Review: SONOS One, a promise for the future

The SONOS One is the company’s big entry into the market of voice-enabled speakers. Sonos is synonymous with great audio quality and that immediately gives you confidence the One will...

The SONOS One is the company’s big entry into the market of voice-enabled speakers. Sonos is synonymous with great audio quality and that immediately gives you confidence the One will address one of the biggest failings of the first generation Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. Audio quality from the connected speakers is important, but so is the voice assistant built in.

When the SONOS One was announced, the company said it’d include Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant now and add Google Assistant in early 2018. This got me excited and frankly happy I hadn’t yet bought into the home voice assistant market as SONOS would include both industry leaders in a single, great sounding device.

With a living room surround sound setup consisting of a SONOS Playbar, Sub and 2 Play:1’s for the rear speakers, my plan was to simple exchange one of the existing Play:1 speakers with the SONOS One, given its similarity in form factor. This would in theory give a like for like experience, while adding the capability to shout voice commands from anywhere in the open plan living room, kitchen, dining area and have the SONOS One respond.

Unfortunately this didn’t work for a couple of reasons. The first and biggest issue with the SONOS One in Australia is that Amazon don’t offer their voice service here, so that means no Alexa. Despite Google Home recently launching in Australia, SONOS don’t have Assistant support until 2018, so the key reason you’ll buy this device unfortunately isn’t possible to use right now. When Amazon do launch here, it’ll be a free update and the One will go transform from a speaker, into a microphone array that’ll allow you to play music, start a podcast, ask it a question or to command other IoT devices in your home.

Unfortunately that’s not yet a reality.

Update

The embargo for this review lifted today and this evening, my experience with SONOS One changed for the better. When firing up the SONOS app, the More tab has an item for Voice Services. When you tap on it, It tells you you need to sign into your SONOS account and its then I had received the dialog to say Amazon voice services are not available in Australia.

Tonight, I got further and while in Australia, was able to start using the SONOS One with Amazon Alexa. Lets be clear, the service still isn’t available, as evidenced by the fact I couldn’t download the Alexa app. I was however able to connect my SONOS account with my Amazon account and hey presto, I can now show you a hands-on with the SONOS One using Amazon Alexa in Australia.

After using it for a while, its certainly not the full functionality and many responses were US-specific with measurements provided in imperial instead of metric. If you take a visit to https://alexa.amazon.com you can fix this settings. Despite that, the ability for SONOS One to hear you from across the room is actually pretty special. With the speaker on the kitchen bench, I was able to instruct it from my couch, or dining table. From day-to-day duties like setting a timer or adding to a shopping list, to the occasional historical fact during a dinner party, or maths calculation or even rolling a dice, I’m completely sold on using voice as an interface to technology.

The second issue is that SONOS don’t support rear speakers in a surround sound setup being comprised of 1x Play:1 and 1x SONOS One. They have to be both Play:1s, or both SONOS Ones. Yep, that’s annoying and potentially expensive, but the colour difference may be enough to mean that’s a bad idea anyway.

The SONOS One is available in 2 colours, black and white which should suit most home interior design colour palettes. Its designed to blend in, not stand out in colours that scream for attention, the SONOS One does its job more subtly than that, quietly confident at its (future) abilities. It wasn’t until I sat the One next to the Play:1 that I realised just how substantial the colour differences were. Where the Play:1 has a black, dark grey/metal finish on the speaker grill, the SONOS One is just black, jet black all over. Its a clean, stealthy look that combined with a smooth top is a nice iteration on an already solid design.

That design is essentially the body from SONOS’ cheapest speaker, the Play:1. Borrowing this design, rather than starting over, makes a lot of sense given how well this design works both in speaker quality, but also in aesthetics.  It also undoubtedly saved SONOS time and money in the engineering process. There are a few subtle changes, like the new capacity touch buttons on top and the new button at the back of the device. I had the black version for review, which I found is fairly susceptible fingerprints from oily fingers. If you’re speaker is somewhere we’re the top will be seen and interacted with (volume up/down/mute etc), then this is worth considering.

In terms of software, the SONOS One works just as another other SONOS device, just grab the app, tap add, follow the on-screen prompts to add the speaker and you’re away in a couple of minutes. The speaker can the be controlled via the app and grouped with other SONOS devices around the home, so you can take the party anywhere and everywhere.

Price and Availability

The SONOS One costs A$299.00 and is available globally October 24th, 2017.

Pre-orders start today at www.sonos.com.

Overall

This is a product that’s all about promise of future functionality if you buy in Australia. As long as Amazon do deliver Alexa and Google deliver Assistant, this will be the best option for a home voice assistant as it uniquely avoids the household having to decide on an ecosystem.

SONOS says Apple Airplay 2 is also coming in 2018, with no precise timeline, so again, its a bit of a leap of faith, while knowing you’re buying a solid connected speaker regardless.

Sonos owners in the US, UK and Germany also get voice with Amazon Alexa through a free software update to existing speakers. By not making their own voice assistant, SONOS are reliant on 3rd parties to deliver for them, lets hope this pans out well. To be honest, it wouldn’t suprise me if we see Microsoft’s Cortana join the party in 2018 as well.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.