Tag Archives: Hardware

How to add Bluetooth audio to your car for under $20

bluetooth-logoIf you are like me, you like listening to content from your phone or MP3 player in your car while traveling. If you don’t have built-in Bluetooth in your car, there are several options for adding it. You can use a cassette adapter (if your car has a cassette deck), an 8mm audio cable (basically a headphone jack, if your car supports it), you can listen through an FM transmitter, or you can listen straight through the device if your device has decent speakers.

In my car I have an audio jack. This method works great, but I hate have to use the cable to go from my phone to the jack. It just gets in the way of everything.

I am happy to report there is another solution for those of us with an audio jack in the car that can be purchased for under $20: the Zehui Wireless Car Bluetooth Music Receiver. It’s a small Bluetooth receiver that plugs into the audio jack (yes, your device has to have Bluetooth for this to work). These devices play the audio from your phone or music player through your car speakers without being hindered by a cable!

I am guessing this is a generic product because Amazon carries several items under different brand names with identical pictures, so I just settled on the cheapest one. There are other name brands that are more money and look different, but I figured I’d try the cheaper route first.

Image screenshot from Amazon.com product listing
Image screenshot from Amazon.com product listing

Surprisingly, this little device works great! It is a little tricky to figure out how it works, especially since the instructions were awful, but once I got it going it is a great addition to my car. Best of all it has a very small footprint. It is about 1″ x 2″ and just sticks right out of the jack in my car. I turn it on when I want to use it and it connects right to my iPhone. The sound quality is great and I can control the volume through the phone or the car. The battery life is at least eight hours.

My family recently took a vacation which involved three hours in the car each direction. My son sat in the back watching the iPad and listening through the car speakers. No more annoying cable from the iPad to the front of the car.

Like I said earlier, there are other brands for more money, but why spend it if you don’t have to? This little device is a great addition to any car with an audio jack. If you have an audio jack in your car and a bluetooth capable device I highly recommend checking out a Bluetooth audio receiver for your vehicle. You’ll be happy you did.

Improve your writing productivity with a physical iPad keyboard

revue-keyboard

Do you need a physical keyboard for your iPad? That is the question I have been debating for myself for a while now. I write for this site and a few others, and I am often writing the articles for all of these sites on my iPad. I have always typed directly on the iPad screen and never used a physical keyboard. However, when I type a lot on the iPad keyboard I find I frequently make typographical errors. I was hoping a keyboard might fix that.

I recently discovered the new trend of thin keyboards that double as an iPad cover, like the Logitech Ultrathin iPad keyboard that many people are raving about. The Logitech keyboard is pretty pricey ($100 retail) and I did not want to spend that much money on something I may or may not like and use.

I started shopping for similar keyboards and found many that started at $20 and up. I then decided to search eBay and found similar pricing results – generic keyboards for about $20, and the price went up from there. I searched for keyboards and found a Luvitt like-new keyboard at auction for less than $20. I researched the keyboard and found it retailed for over $100, although it sells for about $80, so I put in a bid and ended up winning it. I was thrilled; I got a decent keyboard that got great reviews for under $20. In fact, I am typing this article with it right now.

This particular style of keyboard is a lot smaller than a standard keyboard, but I prefer its portability. I’ve found myself making typos because I am still to getting used to the smaller keyboard and having certain keys (like the right shift key) in a different spot. However, I really do like typing on the keyboard versus the screen for something like an article. The keyboard also has arrow keys for moving around the text easily. It has other function like volume control, cut and paste, a home button, and more. It really does change typing on the iPad when you have a “real” keyboard.

luvvit

Should every iPad owner get a keyboard? No.

The keyboard is not for everyone, especially if you use the iPad on your lap. The type of keyboard I am using does not work on your lap. The iPad would fall out because it has to be used on a table top surface to stay balance in the system it uses. For the casual user, I’d say stick to the on-screen keyboard. That is what I plan on doing 90% of the time when I am not typing something like an article. However, if you do a lot of typing on the iPad I would say a keyboard will significantly improve your productivity. This can be a small keyboard or a full size keyboard – the choice depends on your preferences and how you plan on transporting it.

