It might still be a little jarring to consider attending group gatherings or crowded scenes. But if this is (hopefully) the last phase of the pandemic, people will soon be back at it, mingling in close proximity like the Before Times. At least, that’s what tech companies in the portable device business are counting on.
Sonos, the company known primarily for its in-home audio products, has made another portable Bluetooth speaker. And this time, Sonos has actually designed it to be, well, portable. The Sonos Roam is an itty-bitty, lightweight Bluetooth speaker, the second in Sonos’ portable lineup. Images of the product leaked last week, but now the company has officially announced it. The Roam costs $169 and will be available in the US and around 30 other markets starting April 20.
Sonos has long established itself as a home-focused audio brand, even throwing shade at more accessible “smart” speakers from companies like Amazon and Google. Sonos executives have called these Bluetooth speakers “stepping stones” to more high-fidelity (and stationary) speakers like Sonos’ indoor stalwarts. But the company has also been wisely plotting an expansion to the outdoors.
“Sonos has held such a position in the home for so long. They’re kind of a brand that a lot of people look up to,” says Ben Arnold, an industry analyst focused on consumer tech at NPD Group. “But they want to sell speakers, right? That’s their business. You can only sell so many speakers into somebody’s home until they become saturated.”
Sonos’ first foray into Bluetooth came in 2019 with the $400 Sonos Move. While technically mobile, with a nifty built-in handle in the back, the Move is a bulky, 6-pound chonk. It’s unwieldy when hauled in a backpack and works best as a kind of backyard speaker.
By contrast, the Sonos Roam is designed to go all over the place. It weighs less than a pound and is just over 6 inches tall and 2 inches wide. Sonos claims it has a 10-hour battery life. It also has an IP67 water- and dust-proof rating for extended jaunts into uncharted territory. It charges wirelessly with any Qi-certified charger, though Sonos is selling a Roam-specific charger for an additional $49.
When users do return home, the Roam’s Sound Swap feature will allow them to press and hold the play button to send the audio to the nearest Sonos speaker. (The feature works on nearly all newish Sonos speakers.) And like other newish Sonos speakers, the Roam has far-field microphones and supports voice control with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
The Roam’s versatility and mobility-oriented marketing are well-timed. According to NPD, US sales of Bluetooth speakers rose by nearly 8 percent in 2020, likely due to demand for portable gadgets as outdoor activities grew more popular. NPD notes that most of the growth occurred in the $100-plus category of speakers, not the super-cheap ones. And as Covid-19 vaccine rollouts are expanding, the Centers for Disease Control have declared that vaccinated people can safely gather in small groups without wearing masks or social distancing. (Vaccinated people, mind you. This isn’t carte blanche to just go hang out with whomever, even if they do have a dope playlist.) People who are anxious to travel and get moving again might want to bring their tech with them.