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Sonos One (Gen 2) review: AirPlay 2 with Amazon and Google assistants make this a rocking speaker Review

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Smart speakers are slowly replacing tablets at home
Tablet sales are in gradual decline as smart speakers continue to rocket ahead, according to analyst predictions.

For years I’ve heard people express their love for the Sonos speaker system in their homes and offices, yet I kept on using various evolutions of Bluetooth speakers since I thought they were good enough for me. I’ve also outfitted my house with Google Home and Amazon Echo devices that have satisfied my listening and voice assistant needs. However, after spending a couple of weeks with a second generation Sonos One, I may be adding Sonos speakers to my Christmas wish list.

A couple times a year I receive emails regarding Sonos speakers and I finally reached out to see if I could test one for myself Sonos speaker for a few weeks. Sonos sent along one of its newer second generation Sonos One speakers and I now understand why people spend thousands outfitting their homes with Sonos.

My experience with Sonos has been a good one, but not perfect. The support for AirPlay 2, the ability to choose Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and convenience of streaming from nearly every service are benefits I can appreciate. The sound quality of the Sonos One is better than any other Bluetooth speaker or smart speaker I have tried, but I also read that the expensive Apple HomePod and Google Home Max sound better. For the price, it looks like you can’t find a better sounding speaker with this much included functionality.

Also: Ultimate Ears myBOOM 3 speaker hands-on: Thousands of ways to customize an outstanding audio experience

This second generation Sonos One speaker is nearly the same as the first generation with an improved processor, more memory, and Bluetooth Low Energy, but the Bluetooth is not used for streaming audio to the speaker. Sonos recently announced the $179 Sonos One SL that is the same as the Sonos One without a microphone and thus no assistant support, along with the $399 Sonos Move that lets you take your Sonos experience on the go while also adding the capability to stream to the Sonos from your phone via a Bluetooth connection.

Specifications

  • Amplifier: Two Class-D digital amplifiers
  • Speakers: One mid-woofer and one tweeter
  • Materials: Aluminum watch case and buckle with flexible Classic band
  • Connectivity: 802.11 b/g WiFi, Bluetooth Low Energy, ethernet
  • Dimensions: 161.45 x 119.7 x 119.7 mm and 1.85 kilograms (4.08 pounds)

Hardware

The speaker is all black with a matte black grille. It’s quite heavy for its size at just over four pounds. This heft is fine though as it helps keep the speaker in place when plugged in and set on a table.

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There are no hardware buttons on the top, but touch sensitive areas that you can tap and swipe on to control the speaker physically. There are four buttons around the outside for volume down, volume up, and microphone toggle so you can turn off the mic and voice assistant control quickly and easily. A center button serves to play/pause while a swipe across the middle lets you skip ahead or back a track.

Bass output was a bit weaker than I hoped, but I tried out the other speakers I have around the house and the Sonos One still sounds the best overall. I only tested one speaker so the audio experience was a bit limited. With two speakers in the same space, you can setup a true stereo experience that I am sure would satisfy most music fans.

Sonos smartphone app

The Sonos smartphone app, available for Android and iOS, has the same interface on each platform and is used to setup the speaker. Surprisingly, I had unresolvable issues with my iPhone XS and could not get the Sonos One setup. I tried an Android phone, the OnePlus 7 Pro, and was able to get the Sonos One connected to the proper WiFi network with a selected smart assistant to try out first.

The smartphone app has five icons at the bottom labeled My Sonos, Browse, Rooms, Search, and Settings. When you are playing content a status bar of this content appears above the five labels for quick control of your playback.

The My Sonos page shows recently played content by default so you can quickly jump to different services and content you played. The Browse page lets you select one of the music services you have setup and then jump into an interface for that provider to find and play music.

The rooms page was not that useful for me since I only have this evaluation unit on hand. If you have multiple speakers in various rooms then you can see what is playing on those speakers and control those speakers from within the app. The search page lets you search for artists, songs, albums, playlists, stations, genres, and podcasts. I did not use this page much since I remained within Spotify and in AirPlay mode for most of my testing.

Within settings you will find your account login, system settings, services (voice and music), app preferences, help & tips, and more. You will want to dive in deeper to the system settings area since that is where you fully customize the speaker experience with AirPlay setup, alarms, audio compression, network, music library, and much more.

CNET: Sonos One review: Alexa and Google Assistant never sounded so good

Even though I’ve been using Apple iPhones since 2007, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I never used AirPlay or really explored the functionality. Given that the Sonos One has Apple AirPlay 2 support, I finally tried it out and my eyes have been opened to a whole new world. With AirPlay 2 support you can have music and podcasts from your iOS device play to the Sonos One. This includes using Siri through your iOS device to control your music too.

I subscribe to about 20 podcasts and listen to various audio shows daily since I commute more than two hours roundtrip each day to the office. With the Sonos One, I can easily continue to play and enjoy my podcasts on a fabulous sounding speaker in my home office. I can even use the Sonos app on an Android phone to control playback of content from an iOS device through Apple AirPlay.