The iPad with a physical keyboard is a nice combination, but not for everyone. It can help with productivity for some and be a waste of money for others.

How to build a custom desktop computer, Part 2: The Processor

This article is part of a series on building your own custom desktop PC.

Building your own desktop PC is viewed by many as a difficult task. There are many things you need to consider before you set out to build your own machine, so in order to help you and simplify the task, I will try to cover each major component. Today we start with choosing the best processor for a desktop PC.

The two big companies that are fighting in this market are AMD and Intel. Both companies have certain advantages to their respective products and this is where your first choice already starts out. In order to eliminate or reduce any arguments between Intel and AMD processor enthusiasts, I will simply talk about your decision to buy any of the above mentioned processor brands.

Now the first thing you should do is think about the budget you have available for your system. If you are running on a small budget, chances are than an AMD processor will go better with your system. The company’s Piledriver microarchitecture processors have come out just recently and we can see some rather impressive specifications for those models. Not only that, but the top of the line model is also quite cheap at around $195.

The AMD FX8350 processor is an 8-core monster
The AMD FX8350 processor is an 8-core monster

Image via AMD.com

This new series from AMD provides you with four new processors to choose from, the AMD FX-4300, FX-6300, FX-8320 and the FX-8350. The first number will let you know how many cores you are working with and you can get them for $122, $132, $169 or $195 respectively. Note that all of these processors do come with unlocked multipliers, which will allow you to overclock them, but we will cover that further on in another article covering the best cooling for desktop computers.

By choosing any of those processors or any processors from the previous series, the one’s based on the Bulldozer microarchitecture, you are going to already set yourself up for an AM3+ based motherboard. These have rather low price tags as well, so building a powerful PC can be quite cheap and you can get quite a lot of power out of it. The big downside is that Windows 7 still has problems with using the 8-core processors from AMD, which brings major downsides in terms of performance, making these somewhat lacking compared to similarly priced Intel models.

In case your budget allows you to go a bit higher, then Intel’s new Ivy Bridge lineup is the one to opt for. The differences in performance when compared to their Sandy Bridge series are small, the biggest one being the TDP of the processor. The TDP refers to the Thermal Design Power and measures the maximum amount of heat a cooling system needs to dissipate. The new Ivy Bridge has a TDP of 77 Watts, making it more energy-efficient and cooler than its AMD FX or Intel Sandy Bridge counterparts.

The company has a wide array of processors in this lineup released this year and you can safely mount any of these processors even on motherboards that used Sandy Bridge processors. The processor socket for these models is Intel’s LGA 1155. Prices are respectable here as well, but we will discuss choosing the best motherboard for your desktop PC later.

Choosing the right CPU

In order to choose the right CPU for you, you should first think about what you will be using it for.

In order to choose the right CPU for you, you should first think about what you will be using it for. If you plan to do a bit of work, some multimedia and maybe the occasional casual game, then a dual-core processor from Intel or an entry-level quad-core from AMD should easily handle the job. These can generally be purchased for around $100, sometimes more, sometimes less, but this depends on retailer just as much as it does on the product itself.

If you want to throw some more work at your machine or if you want to get some gaming on as well, going for a quad-core or six-core processor is preferred. Again, if you have the money, I do recommend Intel’s i5 processor series, which packs quite a lot of punch. Alternatively, with a lower budget, a six-core from AMD should do the trick just as well.

Now the top of the line should be reserved for those systems that will have to work for their owners. We are talking about users that might want to go for some video editing, graphical editing, hardcore gaming, overclocking, video streaming or recording. All these tasks require powerful CPUs, so investing into a high-end model is required if not mandatory. As an example, using Xsplit to record Starcraft 2 at 20 frames per second, quality set to 8 with *.mp4 file output, sound and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, will chew about 35-45 percent of an Intel Core i5 2400 quad-core processor.

