HomePod sounds great, but you’re locked in [Review]

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Apple HomePod volume controls
The HomePod is Apple's first step into the smart speaker arena, but does it emerge victorious?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

There are boatloads of smart speakers out there, but nothing quite like HomePod.

Like many Apple products that came before it, HomePod is here to revolutionize an industry. It’s certainly not first to market, but Cupertino’s plan is to make all HomePod competitors insignificant. The new Apple smart speaker uses cutting-edge technology that delivers outstanding sound quality to do just that.

You can’t buy another speaker of this kind for $349. That price tag is not exactly cheap, but if you love music, HomePod should be at the top of your shopping list.

HomePod unboxing video: First look at Apple’s smart speaker

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HomePod HomeKit Unboxing
Check out Apple's new HomePod in action.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

After months of delays, Apple’s HomePod is finally available in Apple Stores today. Before we get to the reviews, comparisons and tips, with our latest video we give you a tour of what’s in the box, show you how easy it is to set up, show it off in action and my first impressions.

Check the video out below.

Over half a billion devices now ‘actively’ use Siri

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Siri
Siri usage is climbing rapidly.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Siri is now “actively” used on more than half a billion devices, Apple has revealed. The virtual assistant, which will be used to control HomePod, has been attracting users at a rapid rate despite falling behind its competitors in features and accuracy.

Why Apple’s HomePod is poised to bomb

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Will Apple's HomePod smart speaker be DOA?

Image: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

HomePod, the first new Apple product of 2018, is about to arrive. And as a huge Apple fanboy, I couldn’t care less.

Apple’s been hyping its smart speaker ever since unveiling the device last June at the Worldwide Developers Conference. And yet HomePod has failed to really excite fans (except through leaks that gave us early details about the iPhone X). Apple bills HomePod as a powerful speaker that packs Siri to take your listening experience to an all-new level. But with its Feb. 9 release just weeks away, HomePod is looking more like Apple’s next big bomb.

4-in-1 HomeKit smart switch puts Alexa in your wall

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The Instinct smart light switch packs a smart speaker and also works with HomeKit.
The Instinct smart light switch packs a smart speaker and also works with HomeKit.
Photo: iDevices

CES 2018 bug iDevices’ new HomeKit-compatible smart switch will do much more than just control your lights. With sensors, a speaker and Amazon’s Alexa baked in, the Instinct packs four different functions into a standard light switch.

You can use Alexa voice commands to play music or control your lights. Or, if you’ve got your iPhone or Apple Watch at hand, you trigger HomeKit activities with Siri.

This smoke detector can also run Siri and be an AirPlay 2 speaker

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smoke detector
That's one versatile alarm.
Photo: First Alert

CES 2018 bug Want a smoke detector that can double as a premium HomeKit-enabled smart speaker? Of course you do, and smoke detector company First Alert is here to help.

Debuting at CES 2018, First Alert’s Onelink Safe & Sound smoke and carbon monoxide alarm is an in-ceiling device that could save your life. But it also can be utilized as an entertainment system, with support for Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant AI voice assistants.

Blast and Megablast bring Alexa to UE’s portable speakers

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With Alexa baked in, UE's new Blast speaker will be right at home in the kitchen.
With Alexa baked in, UE's new Blast speaker will be right at home in the kitchen.
Photo: Ultimate Ears

SAN FRANCISCO — Ultimate Ears’ punchy portable speakers just got smart. The new Blast and Megablast speakers bring built-in support for Alexa, Amazon’s voice-operated smart assistant.

Bringing the always-listening, voice-operated helper to a battery-powered speaker proved “nontrivial,” said Benjamin Falk, principal software product manager at UE, during a demo of the new speakers.

Sonos speakers will support AirPlay 2 next year

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Sonos supports AirPlay2
The Sonos One smart speaker will support Apple's AirPlay2.
Photo: Sonos

Sonos’ new voice-activated Sonos One smart speaker will work with Amazon’s Alexa assistant when it ships later this month, and will add support for Apple’s new AirPlay 2 streaming protocol next year.

The new smart speaker, which will ship Oct. 24, places an emphasis on high-end audio. With its $199 price point and promised compatibility with multiple platforms, it should put pressure on Apple’s upcoming HomePod, which costs nearly twice as much.