It’s finally happened! During a flurry of smart home announcements over the past two weeks, Sonos launched a new product, the Sonos One, and an Alexa skill allowing you to control your Sonos speakers with any Echo device. While the Sonos One is only available for pre-order at the time of this post, the Alexa skill is available to all in a public beta.
I have spent the past week testing the skill and I am happy to say that on the whole it does almost everything I want it to do with one MASSIVE exception.
First, the positives. Once you have the skill set up and make sure your Sonos devices and groups have been discovered in the Alexa app, controlling your Sonos speakers via Alexa works flawlessly. For anyone used to using an Echo to control a Bluetooth speaker, it’s very similar functionality. Since I have an Echo or Echo Dot in almost every room, but only one Sonos speaker, I can easily change the song or station by voice from anywhere in the house without interference from the speaker playing the music.
My minor gripes are that playback is currently limited to just Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, SeriusXM and iHeartRadio. I primarily use Pandora and Amazon Music so I’m happy, but Spotify fans are predictably shitting themselves that support for Spotify wont be released for another month or so. Also setting this up was a bit of a chore, and I can see many less tech savvy people screaming at their phones while trying to get it working. Another minor complaint is that when I interact with any of my Echo devices while music is playing through Sonos speakers, it lowers the volume on the Sonos while Alexa is talking on a completely different device. These are relatively minor issues and I’m sure that they will be addressed along with many others when the full version is released.
Finally, my major complaint is something that many of us had been lead to believe was coming this whole time: The ability to play synced music through both Sonos and Echo speakers AT THE SAME TIME!!! The feature just isn’t there. From what I’ve found out, it probably won’t be for a while, if at all. I must have wasted two hours removing my Sonos and rediscovering it, looking for firmware updates, reading documentation, trying to re-create Alexa groups, all before finally realizing there is no way to play synced music through a mix of the two brands of speakers at the same time. You can have Echo groups, you can have Sonos groups, but you can’t have both together. This is mind blowing given that Alexa is the unifying platform that I use to connect my Hue, Wemo and Insteon lights. These aren’t just competing products, they use three different standards of communication, and Alexa helps them work in perfect harmony. I can only hope that this is just a feature that’s being held back, otherwise I am severely disappointed in this partnership.
Overall, I have to say that this is a step in the right direction for both Amazon and Sonos, but until I can play audio through both Echo and Sonos devices at the same time it’s not as useful a feature as I would like it to be. That said, it’s easy to complain about the free features that keep getting added to both Amazon and Sonos products, but the truth is that I bought both of these products on a whim years ago and they have only gotten better over time. I have never been able to say that about any electronic device I’ve ever owned.