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Apple HomePod pre-orders open today; is it worth $350?

Almost Home(Pod)

If you’ve been waiting and waiting for Apple’s entry into the smart home speaker race, today’s the big day to at least pre-order the new device. That’s right, it’s January 26th, and if you get in line today, you’ll likely receive one of the first Apple HomePod speakers by around February 9th. We were able to play around with one for about an hour to get some early impressions, and so far, so good. First off: It does sound pretty amazing.

The HomePod features a central woofer and seven high-frequency drivers, and it seemed like wherever we were in the room, sound quality was very good – and quite loud. The HomePod’s built-in microphones sniff out your room’s acoustics and set up the sound accordingly, and it does a solid job of it. Speaking of setup, it was a breeze, as you’d likely expect from an Apple device. It also looks pretty good: Stylish but also low-profile, and it comes in two colors – so far.

One music note: Siri will only control Apple Music by voice, not Spotify or Pandora and so on, but you can route those streaming tunes to the HomePod from your iPhone if need be. Siri worked as expected, although we had to ask twice a few times when the music was loud. And of course it works great with HomeKit-capable smart home toys. So is it perfect? Not quite. Check out our hands-on review and then decide if you want to drop $350 on it.

Fixing a hole

Intel just reported solid numbers for their last quarter, but the main thing on investor’s – and everyone else’s – minds is the ongoing problems with the Meltdown and Spectre chip flaws. Intel and OS makers have tried to roll out software patches for the problem with varying degrees of success – and some outright failures – and now Intel says they are working on hardware-based fixes for the problem. However, we won’t likely see the “fixed” chips until later this year.

As scary as the Meltdown and Spectre problems sounds, the folks over at Extreme Tech think the incident could actually give Intel and other CPU makers a boost in the long run as companies – especially those that use a lot of servers – look to quickly upgrade to newer “fixed” CPUs, rather than hold out hope that their now patched-up systems will safely soldier on. In the meantime, we have some links below to check if your PC is updated or still at risk.

Take your protein pill

Elon Musk and the SpaceX team fired up the Falcon Heavy earlier this week, and while the engines were only lit for well under a minute, the massive plume the 27 rocket motors created gives you some hint as to how much power is on tap. And good news: The test went well, as in the whole rocket didn’t explode, as Musk said it might. Now, Musk says he plans to launch a Tesla Roadster into orbit around Mars in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that.

But in the bigger picture of American space travel, there’s news that President Trump wants to kill U.S. funding for the International Space Station by 2025. SpaceX is planning on sending both goods and people to the ISS as a primary NASA contractor, so that may put a dent in their plans. Or will it?

With the Falcon Heavy going operational at last and NASA also spooling up their SLS heavy-lift program, SpaceX could find itself heading for Trump’s new target: A possible new lunar base. Multiple sources report that a draft of future US space exploration priorities includes returning to the moon – maybe permanently – and then moving on to Mars, where Musk has repeatedly said he plans on going anyway – and in a big, big way.

Now, there’s really no way of telling the exact future of NASA, since it’s at the mercy of budgets, the economy and competing visions within each successive administration. But SpaceX is its own animal, and Musk’s vision of humanity becoming an “interplanetary species” with Mars bases, moon bases and maybe other bases even farther out there, is the kind of vision we can get behind. We can only hope NASA gets on board as well.

The ISS is great, but it’s stuck in low earth orbit, and always will be. Is it time to move beyond where we’ve already been? Let us know what you think about defunding the ISS and moving on to the moon and Mars in our YouTube comments section.

We’ve got more news on our Facebook page and YouTube channel, and be sure to tune in to this week’s DT podcasts: Trends with Benefits (general tech shenanigans)  on Thursdays, and Between the Streams (movie and TV topics) every Friday.

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