In addition to AirPlay 2 support, Sonos offers iOS users the ability to fine tune the Sonos One for your room through its Trueplay utility. Simply tap the Settings>System tab in the Sonos app on your iOS device and then tap on the speaker you wish to tune. Scroll down this settings page until you see Trueplay under the Sound settings. Follow the Trueplay wizard that will have you rotate our iPhone so the mic faces outward and then wander slowly all around the room waving your iPhone up and down as a laser-like pulsating tone emanates from the Sonos One. You can still adjust the equalizer settings on your iPhone after tuning too.

While you can control our music from your phones and have it play on the Sonos One, you can also select to have either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant enabled on the Sonos One to serve as an audio-focused assistant. You cannot have both of these assistants enabled at the same time, but you can switch between them easily with a couple minutes of setup.

Amazon Alexa setup worked flawlessly for me on iOS and Android devices, but I had some issues getting Google Assistant to function through my iPhone XS for some reason. Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent time using both assistants on the Sonos One. Since I have so many other Google Home devices sprinkled around my house and like the functionality of Google Assistant, I wanted to use it as the assistant on the Sonos One, but it’s not behaving as well as I want at this time. If you have multiple Sonos speakers in your office or home you can customize the assistant for each individual speaker and have multiple assistants on a single system. You currently cannot group the Sonos One with your other Google Home speakers so I moved the preferred assistant on the Sonos One back to Amazon Alexa.

One strange problem I am having with Google Assistant on Sonos is asking Google to play music through Spotify. It acknowledges my request and Spotify connection, but then states, “Sorry, I can’t help with that yet.” I can launch Spotify on my devices and have it stream to the Sonos One so I have to continue to investigate what the problem is here.

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With Amazon selected as the assistant, Alexa keeps telling me it cannot skip forward when asked so again I have to manually skip with my phone or swipe on top of the speaker to jump ahead.

Unlike dedicated smart speakers from Amazon and Google, the Sonos One is first a music-focused speaker. Thus, there are some limitations with Alexa and Google Assistant on the Sonos One. The limitations are primarily associated with calling and messaging capability. However, most functions from both platforms are supported and since my family uses the Broadcast function on Google Assistant as an intercom system that’s key to its functionality for me.

Check out the full list of music services supported by Sonos to see there is virtually no limitation on what you can play on the Sonos One. The most common services in the US include Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, TIDAL, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Deezer, and more.

Conclusions

The Sonos One (Gen 2) is available now in black or white for $199. You won’t find the ability to stream via Bluetooth or a connected 3.5mm audio cable with WiFi streaming the only method for music streaming. With the Sonos focus on music first and a desire for a high quality audio experience I understand that WiFi may provide this higher level for audio quality.

Not sure why I had such an issue setting up the speaker with an iPhone, but it was quick and easy with an Android phone. I’m disappointed by some of the issues with Alexa and Google, but I don’t use these assistants as much as I could and it is easy enough to use my phones to control music playback.

I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the Sonos One and at $199 it may be the best sounding speaker you can find for this price. I think the Sonos One SL may be a better option for me since it provides all the greatness of the Sonos One without the wireless assistants for $20 less. With Google Home minis littered around my house since Google gave them away with other purchases, I have no problem keeping them around for assistant functionality with Sonos speakers provide a higher quality audio experience.

The outstanding audio performance of the Sonos One actually had me thinking more about possibly purchasing a Google Home Max for my office since I experienced limitations with both the Amazon and Google assistants on the Sonos and have a home filled primarily with Google Home speakers. Then again, the AirPlay 2 capability of the Sonos One was awesome and I’m confident Sonos updates will fix some of the issues I’ve had with the assistants so a Sonos may soon be on my wish list.



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Facebook will pay $650 million to settle class action suit centered on Illinois privacy law – TechCrunch

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Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million Friday for running afoul of an Illinois law designed to protect the state’s residents from invasive privacy practices.

That law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), is a powerful state measure that’s tripped up tech companies in recent years. The suit against Facebook was first filed in 2015, alleging that Facebook’s practice of tagging people in photos using facial recognition without their consent violated state law.

Indeed, 1.6 million Illinois residents will receive at least $345 under the final settlement ruling in California federal court. The final number is $100 million higher than the $550 million Facebook proposed in 2020, which a judge deemed inadequate. Facebook disabled the automatic facial recognition tagging features in 2019, making it opt-in instead and addressing some of the privacy criticisms echoed by the Illinois class action suit.

A cluster of lawsuits accused Microsoft, Google and Amazon of breaking the same law last year after Illinois residents’ faces were used to train their facial recognition systems without explicit consent.

The Illinois privacy law has tangled up some of tech’s giants, but BIPA has even more potential to impact smaller companies with questionable privacy practices. The controversial facial recognition software company Clearview AI now faces its own BIPA-based class action lawsuit in the state after the company failed to dodge the suit by pushing it out of state courts.

A $650 million settlement would be enough to crush any normal company, though Facebook can brush it off much like it did with the FTC’s record-setting $5 billion penalty in 2019. But the Illinois law isn’t without teeth. For Clearview, it was enough to make the company pull out of business in the state altogether.

