Thursday, January 20, 2011
Posted by Matthew Shanks in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 10:00 AM
Features & Performance continued
One of my favorite features of the controllers was the ability to set up Alarms, with a specific start time, volume, frequency and duration. A chime, radio station or playlist can be selected to play, and playlists can be shuffled. A specific zone or linked zones can be chosen. I found it very convenient to have a daily alarm set up on the weekdays to automatically turn on my favorite local radio station in the living room before the family came down for breakfast, and automatically turn off just before the family left the house for the day. An added benefit of radio alarms is that your computer does not have to be turned on to access internet radio.
Figure 4: Controller App - Music Menu View
The App definitely outshines the Desktop Controller in user interface and polish, and was my preferred method to browse and play music from my collection. The Now Playing screen will likely be the most utilized screen by users. It is well laid out and showcases the current track, next track, artist and album art, as well as providing easy access to the volume, queue, track controls, and zones. My only complaint is that it is not intuitive to access the play modes (shuffle, repeat and crossfade), and the track progress bar is not visible. The track title itself must be pressed to display these options and the current track progress bar, which can directly fast forward and rewind the track. It is not a major inconvenience to access these options, but my preference would be for Sonos to allow users to configure the Now Playing screen to suit their needs. Overall though, I found the app to be easy to navigate and the controls very intuitive, with the exception of adding music to the queue.
Figure 5: Controller App - Now Playing View
Users that enjoy viewing their album art as part of their music collections, and those that have a portion of their collections as purchased iTunes music may encounter some issues with the Sonos controllers. I routinely had issues displaying album art on the controllers that I verified was visible in iTunes. Even after multiple indexing efforts, album art still wasn't visible in either controller. It may be due to how album art is added to my iTunes library, but in my time with the ZonePlayer, I could not resolve the issue. Sonos Technical support may have some insight for users looking to ensure all their album art is viewable. One downside of the Sonos controllers is their inability to play Apple DRM (protected) music that users have purchased from the iTunes store. Apple's iTunes store offers upgrades for many of its DRM songs that users may have purchased prior to the availability of DRM-free versions. The issue that I had with my library was that many of my purchased music cannot be upgraded to DRM-free versions, and therefore cannot be accessed and played on the ZonePlayer. An inconvenient but effective workaround to this issue is to burn CDs of the DRM songs that you want accessible to the Sonos controllers, and re-import them back into iTunes as unprotected music. Upon re-indexing the music library, the controllers will be able to access the music and you can then uncheck the songs in iTunes to prevent duplicates from syncing with any iPods.