Of course these are very rough measurements and many things factor in, but if a simple recording in full HD at 20 fps requires that much power, then add running the game in the background, maybe an open website, an open IM application and things start piling up quickly.

Intel Core i7 Extreme Series
Intel’s Extreme Series processors is a force to be reckoned

Image via Intel.com

Choosing the best desktop processor for the job is simply knowing what its main functions will be. If you want a simple office/multimedia system, a good old dual-core or quad-core processor will easily tackle those. Those processors also use up less power, emit less heat and thus require smaller coolers. When the needs go up, so should the processor speed.

One thing that you should keep in mind is that core count is not everything. A good example is AMD’s eight-core processor lineup which has a hard time putting down all that power because of the way Windows 7 allocates tasks to it. Intel on the other hand uses Hyper Threading, which in a sense doubles the processor core count, by creating “virtual” cores. A processor with HT (the Intel i7 2600K or the Intel i7 3770K for example) will run on 4 physical cores and 8 threads. This will allow it to outperform quad-core processors without HT by quite a large margin.

Conclusion

As a quick round-up:

  • Think of what your budget is; based on how much money you will spend, limit your range and choose either processors from AMD or Intel
  • The FX-Series from AMD and the K-Series from Intel (i5-2500K, i7-2600K, i5-3570K, etc) have unlocked multipliers, allowing the user to overclock them; if you do not want to do that, do not pay the extra money
  • Sheer core number is not everything; find out if the applications you will use most of the time (games are included here as well) can take advantage of the added cores
  • Keep cooling in mind as well since more powerful processors need more powerful coolers!

I hope that this little article helped you in at least narrowing your search for the best desktop PC processor down. Always buy with your needs in mind and you will not be disappointed. You might even end up saving some money and if you need detailed specs for any processors or comparisons, go to CPU World and search for your processor there. Next up, choosing a motherboard for your desktop PC!

Samsung and Google create the ultimate mobile companion for cloud enthusiasts

In the world of technology, we invent and or create some things, and that becomes the end of the story. We sometimes invent and create, but some consumers just do not like the results. There is a breed of innovations, however, that sell out even before they are actually unveiled to the public. Since their introduction into the market, the ChromeBooks have taken to the side as a not widely accepted innovation but in the eyes of many, the new Samsung Chromebook 2012 is the ultimate game changer.

Unlike its Intel Celeron powered predecessors, the dual-core ARM driven Chromebook comes with an 11.6-inch display and 6.5-hour battery life compressed in an impressively compact design, all at only $249.

By trashing Intel Celeron processors in favor of the ARM, Samsung designers packed the new Chromebook with higher power while reducing production cost, power consumption and heat dissipation. Actually, the Chromebook goes to record as the first ever retail device to use the Cortex-A15 technology.

This silver-colored 2.4 pound ChromeBook has a better touchpad with the ability to interpret two-finger scrolling input using the accompanying buttons that are somewhat loud when clicked. Though good for the design, the fact that they decided to put all the ports at the back of the ChromeBook, apart from the headphone jack, can be a real pain for users who are constantly plugging things into their computer.

Since the ChromeBook is specifically built for online use through the Google Chrome browser, its matte display makes sense since the essence of a mobile device is to cancel out the possibility of squinting past your reflection to read what is on the screen. However, the reduced brightness of 200 units compared to the predecessor’s 300, means that you will have to get the right angle before settling back to use the Chromebook.

Generally, by opting for the new Chromebook, you pay $201 less and get a lighter and thinner laptop, which is actually more portable. However, you will have to kiss ethernet and the now optional 3G radio goodbye in favor of the in-built Bluetooth.

The new Chromebook is a great deal for people who live on the cloud. It has a practical keyboard and its browsing experience is awesome. What else would you possibly need to navigate the cloud?