The law can’t punish a behemoth like Facebook in the same way, but it is one piece in a regulatory puzzle that poses an increasing threat to the way tech’s data brokers have done business for years. With regulators at the federal, state and legislative level proposing aggressive measures to rein in tech, the landmark Illinois law provides a compelling framework that other states could copy and paste. And if big tech thinks navigating federal oversight will be a nightmare, a patchwork of aggressive state laws governing how tech companies do business on a state-by-state basis is an alternate regulatory future that could prove even less palatable.

 

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Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations – TechCrunch

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Twitter announced Monday that it would begin injecting new labels into users’ timelines to push back against misinformation that could disrupt the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The labels, which will also appear as pop-up messages in the retweet window, are the company’s latest product experiment designed to shape behavior on the platform for the better.

The company will attach notices to tweeted misinformation warning users that the content “may be misleading” and linking out to vetted public health information. These initial vaccine misinformation sweeps, which begin today, will be conducted by human moderators at Twitter and not automated moderation systems.

Twitter says the goal is to use these initial determinations to train its AI systems so that down the road a blend of human and automated efforts will scan the site for vaccine misinformation. The latest misinformation measure will target tweets in English before expanding.

Twitter also introduced a new strike system for violations of its pandemic-related rules. The new system is modeled after a set of consequences it implemented for voter suppression and voting-related misinformation. Within that framework, a user with two or three “strikes” faces a 12-hour account lockout. With four violations, they lose account access for one week, with permanent suspension looming after five strikes.

Twitter introduced its first pandemic-specific policies a year ago, banning tweets promoting false treatment or prevention claims along with any content that could put people at higher risk of spreading COVID-19. In December, Twitter added new rules focused on popular vaccine conspiracy theories and announced that warning labels were on the way.

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Facebook launches BARS, a TikTok-like app for creating and sharing raps – TechCrunch

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Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is today launching its next experimental app, called BARS. The app makes it possible for rappers to create and share their raps using professionally created beats, and is the NPE Team’s second launch in the music space following its recent public debut of music video app Collab.

While Collab focuses on making music with others online, BARS is instead aimed at would-be rappers looking to create and share their own videos. In the app, users will select from any of the hundreds of professionally created beats, then write their own lyrics and record a video. BARS can also automatically suggest rhymes as you’re writing out lyrics, and offers different audio and visual filters to accompany videos as well as an autotune feature.

There’s also a “Challenge mode” available, where you can freestyle with auto-suggested word cues, which has more of a game-like element to it. The experience is designed to be accommodating to people who just want to have fun with rap, similar to something like Smule’s AutoRap, perhaps, which also offers beats for users’ own recordings.

Image Credits: Facebook

The videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length and can then be saved to your Camera Roll or shared out on other social media platforms.

Like NPE’s Collab, the pandemic played a role in BARS’ creation. The pandemic shut down access to live music and places where rappers could experiment, explains NPE Team member DJ Iyler, who also ghostwrites hip-hop songs under the alias “D-Lucks.”

“I know access to high-priced recording studios and production equipment can be limited for aspiring rappers. On top of that, the global pandemic shut down live performances where we often create and share our work,” he says.

BARS was built with a team of aspiring rappers, and today launched into a closed beta.

Image Credits: Facebook

Despite the focus on music, and rap in particular, the new app in a way can be seen as yet another attempt by Facebook to develop a TikTok competitor — at least in this content category.

TikTok has already become a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians, including rappers; it has helped rappers test their verses, is favored by many beatmakers and is even influencing what sort of music is being made. Diss tracks have also become a hugely popular format on TikTok, mainly as a way for influencers to stir up drama and chase views. In other words, there’s already a large social community around rap on TikTok, and Facebook wants to shift some of that attention back its way.

The app also resembles TikTok in terms of its user interface. It’s a two-tabbed vertical video interface — in its case, it has  “Featured” and “New” feeds instead of TikTok’s “Following” and “For You.” And BARS places the engagement buttons on the lower-right corner of the screen with the creator name on the lower-left, just like TikTok.

However, in place of hearts for favoriting videos, your taps on a video give it “Fire” — a fire emoji keeps track. You can tap “Fire” as many times as you want, too. But because there’s (annoyingly) no tap-to-pause feature, you may accidentally “fire” a video when you were looking for a way to stop its playback. To advance in BARS, you swipe vertically, but the interface is lacking an obvious “Follow” button to track your favorite creators. It’s hidden under the top-right three-dot menu.

The app is seeded with content from NPE Team members, which includes other aspiring rappers, former music producers and publishers.

Currently, the BARS beta is live on the iOS App Store in the U.S., and is opening its waitlist. Facebook says it will open access to BARS invites in batches, starting in the U.S. Updates and news about invites, meanwhile, will be announced on Instagram.

Facebook’s recent launches from its experimental apps division include Collab and collage maker E.gg, among others. Not all apps stick around. If they fail to gain traction, Facebook shuts them down — as it did last year with the Pinterest-like video app Hobbi.

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