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Hands-on with the new mobile Sonos apps

Michael Brown | March 26, 2014
A decade after entering the field, Sonos leads the multi-room audio market, thanks in large measure to software controllers that make its hardware exceedingly easy for consumers to install and operate. Now the company is preparing to ship its first from-the-ground-up redesign of those controllers. Most Sonos users will be happy with the changes.

A decade after entering the field, Sonos leads the multi-room audio market, thanks in large measure to software controllers that make its hardware exceedingly easy for consumers to install and operate. Now the company is preparing to ship its first from-the-ground-up redesign of those controllers. Most Sonos users will be happy with the changes.

I spent some time with a beta release of the Android and iOS versions last week. If you use an Android device to control your system, you can join the public beta program now by signing into your existing user account and following the instructions. iOS users will have to wait until later this spring, and Sonos won't update its desktop controller software for the Mac and PC until later this year. The new software will eventually be made available for Sono's legacy hardware controllers as well.

Search party

The single biggest change is to the app's search function. With the current controller software, searching for a track, artist, or album examines only your own library. If you want to query a music service you subscribe to — Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, and so on — you must switch to each of those services individually. With the new unified search, you get consolidated results from your own library and all the services you use.

Other changes revolve around the graphical user interface, but you needn't worry about relearning how to control your system. The basic play, pause, skip functions haven't changed much; other elements are now easier to find and use. The new versions also make much better use of the available screen real estate.

I installed the beta software on an HTC One smartphone running Android 4.4.2 (KitKat), as well as an iPod touch and an iPad 2 (both running iOS 7.1). On the iPad, the biggest change involves the Sonos menu (formerly labeled the Music menu) and the Player window (formerly labeled Playing Now); they're now displayed side by side, so that you no longer need to switch between the two. With the Android version running on the smaller screen of a smartphone (as shown above), you can slide the now-playing screen down to reveal the Sonos menu. (A small transport-control bar appears at the bottom of that screen.)

Clearing a few things up

Several important functions that were essentially hidden in the old app are now much easier to find — once you know where to look, that is. On the current apps, tapping the name of the next track in your queue reveals an overlay that displays the minutes the current track has played and how many minutes remain. Buttons for repeating the current track, toggling shuffle mode, and toggling crossfade mode are also located in this overlay. I'm sure many Sonos users never discovered these functions, because it's entirely unintuitive to expose them by tapping a song you're not even listening to.

 

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