Living with the HomePod: On the Road

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The HomePod is really good at a few things. Unfortunately, working in a hotel room with hotel WiFi is NOT one of them. Just like the Apple Watch, that pesky interstitial WiFi login screen trips it up, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising. I’m going to attempt using Personal Hotspot sometime down the road and see if this can be bypassed. Until then, here are a few more observations on Apple’s new toy.

TV Time

As I mentioned in my last post, my once dead Apple TV Remote, which wouldn’t respond to any of the recommended reset or troubleshooting methods at the time of its temporary demise months ago, has risen from the ashes. All I had to do was give it a long nap and then plug it into a Lightning Cable. I do appreciate that I didn’t have to buy a new one, and the fact that I could quickly jump in and start testing the HomePod with the Apple TV thanks to this.

The setup was very easy. The HomePod shows up as an AirPlay audio source almost immediately. Just select it and go. No problems there.

I watched bits and pieces of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on Netflix with my wife and kids. I knew it had several scenes (YOU SHALL NOT PASSSSSS!!!!!!) that would adequately test out the HomePod, and it didn’t disappoint. I also watched The Cloverfield Paradox later in the evening, and the HomePod fared well with it, as well.

The audio separation and sensitivity were very good. The sound was still clear and understandable at low volumes. This is good, as many cheap speakers become very muddy at low volume and voices can be hard to understand. There was also a good deal of contrast between low volume and high. As I found with music playback, there was no distortion at high volumes, either.

Also, while some users reported issues with audio lag and using the HomePod with the Apple TV, I did not have any issues with it in either movie. There is the overall drawback that you temporarily lose the HomePod’s assistant features while using it to play audio for streaming video, but if you are buying the HomePod more for its sound quality, then you may not mind that so much.

I will say that AirPlay 2 and the ability to pair two HomePods will be a welcomed upgrade for those who want to pull double duty with their Apple TVs. It should add a lot of extra punch. Also, even though the HomePod does an admirable job of adding a spatial aspect to what is still essentially mono audio, stereo playback capability would still be a noticeable improvement for use with the Apple TV.

Turn up the volume

While testing the HomePod in my kitchen and bedroom, I found that the volume was more than adequate, and could be too much at max output. However, those are both small to medium-sized fully enclosed rooms. I tested the HomePod with my Apple TV in my Living Room, which is larger and more open to other spaces in the center of my house. This was much more of a challenge for the HomePod, as I had to crank up the volume to near max to get the sound to feel “big enough” to match the movies I was watching in that space. Again, pairing up a second would take care of this issue, although at a hefty cost.

I don’t see this as a flaw, as some might. The HomePod was pretty clearly designed to handle music in a small to medium sized space. If you live in a dorm or apartment, it will be more than enough. If you are looking for a speaker for the kitchen or bedroom, it should be perfect for you. If you live in a large studio, it may come up lacking.

Audio output is a very subjective thing, so don’t just take me or others at our words. I would definitely recommend trying the HomePod before you buy if you have concerns about volume output. You might also consider buying one locally to make a return easy if the max volume isn’t enough for you.

The Pod is Cast

If you are a fan of podcasts and don’t already have a smart speaker in your home, the HomePod should make you very happy. Even if you already have one, the HomePod’s sound quality may give it a leg up on the incumbents, but that will vary from person to person.

While you will have to use Apple’s own Podcast app to play episodes using Siri and voice queries, it is actually possible to use other clients through AirPlay. I personally use Overcast, so I am using that for listening to podcasts at home most of the time.

However, even if you already have a podcast app you want to stick with, it’s not a bad idea to add a few of your favorites to Apple Podcasts, so that Siri can play them for you. My wife has her favorites loaded up on my account now, and I have added This Week in Tech and MacBreak Weekly from TWiT and a couple of sports shows for easy playback. I have no interest in switching to Apple podcasts, but this works fine for now. I am betting third party developer access to HomePod audio and Siri will be coming within the year, so this should just be temporary, anyway.

One thing to note is that Siri cannot play Podcasts that you have not subscribed to. You still have to do the legwork of searching for new ones on your own. However, as popular as this medium has become, I have to think Apple will eventually roll out Apple Music-like search features for Podcasts.

That’s it for today. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please post them in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog. I would love to hear from you.


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