While shopping for an external Bluetooth speaker about a year ago, a friendly clerk in Best Buy showed me a Sonos One speaker. I was immediately impressed with the sound quality. “And,” the clerk said, “it has Alexa built in. Google Assistant is coming before the holidays.” As someone who uses both voice assistants on a regular basis, I decided to wait to purchase a Sonos One until Google Assistant was supported, which finally happened late this spring on both the Sonos One (Gen 1 and Gen 2) and the Sonos Beam.
At $199, the Sonos One (Gen 2) is twice the cost of the Amazon Echo 2nd Generation and Google Home, both of which retail for $99. In my home, tasks related to music are usually requested through Alexa, because it supports more of the music options we use. Additionally, the Amazon Echo 2nd Generation, in my opinion, has much better sound quality than the Google Home. On the other hand, we do most tasks related to looking up information or making a phone call with the Google Home Assistant, because it seems to have deeper information-gathering services. It was my hope that the decorative Sonos One would replace both the Amazon Echo and Google Home positioned within calling distance of my desk.
Out of the Box
Out of the box, the Sonos One comes wrapped in a reusable dust cover, with a relatively short set of instructions, a power cord, and an ethernet cable.
The four-page User Guide describes the gestures that may be used on the top surface of the speaker for volume control, pausing and resuming playback, and skipping forward or backward between musical tracks. To get started with setup, you need to download the Sonos app from the App Store, Google Play, or Amazon Apps.
About the size of a can of coffee, 6.4 inches tall, by 4.7 inches square, the Sonos One is larger than either the Echo or Google Home. The front and side surfaces are covered in a plastic grill, and the top is smooth. The power cord is inserted in the bottom of the device and is positioned to go beneath the base, in the rear, just below the input for the Ethernet cable. There is a single button on the device, located just above the Ethernet input. This button is only used during the setup process. Everything about the Sonos One looks and feels decorative and solid.
The operational gestures on the top of the Sonos One include the following:
- Touching the center rear of the top panel turns the microphone off and on.
- Touching the center of the top panel will pause or resume play.
- Touching the left or right side of the center of the top panel will reduce or increase the volume
- Swiping left will play the previous track, and swiping right will play the next track.
Setup on the Sonos App
The Android app used for the setup was intuitive and worked well with TalkBack. The setup process has two parts to it. First, you configure the speaker with existing Wi-Fi and basic settings, then you enable Voice Settings for Alexa or the Google Home Assistant. Once the Sonos One was plugged in, the app located the speaker and the setup began with a request to wait for a flashing green light on the top of the speaker. Unlike with the Home and Echo, there was no audible cue provided to prompt the next step. The green light began flashing within a minute. Following the remainder of the prompts, the speaker was identified as the Sonos One model and a location in the home identified. So, for example, mine became the “Family Room” speaker.
Once the speaker is connected to the app, you select the Voice Services menu item to configure either Alexa or the Google Assistant. The corresponding app is required to complete the installation process. So, in addition to the Sonos app, you will need to have Google Home or the Amazon Alexa app installed on your phone or tablet.
The first disappointment with the Sonos One occurred when I started to install the second voice setting, in my case, the Google Assistant, and was prompted to uninstall the first, Alexa. Was it too much to expect that a smart speaker would allow me to switch back and forth between voice assistants, just by calling out to the one I wanted for a specific task? No doubt, there is some logical technological reason that both cannot be loaded onto the Sonos One at the same time. You can install either one at any time, but each time one is installed, you must open the Sonos app, uninstall the current voice setting, and reinstall the second. Switching isn't difficult, but for me it means that the Google Home I was hoping to unplug will stay right where it is. It will be easier to keep Alexa as the default voice service on the Sonos One and keep the Google Home handy for looking up information or making a call.
Voice Services Performance
With Alexa installed on the Sonos One, the voice assistant was just as responsive as it is on the Echo. Of course all the enabled skills and accounts, like Audible, worked just as they do on an Echo, because the skills and settings were transferred to the Sonos One with the Alexa app. There is, however, one notable exception to this, and for some, it might be a deal breaker. The communications skills Alexa performs—making a phone call, sending a text message and reading email will not work on the Sonos One. This is also true for making a phone call with the Google Assistant on the Sonos One—yet another reason the Google Home will remain plugged in.
Any smart home devices you manage with a voice assistant will work with the Sonos One using the same voice assistant. So, if your smart lights, thermostat, and door lock system are compatible with Alexa, you will be able to control them using Alexa on the Sonos One.
Services on Sonos App
At this point, you might be content with your voice assistant of choice on Sonos's better sounding speaker, but the Sonos app really expands the ability to use various audio services. For example, tapping the Add Music Services menu item allows you to select from a wide range of services, including Audible, Google Play, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and many others. The great advantage of the Sonos app is that you can really customize the services you most enjoy using, as opposed to being confined to those provided by your smart speaker. For example, if you are a Google Home user, you do not have access to Amazon Music, or Apple Music—the Google Home only offers Google Play Music and You Tube, along with other free services like Pandora and Tunin. With the Sonos One, you can have the Google Home Assistant installed as your voice service and use the Sonos app to access Apple Music and Audible, which would not be available on the Google Home. The one disadvantage to this is that the voice assistant may not be able to open the services that are not supported by the voice assistant. Alexa will not open Apple Music, so selections must be made through the Sonos app. Once the selection is started, however, Alexa can play and pause the audio.
The Sonos One, like the other Sonos speakers, can be paired or grouped together using the Sonos app. A selection from Amazon Music might be playing on one group of speakers in the living room, while NPR is streaming in the kitchen. It seems there are some limitations when trying to create groups of speakers that include Sonos speakers and Amazon Echoes, although an Echo can be used to control what is being played on a Sonos speaker. If you'd like to integrate Amazon Echoes into a speaker system that includes Sonos speakers, you will want to check out what limitations might exist, and which of these limitations will be addressed in future software upgrades.
Apple HomePod or Sonos One?
The Sonos One offers a great alternative for anyone looking for an alternative to Apple’s HomePod, which retails for $299. Some reviewers have reported that the sound of the Apple HomePod is superior to the Sonos One, but for this listener, if it is true, it’s too close to tell. The HomePod offers such a limited selection of services compared to either the Amazon Echo or the Google Home that unless you are an Apple Music aficionado, there is very little to recommend it over the Sonos One.
The Sonos app includes access to Apple Music, and will connect to your Apple device using AirPlay. As mentioned earlier, this is done through the app, neither Alexa or the Google Assistant can request something from Apple Music. Accessing the Apple ecosystem on the Sonos One may not be as seamless as asking Siri to do it on a HomePod, but the sound quality is very close, and the Sonos One offers many more services for $100 less.
Setting a New Standard
The Sonos One really sets a new standard for smart speakers, giving you the ability to select your preferred digital assistant or voice service and offering access to a wide range of audio services, whether or not they are supported by a given digital assistant. Although the Sonos One does not offer the option of accessing both Alexa and the Google Assistant at the same time on one device, you can change the voice services settings in the Sonos app whenever you need a change of pace. The Sonos One smart speaker offers the widest variety of audio services with your choice of digital assistants.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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