Two giants of the smart home are Sonos and Amazon, with its Alexa ecosystem, but until now the two halves of this match made in ambient computing heaven have operated in different spheres.
The release of the new Sonos One smart speaker puts an end to that. Finally, Sonos’ super streaming speakers have Amazon’s voice assistant built in, with support for Google Assistant supposedly arriving in 2018. Sonos and Amazon have reportedly worked closely to build the integration, and it’s one of the better third party experiences, avoiding any awkward tap to speak buttons for a fully ambient experience.
Sonos One: Features
So what can you do with the Sonos One? Well, firstly it works like a normal Sonos speaker – we’ll get more into that later, but you can steam music from a host of services, built into the dedicated app.
But new to the Sonos One is access to Alexa.
That means the ability to ask Alexa questions, interact with smart devices within your home via first and third party skills, and of course, listen to music.
Music services are a little sparse when it comes to Alexa functionality, and you can ask for music to be played from Spotify “Alexa – play Queen on Spotify” or from Amazon Music, which is the default. You can make Spotify the default music service in the Alexa settings, but you’re stuck between these for voice control.
Missing manual: The essential Sonos guide
Sonos itself is compatible with pretty much every music service, but it’s at the mercy of Amazon’s own compatibility – this need for dual support for each service could mean long waits for users of other services to get the control they desire.
In terms of getting a full rundown of Alexa features, you’re best of taking a look at our full Amazon Alexa guide – but it’s perhaps more interesting to look at the features which are not supported.
Alexa Sonos One doesn’t get the full gamut of features enjoyed by her fully-fledged Amazon Echo based cousin, and there are some notable absences. Calling and drop-in are missing, which could be a surprise to some. Also, some of the flash briefings and alerts are absent, too. It’s not a huge problem, but it means the Sonos One isn’t simply an Echo with better sound quality – which many might expect.
Sonos One: Alexa
That presents an interesting conundrum. Because at the same time as the launch of the Sonos One, Amazon and Sonos have paired up for control of Sonos speakers via an Alexa Skill. This enables you to use an Echo as normal, and play music to any Sonos speaker in your home.
This, of course, applies to the diminutive Echo Dot, which is available for just £30/$30. And given a Sonos Play:1 retails for £50 less than the Alexa-enabled version, one wondered exactly what the benefits are? Neatness, obviously, is one – but if you have other Alexa devices in earshot, buying the Sonos One can end up being an irritant.
There are also a couple of issue around the use of groups. Playing to a speaker is easy (Alexa – play Queen on Spotify in the lounge), but getting groups working is a little harder. But of course, we’re only griping about Alexa; it works in most situations, but at times you will need to revert back to the app.
Using Alexa is relatively easy, although we did find the Sonos One to be a little more deaf than the standard Alexa set-up. As seasoned users we found it much harder to get Alexa’s attention and keep it – sometimes she cuts you off mid-sentence, and even the smallest pause for thought can be fatal to your interaction.
Perhaps part of this issue is that using Sonos with Alexa requires you to be a lot more careful with your word choice. Often interactions are more complex: “Alexa – play [song and band name], from [specific music provider] on [specific Sonos speaker].” Sure, it’s not the Enigma code, but it’s a process. And the wonderful simplicity of Alexa that even a child can grasp becomes a little convoluted. Guests in your house aren't likely to grasp it “no, you have to specify Spotify”, “no, the lounge speaker is called living room”, “I’m so so sorry”.
There’s no easy answer to this, and the short one is that often, voice isn’t the right medium for every request.
Sonos One: Sound quality
Perhaps we’ve come over a little snippy about the Sonos One, but overall it is a truly great speaker, and Alexa works fine in nearly every circumstance. And while we’ve pointed out that Alexa isn’t as streamlined as on Echo, as a speaker the Sonos One excels.
It sounds truly fantastic. Clear at every frequency, wonderfully balanced. Punchy bass that doesn’t dominate and so, so loud. It’s an amazing speaker for something so small. Its design also enables it to deliver sound evenly across 360 degrees and it can truly fill a room.
- Deep bass, great sound
- Versatile music experience
- Classy design
- Alexa is profoundly deaf
- No voice control for non Spotify/Amazon music services