Siri

HomePod - A Review

I purchased my HomePod from one of our local Apple Retail Stores on Monday (12th February) only three days after launch and for the first time, in my experience, the Apple Store was nearly empty and on asking if the Space Grey HomePod was in stock the answer was “yes plenty”. Is it a surprise that this product has not captured the public’s imagination like the iPhone, iPad or even the Apple TV? Probably not, firstly, Smart Speakers are still very much in their infancy (even the Amazon Echo has only been available in the UK for about two years) tech geeks are excited about these products and their evolution but until home automation is embraced by tech muggles these items will live on the periphery of home consumer electronics. Secondly, high quality audio is niche market, much of the buying public will throw down £50.00 - £80.00 for an Amazon Echo or Dot and not notice the woeful sound quality but not consider, or not be able to consider, a £319.00 HomePod with superior sound quality, superior build, superior R&D but a few less features (at the moment).

Apple's HomePod

Apple's HomePod

What can the early adopters expect, apart from a much thinner wallet? Unboxing, like most Apple products, displays minimal packaging and instructions, however, the initial set up is so simple that instructions are irrelevant. Set up is initiated by plugging the power into HomePod then placing your iPhone near it (img.1), after a brief walkthrough on the iPhone the HomePod is ready to go. After this the Home app on the iPhone is used for some advanced settings and updates.

(img.1)

(img.1)

The HomePod is supposed to sample the audio properties of the room it is in within seconds (img.2), I found it took several tracks in a couple of different genres in order to settle the bass down. Once the bass had settled down (it was a little distorted to begin with) the sound was outstanding, bass was strong but not overpowering, vocals were right at the front and virtually all of the levels were excellent, the only small thing, which is a matter of personal taste, is that I would have liked a little more treble, there is no ability to alter the bass or treble. To compare the audio quality with the Amazon Echo is ridiculous, the HomePod is way out of that league, however, the Sonos system is a much closer comparison. In my view, Sonos has the advantage of adjustable bass and treble and the ability to create a Stereo Pair (a feature HomePod can expect sometime this year) but the HomePod has a slightly better warmer sound while also bringing the vocals to the front a little better than Sonos. Due to the size constraints and configuration of the speakers neither of these Smart Speakers can outperform my dedicated Onkyo system with CD and Turntable.

(img.2)

(img.2)

Controlling music is extremely easy, providing you have a subscription to Apple Music, I have asked Siri for several artists, genres and albums without any issues. Voice volume control is far more granular than other Smart Speakers I have used, you are able to select any volume between 0% - 100%, the highest I have used so far is 50% but the unit is in quite a small room.

Podcasts work perfectly, I have asked for a number of different podcasts each of which were found immediately. The speech is clear and I felt no desire to have any of the audio levels different. At launch HomePod does not seem to have support for any audiobooks, not even those purchased in the iTunes Store, I’m really hoping this functionality will be added very soon as I feel audiobooks are an integral feature of a Smart Speaker. Radio is extremely limited at launch, only Beats1 is available for streaming, but as the BBC is used for news and sport updates I’m hoping radio integration with at least BBC stations will come soon. The ability to stream from an iOS device to the HomePod using Airplay (Airplay 2 is another feature that is promised for later in the year) partly negates the lack of Audiobook and Radio integration but it would be great to have these controllable via Siri on the HomePod.

I have not set up any home automation yet, however, I do have an Eve Smart Plug which I will be trying soon. A major automation feature that has been ignored is a sleep timer, many people (myself included) use this type of product to go sleep with music in the background and a sleep timer is a vital feature that has been omitted.

A voice feature which is very welcome is the ability to send a text message. Integration with your iCloud account means Siri can access the contacts there and message them, this I have tried and was successful. Siri also has the ability to read back incoming messages to you.

I feel that the HomePod is a superior sounding Smart Speaker which has several vital features missing at launch. If the ability to control and play audiobooks, more radio stations and a sleep timer are added soon, this product will be a major contender in the Smart Speaker market and may not need third party apps and integration to make it a success. At the moment it is is a worthy addition to any home that is immersed in the Apple Ecosystem and wants high quality audio. Is it worth £319.00, in my view yes.

Type To Siri On High Sierra

Siri can be a useful assistant on the Mac and easy to access the information needed by just using voice controls. However, there are times when talking out loud to the Mac is inconvenient or unsuitable e.g. while in a meeting or in a library.

Apple has added an option in High Sierra that enables interaction with Siri without requiring voice commands, the method of input is via typing commands or queries in to Siri.

How To
First, select the System Preferences icon, I keep mine in the dock for easy access (img.1).

(img.1

(img.1

Once the System Preferences window displays you will see an Accessibility  icon in the bottom right of the window, you should now click on this (img2).

(img.2)

(img.2)

In the Accessibility window scroll down on the left and select the Siri option, then tick the checkbox ‘Enable Type to Siri’ (img.3).

(img.3)

(img.3)

Now when the Siri icon is clicked a text entry box is displayed for a command or query to be entered (img.4)

(img.4

(img.4

Remember to turn down the volume so you don't hear the response out loud.

An easy way to use Siri on Mac without using voice.

Activate Siri By Voice On A Mac

Welcome to my first screencast on The Mac Quad. In this post I will show you how to activate Siri by voice on a Mac, making it much easier for mobility impaired users to access the features of Siri on a Mac.

Screencast

Text Walkthrough

Go to System Preferences click the Siri icon and Enable Siri.

  • Previously to enable Siri voice activation on the Mac you needed to add a Keyboard Shortcut, this is no longer the case.

  • I prefer to have Siri in the Menu Bar but not in the Dock

Go to System Preferences click the Keyboard icon then choose the Dictation tab. Turn Dictation on and click the checkbox to Use Enhanced Dictation. (this may initiate a download of a file if you have not used Enhanced Dictation previously.

Go to System Preferences click the Accessibility icon, in the left panel select Dictation and then click the checkbox Enable the dictation keyword phrase.

  • I keep my trigger word as Computer.

  • At this point you can click on Dictation Commands and in the left panel scroll down and in the System section make sure the Start Siri option is checked. If you are unable to see this command make sure Enable advanced commands is checked.

You can now activate Siri by simply saying “Computer Start Siri”.