AT A GLANCE
Typical Sonos build and sound quality
Alexa voice control
No hi-res audio
Sonos was slow to deliver a voice-controlled smart speaker, but with integrated Alexa (and Google Assistant arriving soon) in what amounts to a redesigned Play:1, they've created a nearly irresistible, low-cost intro to their wireless ecosystem.
The full impact of the home-based voice-actuated assistant, invented first by Amazon in the guise of Alexa, then followed by Google and now Apple with its Siri-driven HomePod, has yet to be felt. The category has loosely evolved into what we are now calling the "smart speaker," though it is not the speaker, but the microphone (or mic array) in conjunction with a network connection that imbues these devices with their extraordinary power. Sure, the speaker plays music, perhaps the simplest of its voice-controlled functions and (according to a recent study by NPR/Edison Research, the activity a smart speaker is still most frequently used for). But the opportunity presented by an artificially intelligent device that can respond to human language and trigger any number of events in our environment possesses extraordinary potential for transforming our lives. The fact that the most sophisticated of these voice interfaces to date, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, are offered in open, licensed platforms and being constantly advanced and promoted by two of the world's richest tech giants, suggests that we are on the verge of an explosion of innovation. The best is yet to come.