updated 12:55 pm EDT, Tue April 19, 2011
Sonos AirPlay and Android intro with test
Sonos on Tuesday rolled out two major supported updates at once. Audio devices like the ZonePlayer S5 can now pipe audio through AirPlay using an indirect route. Wiring up an AirPort Express to a Sonos device through Ethernet and the line-in jack will let any AirPlay audio go through a ZonePlayer as though it were another source on the network.
The release works with any iOS 4.2 or 4.3 app that supports AirPlay as well as iTunes 10.2 on Macs and Windows PCs.
The Android app (free, Android Market) is a direct equivalent to the iOS version and allows control over the same local collections, Internet radio, and online services as on its Apple equivalent or the desktop. Listeners need to have at least an Android 2.1 phone with a 320x480, 480x800, or 480x854 screen along with version 3.4 of the desktop software.
We had the opportunity to try both. AirPlay setup isn't exceedingly difficult, but definitely feels like a workaround for devices that don't have native support. Along with needing to own an AirPort Express -- a $99 outlay -- you also need to have a male-to-male line input cable. Using Ethernet also means you're disabling the wireless support, so Apple's router will only be useful for the Sonos link and any USB printers plugged in.
Still, once set up, the system works exactly like you'd expect with any other AirPlay device; the only catch is needing to tell the Sonos player to use the line-in jack. It won't work for anything that depends on lag-free response; apps such as Djay for iPad can't be used for live mixes, for example. With the built-in music app and Internet radio sources, though, Sonos' arrangement works well and has a relatively short gap between input and the result.
The Android app is very nearly a carbon copy of the iPhone version, though that's not necessarily a bad thing given the direct, if sometimes too menu-heavy layout. We most liked that the app can tie its music playback controls directly to the hardware buttons on a phone, which isn't an option on iOS. It mapped the volume controls on our HTC Incredible S to those on the device itself, and on phones with more dedicated controls should allow pausing or skipping.