How to build a custom computer, Part 1: Getting Started

Today we look at big and bulky desktop PCs like they are a thing of the past. Our mobile devices pack huge amounts of processing power and they manage to squeeze that into very small formats. Consoles are taking over gaming, but a good desktop PC can still turn heads.

Origin PC Custom Gaming Desktop
Origin PC Custom Gaming Desktop

There are many companies that provide “custom” gaming desktops and so forth, but there are some tips you can apply to any desktop PC. Before you invest money into any solution like this, ask yourself what you will use it for mostly. A very basic configuration can cost way under $500 and will still play HD content, provide you with ample storage and many other great ways to make your time worthwhile.

If you are looking for a solid workstation or a beastly gaming machine, things get a lot more difficult.

There are a couple of rules that you can keep in mind for any of the above mentioned choices:

  • Upgrades – you want your system to support the latest upgrades for as long as possible; a good motherboard is the key to do just that
  • Chassis – invest in a good computer chassis since this will last you for ages; this also influences cooling, wire management and what hardware you can fit into it
  • Power Supply – get a certified power supply with ample wattage; a home office/ multimedia PC will do just fine with a 450 Watt power supply but if you want some gaming, go for a 600 Watt PSU as a minimum
  • Storage – do not go overboard here; despite the massive storage needs today’s multimedia files have and the massive amount of space games take up, there is no point in investing in a lot of storage from the start; save the money since you can add more later
  • Memory – you can always get more later and 8 GB (2x 4GB kits) are quite cheap and provide you with ample performance

Building a desktop PC isn’t difficult either. Buying the components and assembling the system yourself is very easy and you could finish one easily in one day. Most of these ready-built machines have that added to the price tag, so you can save some money there. Not only that, but you will have the pride of running your own system.

If you are unsure about the entire process, worry not since companies like AVA Direct even offer barebones or DIY systems for just a few dollars. Getting a good desktop PC off the ground can be fun, cheap and rewarding. To help you with the entire process, I will be posting a small series covering all the important aspects of building a PC from scratch.

Everything you need to know about the new iPhone 5

The much anticipated iPhone 5 is finally out and from a glimpse of the gadget during the launch,
Apple did not make us wait all this long for nothing. Measuring 0.30 inch thick, the iPhone 5 is 18%
thinner than its predecessor and Apple claims that it is the thinnest and lightest (3.95 ounces) phone
around.

Network

In bid to tackle areas where the influx of Android smartphones is poking holes in iOS, the company has incorporated high-speed 4G-LTE networking capabilities which will add to the already impressive list of supported networks (GPRS, EDGE, EV-DO and HSPA). LTE will have a dedicated single chip  for voice and data, another for radio, and a dynamic antenna that will surf through different networks automatically.

Display

To compete with other high end Smartphones like Samsung galaxy S111 or the Nokia Lumia 920, the Retina Display screen has been increased to an impressive 4″ which, though still less than that of its competitors, delivers better display at 326ppi (1,136×640) at an aspect ratio of 16:9.

The extra screen dimensions mean more icons can be crammed into the home screen reducing the time to locate certain services. Other applications that will take advantage of this real estate will be the calendar which can now give a full five day view and iWork apps. However, third-party apps without updates will have to work framed in black borders to avoid stretching or scaling.

Hardware

Encased in an aluminium unibody stellar quality shell does away with the fragility of its predecessors, the iPhone 5 packs an A6 chip that is two times faster than the current A5 chip. The chip, which in the real sense is 22% smaller than the A5, will deliver faster speeds effectively doing away with the lagging common in the 4th generation iPhones when they run heavy apps.

Battery Life

Powering all this awesome hardware under normal circumstances is expected to make consume more battery life.  Apple is however promising longer battery life – an alleged 8 hours for 3G talk, 8hours of 3G and LTE browsing, 10 hours for Wi-Fi browsing and video playback, 40 for music playback and a whooping 225 hours of standby time – something we won’t be sure of until it is tested.

