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Show Notes: The Sonos Playbase is so confusing

Before every episode of The Vergecast I sit down, read through a bunch of news, and take a bunch of notes. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my week, and I started thinking it might be fun to do every day on the site. So, every day this week I’m sitting down and writing some notes on the news as though I’ll be talking about it later. Are you into this? Am I into this? I don’t know. But it’s fun to do! Give me some feedback and we’ll keep mutating this into something good.

Tomorrow is A Day Without A Woman — a protest in which many women are not showing up to work in order to stand for equality and fair labor practices. (A good explainer is here at Vox.com.) Many female members of The Verge’s staff are participating, but The Verge is a news organization and won’t be involved directly. We will be covering the strike, however, and running several pieces from our female staff members about their experiences in technology, science, and culture. It’s going to be an interesting day.

OUT WITH THE OLD SONOS, PLEASE SHOW US THE NEW SONOS

  • I have a medium-sized Sonos system — two Play 1s, a Play 5, and a Connect Amp, and I love it. But I have no idea why Sonos made such a big deal about the Playbase — the company’s future is clearly in integrating microphones into their hardware products and working more closely with voice assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa. The company is also opening up control of the system to music services like Spotify directly, which is a good thing, although it’s a bit messy right now.
  • To be fair, the Playbase has been under development for a long time, and Sonos now has a new CEO who says he wants the company to move faster. So you can’t really look at the Playbase to see too far ahead into the future of Sonos. Even though my dear friend and notable Verge traitor David Pierce certainly tried.
  • But I can’t get over how ancient the Playbase is as a technology product — it’s a $700 connected speaker that only supports 2.4GHz b/g WiFi because the SonosNet mesh protocol hasn’t been updated for modern networks. It also lacks HDMI in favor of optical input and doesn’t support surround codecs like DTS. It’s basically a Playbar in a bigger box with more speakers. Which is great and I’m sure some people will buy it, but the Playbar came out in 2013 — it’s fair to wonder why Sonos is still shipping the same basic capability set four years later.
  • What’s more, the Playbase really only makes sense if you have other Sonos products in your house — if you just want a better speaker in a giant box under your TV, it’s actually hard to spend more than $500 on a highly-rated competing model from Yamaha or Sony or ZVOX. (My mother-in-law has a ZVOX, it’s dead-simple and sounds great.)
  • And if you want to use the Playbase as the heart of a 5.1 system, you’ll end up spending a wild $1,800: $700 for the Playbase, $700 for the Sonos Sub, and $200 each for Play 1s as surround speakers. And you still won’t get HDMI switching or modern surround codecs like DTS or Dolby Atmos for that money.
  • You could just buy a highly-rated soundbar system with rear speakers and a subwoofer in the box and a $349 Sonos Connect to integrate your streaming music and come out anywhere from $500 to $1000 ahead.
  • So who is this for? Someone who already has a Sonos system and doesn’t mind paying a huge premium to add another Sonos-integrated speaker under their TV? That seems like a tiny market — especially when Amazon is rumored to be working on a new Echo with better speakers, an idea that is blindingly obvious to everyone.
  • Here’s Dieter’s interview with new Sonos CEO Patrick Spence. Let’s hope the Playbase is the last of the old Sonos, and we see what’s up with the new Sonos in very short order.

IPHONES OR DOCTORS

  • Rep Jason Chaffetz stuck his foot in his mouth today when he suggested poor people spend their money on health insurance instead of brand-new iPhones.
  • There are lots of reasons this is a bad line of argument — and Chaffetz walked it back pretty quickly — but I think Adi Robertson did an excellent job laying out the main issue: smartphones aren’t luxury items, especially for the poor. They are often primary computing devices, and it is hard, if not impossible, to participate in the modern economy without a computer. What’s more, investing in a computer like the iPhone, which has a stellar security record, excellent service and support, and a rich ecosystem of spare parts and skilled gray market repair techs, is actually a very smart use of money if you don’t have a lot of it. Adi couldn’t get her HTC phone repaired in New York City! Just go read her piece.

HARRY POTTER FCC JOKE

LIGHTNING ROUND

If Twitter were ever going to be disrupted, this is exactly what I’d imagine it would look like at the beginning. Take a small but rabid group of core users, bootstrapped off an existing social network, and give them a core subject to discuss. (Recall that Twitter’s initial growth came largely from the San Francisco tech community discussing itself.)

  • The CIA has the ability to hack Samsung smart TVs and spy on people using the built-in microphones and cameras, according to new docs released by Wikileaks. This isn’t surprising in the slightest, but as we add more and more mics and cameras to our homes through smart assistants, it’s just going to get more and more prevalent.
  • Relatedly, Amazon dropped its motion to rule that Alexa data is protected by the First Amendment after the suspect in the murder case at issue granted the cops permission to see his Echo logs. This is a ruling that Amazon needs sooner or later; we’ll see how and when other police agencies decide to push the issue.
  • Nest finally added two-factor auth, but… you still can’t login with your Google account? Hmmm.
  • The Galaxy S8 just can’t stop leaking out: today there are side-by-side photos of the S8 and larger S8+. It looks very nice, I’ll give it that.
  • Finally, Vlad is at the Geneva Motor Show, looking at extremely pretty new supercars. I want this Mercedes-AMG GT Concept very badly.

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