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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.

In the new versions, buttons for displaying your current song queue as well as toggling the shuffle and repeat-track modes show up beneath the volume control. An animated circle with three dots in its center delivers a graphical display of how much of the current track has played and how much remains.

Tap the circle, and the menu changes to a list of actions you can perform with the current track: Play Now, Play Next, Add to Queue, Replace Queue, Add Track to Sonos Favorites, Add Track to Sonos Playlist, View All Tracks on Album, Browse the Artist, and Share This Track.

That last function doesn't allow you to actually share the file containing the music; rather, you can compose a message about the track and send it via instant message or email on the iOS version. With the Android version, you can generate a message on Facebook, Twitter, and many other services. You'll also find buttons for crossfade toggling and activating the sleep timer here. (It's not exactly an intuitive location for those functions, but linking them to a button anywhere is better than than linking them to a song title.) 

If you want to add an entire album to your favorites list or to a Sonos playlist, you'll need to tap View All Tracks on Album, and then tap an icon to the right of the album title. This will call up an overlay window with those menu choices. (There is no option for sharing an entire album.) Here again, that's not as intuitive as the rest of the app, but I suspect fewer people treat entire albums the way they do individual songs.

Another element of the current Sonos app that consistently bugs me is that tapping the name of the room for a given Sonos player doesn't display a list of Sonos players in my other rooms, which would let me group them or otherwise control what they're playing. In fact, tapping those labels doesn't do anything at all.

In the new versions, tapping a room name brings up a list of all my Sonos players, with animated icons next to each one to indicate that they're currently playing something. These boxes also display the artist and track name along with a thumbnail of the album cover. (The whimsical icons that representing the rooms in the original apps have disappeared.)

Final thoughts

The new controller software looks nice and it does a much better job of exposing features. Aside from the new search functionality, though, I didn't find a lot of new features in either the Android or iOS versions. Don't expect to find improved AirPlay support, for instance — that would require hardware changes to be genuinely effective. Sonos says the new software will be available this spring, and I found both versions to be quite stable during the eight-plus hours I used them.

If you're an Android user, the new software is definitely worth a look. (And you can switch back to the old version if you don't like it.) Here's hoping the wait for the iOS version won't be long.

 

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