Alexa isn’t perfect on the Sonos One, but that’s okay.


Alexa isn’t perfect on the Sonos One, but that’s…

Unlike categories like camera gear, smart home toys or even phone accessories, the primary thing I consider before buying audio gadgets isn’t whether I’ll get enough use out of it. It’s a pretty simple test to look at my scuffed up AirPods or dented QC35s to know that I will.

I’ve had my eye on the Sonos One for a while now. Before this, I used an Echo Dot hooked up to an old iHome phone dock, but that was a setup that prioritized first-party Alexa functionality over audio quality.

I’ve had my eye on the Sonos One for a while now. Before this, I used an Echo Dot hooked up to an old iHome phone dock, but that was a setup that prioritized first-party Alexa functionality over audio quality.

My priorities went the other way, especially since I rarely venture outside a select few weather, traffic and smart lighting queries.

The release of a second generation One ended up being what had me pull the trigger on it. With the only differences being the addition of Bluetooth LE and a faster processor, the refresh currently isn’t functionally different from its predecessor.

I ended up choosing to skip the $20 discount on the first generation because in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a high price to pay for a longer support lifetime.

But at the moment, everything I say here will apply to both generations.

On paper at least, the Sonos One seems to be all things to all people. Alexa retains (most of) her capabilities as on Echo devices, and you also get Sonos’s decade plus of audio engineering experience. Although it’s already been heavily delayed, there’s still the promised arrival of Google Assistant this year.

Practically speaking, most of those promises remains true, with audio quality being the big one.

Despite having the footprint of about a box of tissues, the One packs a remarkable punch. Even at <10% volume, the speaker comfortably fills my entire room with sound. When you set it up, there’s also a process where you use your phone’s onboard mics to tune the One to the acoustics of your particular environment.

I’m repeating what most other reviews of Sonos systems are saying, but overall I’ve been very happy with the clean, punchy and well-balanced audio of the One.

Side note, this speaker has one of the nicest unboxing experiences I’ve seen in a while. It’s literally wrapped in a cloth satchel inside the box. But then again, for a $200 device, it better be pretty flippin’ exciting.

At least on the music side, the software experience has also been pretty good. I can initiate and control playback from Alexa, the Sonos app or any instance of Spotify. It’s remarkably straightforward, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise given how much Sonos prides itself on what it calls a “continuity of control.

That means that Sonos has made it incredibly easy to use the One as a speaker, and use it a lot. I’m never more than a few clicks, taps or a shout to Alexa away from putting a song on, and that’s been great. I love music, and I love music that sounds good.

Where things start to fall apart is with Alexa. Make no mistake, it works most of the time. But unfortunately, most of the time isn’t enough at this point. Especially as modern gadgets often have more than one pathway of control, Alexa needs to work ALL the time to prevent me from just pulling out my phone and doing it that way.

Here’s just a quick list of inconsistencies/niggles that I’ve experienced on the One’s copy of Alexa and not on my echo dot:

  1. When I ask for the weather, Alexa gets cut off one syllable into her response, meaning I have to ask again.
  2. I have a routine set up where “Alexa, good morning” gives me the weather and traffic to campus. 90% of the time I get the phrase “audio actions and routines are currently not supported on this device” at some point during the response, despite my routine very clearly working.
  3. Noticeably decreased microphone sensitivity. What’s the point of whisper mode if I have to to whisper yell? This also means I have to be a lot more deliberate with my commands.
  4. For reasons that escape me, the Alexa companion app treats the One as both an Alexa device and a speaker. Also, the Alexa app occasionally doesn’t even show the One in the alarms menu.
  5. No compatibility with Alexa accessories, such as Jessica, my Big Mouth Billy Bass. This is more of Amazon’s fault for restricting things to first-party offerings, but still. Sad!

In the end, however, those things arguably shouldn’t matter to the One’s target audience. For them, virtual assistants are less of an essential ingredient in their audio setup and more of a cherry on top.

People buying in to the Sonos ecosystem are the ones who are looking for excellent sound quality and the ability to set up multi room audio. I can’t comment on the latter, but I’m happy enough with how the One sounds that so long as Alexa works well enough (which she does), the fact that she’s there at all is a bonus.

This post will very likely be updated whenever Google Assistant gets added.

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