Camera and Additional Features

Other cutting-edge features include a primary “iSight” camera at 8 megapixels featuring backside
illumination, a hybrid IR filter, five element lenses and a f2.4 aperture, a secondary camera, additional three more
microphone, improved noise cancellation feature, a new and smaller connector (Lightning) and SIM card and a new OS, iOS 6.

The 16GB is $199, the 32GB is $299 and the 64GB is $399.

Google’s Awesome Sauce: The Nexus 7 Tablet Review

Google has been doing impressive things lately, by anyone’s standards. Google Glasses, and the awesome live streaming skydiving stunt Google pulled at Google I/O this year blew the minds of fans all over the world.

At that same conference, Google announced the release of two Nexus devices: the (Asus) Google Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q.  (The Q is sexy, smooth, different, and just about useless to the average consumer. It’s an expensive media streamer for your TV.)

Let’s get down to the Nexus 7. My Nexus 7 device arrived last week, which was very fast compared to what I’ve read about shipping times on the internet. I was stoked.

About the reported packaging problems

Some people have reported that it is difficult to remove the Nexus 7 from its original packaging.

Unlike the rest of the world, I believe when expensive electronics are shipped halfway across the country, if not the world, they should be packaged in such a way that they do not fall out or easily get stolen. Therefore, I bring a knife when I attempt to open a new product, unlike these ridiculous people.

Yes, the packaging of the Nexus 7 is tight. No, the packaging of the Nexus 7 should not deter you from purchasing one.

 

Awesome-Sauce Software with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

As the first device shipping with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, I can say that this is the most beautiful and “buttery” smooth Android tablet I have ever used, and is as good as the iPad 3. Google has definitely done a bang-up job on Jelly Bean and Project Butter to get Android finally caught up to iOS as far as smoothness goes.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean includes Google Now, which is software that can anticipate your schedule and location throughout the day and provide helpful information like traffic time, current weather, and upcoming calendar events. No input is needed – Google Now helps you throughout the day without any prompting.

Since getting Google Now, I’ve used it way more than I ever used any previous voice search feature on a phone (including iPhone’s Siri).

Switching between recent apps is a great experience, and I find myself doing it just for the fun of playing the animations over and over again. Transitions are fast and responsive. Apps open and close quickly so your tablet can finally be as productive as you are!

The default Chrome browser is very impressive, with great loading speeds (over a decent WiFi connection), fast renders, and good support for HTML5 (finally).

Using apps on Android can finally be fun, not the chore it used to be with laggy and slow-loading apps of yesteryear. Congrats Google!

Hardware: Quad Core and a Brilliant Screen

The Nexus 7 did not fall short on hardware or design. With a quad core Tegra 3 on board and a brilliant graphics processor, apps on this device look better than any other Android tablet device I’ve seen, including the Asus Transformer Prime. While playing Dead Trigger (a great zombie shooter), this tablet becomes a hardcore gaming device in a perfectly sized 7-inch form factor. The screen really shines and shows just how incredible technology is becoming.

What makes this device nice to hold is that just-right thickness that makes it feel like it won’t break or fall out of your hands, but also fits great in your pocket. The soft-touch plastic on the back really adds grip to the device as well, so you won’t be dropping this thing any time soon.

Unbeatable Price Tag

$200 bucks. That’s all I need to say here. If you haven’t jumped on a tablet yet, or are looking for that second or even third screen, this is the best Android tablet on the market today. Period.

The Nexus 7 can be purchased directly from Google.

Inside Apple’s USB Power Adapters

If you own an iPhone, you most likely are in possession of Apple’s 5W USB power adapter, a great little contraption that charges your iPhone via a wall outlet using your normal USB cable. From the face of it, it’s a fairly elementary device. It simply takes alternating current from the wall and turns it into five watts of five volt power.

However, according to Ken Shirriff (who recently tore open one of these power adapters), the circuitry is “surprisingly complex and innovative.”

