Tech round-up for August 22: Apple's HomePod delivers best sound, LG owns with OLED screens, The International in Vancouver, Khan Academy targets preschoolers

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, a first-hand perspective on the latest models of OLED televisions from LG, the general public see how popular esports is as The International takes over Vancouver, and Khan Academy has built an app for young kids. But first, with HomePod, Apple demonstrates a continuing commitment to music.

Apple’s HomePod sounds great, integrates well with HomeKit automation

The HomePod isn’t a large device, but it’s heavy. Which makes sense given the audio components crammed into the cylinder. It’s got a single, circular woofer to deliver bass tones, and seven tweeters for the mid-range and high frequency sounds.

And it sounds amazing.

First released in February, the smart speaker didn’t come to Canada until June 18. It’s available for $449 in either Space Grey or White, and while that price might seem high, it’s actually reasonable when you look at the cost of competitors.

The Sonos Play:3 is $329 and the Google Max is $499. Amazon’s larger Echo is only $130 regularly priced, but I’m not even sure the Echo is in the same category as the HomePod.

Unequaled sound reproduction

Apple decided long ago to focus on the experience of music as a driver of its products. And while the HomePod was a bit slow in coming to the smart speaker category, it delivers on that experience.

The HomePod delivers the best sound of them all. To my ears, Sonos speakers come close, but the Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers are inferior.

Apple has played up the “spatial awareness” of the HomePod, which refers to the speaker’s ability to adjust its output depending on which room, and where in the room, it is placed.

I tested this by moving it around my home, and whether it was in the corner of a bedroom, along the wall of the living room, or on the counter of the kitchen, the sound was always clear and crisp.

Let your preferred ecosystem be your guide

If you’re a committed Google user, though, there’s little that the HomePod can do that is going to get you to switch.

Amazon Echo users, though, may be convinced. Alexa is further ahead in the digital assistant functionality, but the HomePod can be used as a speakerphone and delivers superior sound quality, not to mention having the better music service with Apple Music.

If you’ve already got Sonos speakers at home, you’ll find that the HomePod works nicely with them now that AirPlay 2 has been released.

And if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, you can throw audio to HomePod from any of your other Apple devices, including iPads, iPods, computers, and even Apple TV.

Control your home with HomeKit

The HomePod is also a way of collecting and controlling the myriad home automation devices you might have. You can use simple voice commands to have Siri control everything from connected lightbulbs and thermostats to doorbells and door locks.

In a sense, HomePod isn’t anything special because it’s simply giving you access to the range of productivity tools and apps Apple has built into it’s ecosystem.

You can add and modify notes, reminders, and calendar bookings. You can send messages and use it as a speakerphone to make calls.

The only thing that HomePod can’t do, yet, is fully understand Canadian French. Support for that language is coming “later this year”. Mon dieu.

Living large with LG’s dynamic OLED TV

Last fall I convinced at least two people to purchase OLED televisions from LG. My pick of best screen available was the LG B7, and to see these on the walls of my friends has made me a bit jealous, to be honest.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the next iteration of LG OLED on my wall. Now I want one of these.

The LG 65-inch C8 is, in a word, astonishing.

The picture emanating from the organic, light-emitting diode screen is rich, responsive, and breathtaking. My family watched Spider-Man: Homecoming and Planet Earth II, both in 4K and with HDR, and even a theatre experience can’t compete with LG’s OLED.

With more and more 4K content being created and made available – Neftlix is at the forefront of this shift – your next TV will be an ultra high-definition display. If you can spare the dollars, it should be an OLED screen. They are thin, they display pure black, they have intense colour, and they’ve got the best response rate, so no worry of motion blur while watching fast-moving action.

The one knock against OLED has been brightness, but that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue with the new LG models.

In addition to that quality of the image, the LG OLEDs are also smart TVs with web browsing and all the standard apps.

The remote is also equipped with a microphone so you can take advantage of the voice control that’s built into the TV’s operating system. You can tell your TV to change inputs and to shut down at particular times.

The C8 that I’ve been using is listed for $4,000 but can be found for $2,700. Jumping up to the 65” is $1,000 more. There’s a 77-inch model, too, listed at $12,000 and selling for $10,000.

The only difference between the C8 and the more expensive E8 is audio and speakers. If you’re connecting to a tuner or sound bar, you don’t need to spend more for the E8.

Start saving your pennies.

The International heats up Vancouver’s Rogers Arena

This week, gamers from around the world have converged on Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver for The International, arguably the biggest e-sports event in the world. Tens of thousands of them.

The event sold out within minutes of tickets coming available, so if you don’t have one you won’t be attending. But you can watch the action live. Games typically last between 30 and 45 minutes.

This is the first time the International, which has been held annually since 2011, has been staged in Canada.

Unlike other esports events, The International features teams playing only one game: DOTA 2. The free-to-play game is played by millions every day. It’s a “MOBA,” an acronym for multiplayer online battle arena, and it features two teams of five players trying to protect their area while trying to attack and destroy an artifact in the opponent’s zone.

The total purse for the event is US$25 million. The amount is crowdsourced from players, partially through purchases of the game’s Battle Pass.

Vancouver gamer Artour Babaev, Arteezy, who is a stalwart for Evil Geniuses, has helped his team progress to the quarter finals on Wednesday evening (August 22).

The Grand Final goes on Saturday (August 25). Don’t miss it.

New Khan Academy program for preschool kids

Khan Academy, the free, online education site that has been disrupting education for years, is looking to support the early education of young children.

Khan Academy Kids is a new app, free to download, available for Android and iOS. It provides games and fun activities that help build the fundamentals for education, including the alphabet, basic numeracy and math, reading, and logical reasoning.

It’s a companion of sorts to the existing app for older kids and adults (Android and iOS).

The new app was designed to “adapt over the years as a child grows,” the company said in a release, “and includes social-emotional learning.”

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