Are you, like I am, tired of fighting with your sluggish and ill-behaved laptop computer? Are you fed up with juggling multiple remote controls when switching between Pandora, the radio, and your personal music library? When you get home from work and all you want to do is unwind to some relaxing tunes, the last thing you want to do is battle with temperamental technology. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, waiting for the solution to our (very) common problem, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. There’s just no other way to say it: the SONOS Controller for iPad makes music fun again.
Like many home automation and home entertainment apps for iPad, the SONOS Controller for iPad is a free download from Apple’s App Store. Before you get too excited though, let’s be clear about something. The SONOS Controller for iPad is, as its name implies, a control application for use with the SONOS music system. This means you need to be running at least one SONOS zone player before you can get in on the fun. Otherwise this elegant and intuitive iPad app will be as useful to you as a remote car starter is to someone who doesn’t own a car.
The System at a Glance
Much like Apple’s approach to technology, simplicity and ease-of-use are the cornerstones of the SONOS music system. Before getting to the iPad app, it may help some of you to understand what’s involved in setting up a SONOS system. The SONOS system is comprised of at least one “zone player” coupled with software that gets loaded onto your Mac or PC. Depending on whether or not you plan to use your own amplifier and/or speakers, SONOS offers no fewer than four different zone players. Pick one, pick three, mix and match, it’s your call. The SONOS players are built to play nice with one another – and for every player you add, that’s one more room in your house that gets to join the party.
The ZonePlayer 120 features amplification and provides a gateway to SONOS’ peer-to-peer wireless mesh network – just add speakers. The less expensive ZonePlayer 90 lacks amplification and simply acts as another source device for your existing stereo. Rounding out the bunch are the Play:5 and the recently-introduced Play:3, two all-in-one speaker/zone player combination devices. A hard wire connection to your router is only required in one location, but if logistics make that impossible, SONOS offers the Bridge, a wireless access point which gives you the freedom to place all of your ZonePlayers in remote locations, no network cables required.
Bigger is Better
For the same reason a big kitchen is handy during a party, the iPad version of SONOS’ music controller app is an absolute pleasure to use. Although the iPhone and Android smartphone versions of SONOS’ app are certainly functional, they inevitably suffer from the cramped confines of a 2 inch-wide screen; after all, there’s only so much you can fit on a screen that small while still providing large enough tap areas for fingers. In comparison, the iPad’s screen area – measuring just under 8 inches wide when held in landscape mode – feels spacious and downright luxurious.
SONOS makes excellent use of the iPad’s added screen real estate, giving you the ability to view your Zone Menu, the Now Playing module, and your Music Menu simultaneously in one 3-column interface (in landscape mode). Controls are intuitively laid out and browsing your personal music library and imported playlists is simple fun, thanks in part to the A-Z shortcut column which you can drag your finger along for fast jumps to your desired letter of the alphabet.
One interface quirk I did encounter had to do with zone grouping. By way of example, pretend you have three zones called “Kitchen,” “Living Room,” and “Basement.” Let’s say you’re listening to Pandora in the kitchen and living room, but now you want to add the basement to the mix when your party moves downstairs. Next to each zone on the Zone Menu, SONOS gives you a button called “Group,” which when pushed, brings up a grouping box with intuitive checkboxes to select the zones you wish to combine. Sounds simple enough, right?
It is simple, yes, provided you push the “Group” button beside the Kitchen/Living Room zone and not the “Group” button beside the Basement zone. Whereas pushing the former has the desired effect, causing your upstairs tunes to be shared with the downstairs, pushing the latter brings the basement scene (i.e. total silence) upstairs, thereby bringing your music to an abrupt stop. And if you were listening to Pandora or some other streaming music, good luck resuming the song where you left off.
Being a software developer, I can understand the SONOS app’s behavior, but it seems as though an “if-then” test needs to be added to the mix: IF you’re grouping two zones, where one zone is actively playing music and the other is not, THEN you should always send the music to the quiet zone rather than send the quiet to the active zone. Until SONOS makes this recommended tweak, you’ll just have to train yourself which “Group” button to click if you want to keep the music pumping. Also, the larger iPad screen offers plenty of room for a “Party Mode” button in the Zone Menu. It would be handy if you could quickly link all zones at the touch of one button. If only one zone is playing, use that music. If multiple zones are in use, ask me which zone should host the party.
Don’t mistake my grouping nitpicks as anything more than constructive criticism. In truth, the aforementioned grouping quirk was the only issue I could uncover after hours of fun-filled use and I have no doubt that SONOS will appreciate the feedback as they prepare future app updates.
Providing fast and easy access to your personal music library while offering tight, seamlesss integration with streaming services such as Pandora, AUPEO, Rdio, MOG, Napster, Spotify Premium, and others, the SONOS Music Controller for iPad is a phenomenally versatile and endlessly entertaining app that’s guaranteed to be a hit at parties. If you’re already running SONOS hardware, but you don’t yet own an iPad, this might just be the excuse you’ve been waiting for. Highly recommended. (Editor’s note: the Android tablet app for Sonos is essentially the same as the iPad app, and works just as well, with the same “group” quirk.)
Read a review of the new Sonos PLAY:3 Music speaker here.