Shirriff conducted an exhaustive analysis of the 5W iPhone charger and posted about it on his blog. He found out some pretty amazing things about Apple’s tiny USB wall charger. For those that are knowledgeable about circuitry and the like, you’ll find Shirriff’s writeup to be both extremely informative and interesting (with circuit diagrams drawn out even), but for those who just want to know why the damn thing costs a whopping $30, Shirriff has this to say:

Apple’s power adapter is clearly a high-quality power supply designed to produce carefully filtered power. Apple has obviously gone to extra effort to reduce EMI interference, probably to keep the charger from interfering with the touchscreen. When I opened the charger up, I expected to find a standard design, but I’ve compared the charger to the Samsung charger and several other high-quality industry designs, and Apple goes beyond these designs in several ways.”

Some of the ways that Apple went above and beyond are apparent when looking at the small details. Apple used “super-strong AC prongs,” as well as a “complex over-temperature / over-voltage shutdown circuit.” Overall, Shirriff says that Apple’s 5W USB power adapter packs an impressive amount of complexity into such a small space.

However, Shirriff notes that even though Apple’s 5W USB power adapter is higher quality than most other USB adapters, that doesn’t mean that the $30 price tag is necessarily worth it. He says that Apple’s USB charger probably only uses about a dollar more on parts than other, less-expensive chargers that cost $6-$10. So essentially, Apple is making a huge profit off of each power adapter that they sell.

Image Credit: Alan Levine

Why I Won’t be Buying a New MacBook Pro

I’ve never denied being a bit of an Apple fanboy, and I waited eagerly for the announcement of the new MacBook Pro range. When the announcement came yesterday and I read about my much-hoped-for retina display, it was all I could do not to reach immediately for my credit card.

I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve spent some time looking into the specification in some detail and, sadly, it doesn’t make me happy. Here’s why:

The Price

The base-level 15” Retina MacBook Pro costs $2199 and comes with a 2.3Ghz Ivy Bridge i7 processer, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state disk.

Now, I accept this isn’t a dreadful spec, but I already have that much RAM in my current Mac. Furthermore, 256GB is not enough space for all my existing data, let alone anything new – and that brings me on to the second problem…

The SSD and RAM is permanently installed

Not being able to upgrade my storage or memory on a “Pro” laptop is just daft. If I want 16GB of RAM instead of the supplied 8GB, I have to pay Apple $200 – far in excess of the cost of the RAM.

The New Retina Display MacBook Pro
The New Retina Display MacBook Pro

Even worse, Apple doesn’t seem to offer me an online upgrade to a larger SSD on the base model, so to get the level of storage I need, I have to get the top-end model at $2799 – that’s simply too much for a laptop with no more RAM or storage space than I already have.

The Missing Ethernet Port

I know this might sound pedantic, but, once again, this is a Pro laptop. I am an IT consultant – a “pro” if you will, and I often need to plug my laptop into an Ethernet network or sometimes into a crossover cable to configure a device. I’m not willing to carry a second laptop for this purpose, or to buy yet another one of Apple’s lucrative adaptors.

While I have no doubt that this new MacBook Pro is a wonderful, beautiful machine, I find myself in a position where I simply can’t justify such extreme expense for something that I cannot upgrade.

Conclusion

The permanently soldered components in the new MacBook Pro present a severe problem. In the event of a memory or drive problem beyond the standard 12-month warranty, I can’t replace these parts myself, making additional expense on Applecare all but essential.

For now, then, I’m going to have to make my peace with the fact that Apple have pitched their new laptop in such a way that buying it cannot work for me. As it stands, I cannot change any parts, connect to all my client’s networks or even fit all my music on the base model. I can do all those things on the one I’m typing on now.

I’ll just have to avoid looking at that beautiful new retina display when I next visit the Apple store. Some things are not meant to be.

