend on the portal itself as well as the software technology that is present. However, live dealer games can nonetheless be segmented into a handful of general categories including:

  • Table games such as blackjack and poker
  • Bingo
  • Slots
  • “Combination” games such as poker that leads into a final round of jackpot slots

Those who wish to learn more should navigate to the site in question and peruse the types of live games that are offered. It could also be wise to contact a representative to address any additional questions.

Are There Any Possible Downsides?

Live casinos are certainly set to make their presence known throughout the nation. Still, it is wise to point out a few potential obstacles that may need to be overcome. One possible issue involves the relatively limited number of games when compared to standard online platforms. It could also be difficult to access certain competitions due to a sudden influx of players. Finally, live online streaming requires a relatively fast and extremely stable high-speed Internet connection. This may present a problem for those who live within the more remote regions of Canada.

Having said this, live casinos are already enjoyed by countless Canadian players. It is a foregone conclusion that they will become even more popular in the near future.

 

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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.

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.

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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 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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Canadian discovery could help batteries last longer

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A chance discovery in a Canadian laboratory could help extend the life of laptop, phone and electric car batteries.

According to scientists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, common adhesive tape in batteries may be the reason many devices lose some of their power while off or not being used, which is a phenomenon known as self-discharge.

“In our laboratory we do many highly complex experiments to improve batteries, but this time we discovered a very simple thing,” Michael Metzger, an assistant professor in Dalhousie University’s physics and atmospheric science department, said in a news release. “In commercial battery cells there is tape—like Scotch tape—that holds the electrodes together and there is a chemical decomposition of this tape, which creates a molecule that leads to the self-discharge.”

The solution is simple, too, Metzger says: replace the polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic tape commonly used inside batteries with something more durable and stable.

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“It’s a commercially relevant discovery,” Metzger said. “It’s a small thing but it can definitely help improve battery cells.”

Metzger and his team have been trying to understand why lithium-ion battery cells in inactive devices tend to lose some of their power and self-discharge, something that has long frustrated consumers and manufacturers alike.

“Every manufacturer of lithium-ion cells in the world wants to make self-discharge as small as possible,” Metzger told CTVNews.ca in a joint statement with graduate student Anu Adamson. “In every battery there is a small rate of self-discharge that slowly drains the battery. This is very inconvenient for users and a big headache for industry.”

The electrodes that power batteries are separated by an electrolyte solution that is usually a form of lithium. After exposing several battery cells to different temperatures, researchers were surprised to see that electrolyte solution had turned bright red when it normally should be clear, which was something they had never encountered. The discovery was made by Adamson and two other students.

Chemical analysis of the red electrolyte solution revealed that at higher temperatures, a new molecule had been created inside the battery through the decomposition of common PET adhesive tape, which is often used to hold components together inside batteries. Strong and lightweight, PET is also frequently used for plastic packaging, drink bottles, clothing fibres and more.

Researchers realized that the red molecule, dimethyl terephthalate, was acting as a redox shuttle, meaning that it can transport electrons between a battery’s positive and negative electrodes, creating self-discharge and depleting power even when a battery is not in use. Ideally, the shuttling of electrons within a battery should only happen when a device is on.

“It’s a very simple thing—it is in every plastic bottle and no one would have thought that this has such a huge impact on how the lithium-ion cells degrade,” Metzger said in the news release. “It’s something we never expected because no one looks at these inactive components, these tapes and plastic foils in the battery cell, but it really needs to be considered if you want to limit side-reactions in the battery cell.”

The findings are outlined in a pair of studies published on Jan. 20 and Jan. 23 in the peer-reviewed Journal of The Electrochemical Society. The researchers are now testing PET tape substitutes.

“Since the PET in the tape is the culprit that creates the redox shuttle, we need to replace it with a polymer that is more stable and does not decompose in the harsh chemistry of a lithium-ion battery,” Metzger and Adamson told CTVNews.ca. “So far, the results look very promising, and we plan to publish a new research paper on improved polymers for lithium-ion battery tapes soon.”

According to the researchers, their work has been attracting interest from “some of the world’s largest computer hardware companies and electric vehicle manufacturers,” which are eager to reduce self-discharge and improve battery performance.

“We visited some of these companies and they are planning to implement more stable polymers in their battery cells,” Metzger said.

In the release, Metzger noted: “One of the engineers said, ‘I heard you guys found out something is wrong with PET tape.’ So, I explained to him that it’s causing this self-discharge and asked him, ‘What are you using in your cells?’ He said, ‘PET tape.'”

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