Review: Sonos Play:3, the Wireless Hi-Fi Stereo System

The term high fidelity (or hi-fi) can be traced back to the dawn of music recording, and in general defined a system that could reproduce music with the sharpest and most fulfilling audio quality.  And as the generations moved from turntables to boomboxes to walkmans to portable music players, so too did the continual desire to purchase high-end, hi-fi systems to blast the tunes.  Although today one can still get bulky hi-fi stereo systems with 400W of power, a CD tray, an iPod dock, and a remote control, it just doesn’t seem to be as trendy and up-to-date as it did in 1996.  Fortunately, that’s where Sonos comes in.

Sonos is taking back the term “hi-fi” and giving it some flair.  It is a compact, modular, wireless stereo system that can be set up in any (or every) room in the house with just two components:  A speaker and a local area network with internet connectivity.  And because it is wireless, it can stream just about everything you can think of.

The Sonos Hi-Fi Stereo System

For this article, two Play:3 network speakers (the smaller of the two speaker offerings at $299 each) and a Sonos network bridge ($49) were used.  The Bridge is the extra add-on that makes the Sonos system go wireless, and if one is going to deck their rooms with speakers it is a must.

Besides speakers and network hubs, a Sonos stereo system can also be paired with an amplifier ($499), an iPod docking station ($119), or a connection hub ($349) that converts an existing home stereo system for music streaming (all of which are available on the Sonos website or Amazon).  As one can deduce by the prices, though, these components can add up quickly so be mindful that one does not need absolutely everything to get a Sonos stereo system set up in their home.

Included in each box with the speakers/Bridge is a power cable, a network cable, an install CD, and a manual.  Once all the packaging has been set aside, it is time to set the system up.

Physical Setup

If the Bridge wireless gateway was purchased, that should be set up first.

The Bridge (which is the box that makes the whole system wireless) plugs directly into your router/wireless modem via Ethernet and automatically connects to your local network.  Because it is a wired connection, no passwords or other setup configurations are necessary.

Once the Bridge is in place, one can set the Play Speakers in any room of the house (within wireless distance) and supply them power.  If the Bridge was not purchased, then simply add an Ethernet cable to the Play speakers and connect them to your router to get them integrated into your network.

Controller Software Setup

The Sonos Controller Software (Personal Computer Edition)

The software comes included in the box as an install CD, but it also can be found here if needed. The controller software is available for Windows (XPSP3 and up), Mac OS X (10.6 or 10.7), Android (which is evaluated in the next section) and iPhone/iPad.  For this installation, a networked Windows 7 machine was used.  The first step is to run through the Sonos Controller installer on the machine and grant it firewall access.

Once installed, the “Sonos Setup Assistant” kicks in so that all the speakers can be networked and connected to the controller software.

When connecting, the software will ask you to physically push a few buttons on the Bridge or Play speaker to get it to sync with your local network.  If communication goes well, the software will give you a confirmation and ask if you want to connect other Sonos devices.  This is the time to add the speakers as well.

What the heck is a Foyer?

When the Play speakers are connected, the Assistant software prompts for a location so that if more than one exists on the network, they can be differentiated by the room they are in.  The drop down menu is filled with various homely (and unique) options to segregate which speakers are where and should be used appropriately if one wants the full Sonos experience in their house (which will be explained later).

Finally, after all the Sonos components have been linked the main Controller program opens and asks for you to register and update your new stereo system.

As long as the speakers and Bridge have been configured to the network properly, they will update automatically.

The Sonos Controller Software (Mobile Platform Edition)

If your networked computer is not portable enough, than maybe the mobile software is the right option instead.  As mentioned before, it is available for Android, iPhone, and iPad from their respective app marketplaces (or again at the Sonos website).  Note that the phone/pad/mobile device must be connected to the same wireless local area network or else the Bridge and Play:3 speakers will not be controllable.  For this article, a standard Android phone was used to demonstrate the mobile controller interface.

Mobile setup, mobile Bridge connect, mobile Play speakers

Like the Windows PC setup, the Android app asks for you to manually push the button on the Bridge wi-fi controller to connect to your sound system.  If the Play speakers have been set up already with the Bridge, no further connections are necessary and the mobile app is ready to be in control.

The Controller Interface

After all the installing, connecting, and updating has been successfully maneuvered, your Sonos system should look like the picture above.  On the left should be every Play speaker that has been connected (grouped by their room), on the far right is all the options Sonos has for streaming and music listening (and it is a lot of options).  For now, let’s focus on the right side and all the streaming options Sonos has to offer.

Playing Radio

If one is interested in listening to a radio station, all Sonos needs is a ZIP code or a major city and it automatically finds a plethora of channels for one to select and play.  As one can see, once a radio station is selected, the highlighted Play speaker on the left will automatically start playing and the “Now Playing” section in the middle will be updated to show artist/song title and radio show information.

Playing from a Streaming Site

If one wants to enable some tunes from their own personal online streaming account (or create a new one), Sonos is more than ready for the task.  As seen in the picture above, Sonos allows for numerous popular streaming options and services that can be accessed and played on the system.  Just log in or register, pick a playlist or song, and Sonos does the rest.

Playing from your Music Library

Besides channeling other sources and streams, Sonos also allows one to channel personal music libraries as well.  To get music onto Sonos, one must first allow the folder to be shared on the network (For Windows 7, this is done by right clicking on the folder and selecting “Share With” and then a “Homegroup” option).  If this step is not done, much confusion can arise as the music will not be available for Sonos to access.

Once the sharing is enabled, return to Sonos and go to “Manage” -> “Music Library Settings” -> “Add” to browse for the folder in question.  [Note: Besides adding media, this settings menu also serves to update the media library, add/remove speakers, manage the streaming accounts that were added, and mess with music equalizers for each speaker.]

The system will then add all the music in the library and display them on the right side.  From there one can create playlists, add songs to the queue in the middle, and push music to any speaker on the left

Again, it is important to note that for this music to be accessed, the location of the files needs to be active and on the network (i.e. the device in question storing the music files must be on and networked).

Playing from the Mobile App

Mobile main options, mobile radio, mobile playing radio
Mobile streaming, mobile media, mobile playing music library

Like the other sections mentioned above, the mobile controller also allows for streaming, radio, and access to your local media library as well.  As long as the bridge is connected to the same network as the mobile app, the devices will talk to each other and push changes in music selections.

Having Fun with your Play Speakers

Now that a majority of the streaming or listening options have been surveyed, let’s return to the far left of the Controller interface and display the full potential of the Sonos wireless hi-fi system.  Up until now, the music options presented have been shown playing on just one speaker.

But in reality, one can play something different on each speaker, hence why it was important to label the Play speakers based on where they are going to be situated.  So essentially, every room with a Sonos speaker in it could be playing something different, meaning that there should be no contention between siblings/roommates/significant others as to what the audio system should be set to.

Mobile grouping is just as easy

Furthermore, not only can one use the speakers individually for music but as a group as well.  Just click the “Group” button, select the speakers to group, and listen for the sound of acoustic harmony.  Now the beauty of Sonos has been revealed: because it is wireless and easy to manipulate in the Controller interface, it is completely and utterly configurable to suit any room, event, personality, or venue.  Just pick a tune, pick a speaker configuration, and let the jams flow.

Conclusion

Sonos is definitely not your stereotypical hi-fi stereo system.  It is modular, fully networked, completely configurable, and open enough to access just about every genre, single, album, or artist that exists out there to stream. After a solid month of usage, even the two Play:3 speaker with a wireless Bridge system used for this article proved its usefulness in every situation it was presented: house parties with a dozen conversations filling the air, quiet nights on the couch with a book, and even those underwear air guitar jam sessions at 3:00 in the morning.

To be honest, the main limiting factor to the full Sonos experience is the prices on the components themselves; the system is worth the cost, but if those prices were reduced a bit or tiered it is certain that Sonos would be in every household in no time at all.  For now, though, the system should have no problem satisfying audio enthusiasts and home theater experts alike.

The age-old glory of hi-fi stereo has returned, and Sonos is leading the charge.