AirPlay speakers are fantastic if you happen to be an Apple adherent. Otherwise, your best choice for wireless audio is crappy Bluetooth. Yesterday, HTC introduced its AirPlay competitor, HTC Connect, and Pioneer is the first company to offer products equipped for the standard. But is it any good?
The Pioneer HW-SMA4 is an AirPlay Speaker, which also supports HTC Connect. The new audio streaming standard will be available on all HTC One-series phones, and, presumably, on future phones that come out. It'll roll out as a firmware upgrade—two carriers will get the upgrade next month, but Pioneer wouldn't tell us which ones. There are also plans for a video equivalent sometime soon, but details are similarly scant.
We saw the new service and speaker in action, and it might as well have been AirPlay. The speaker connected seamlessly to an HTC One via a wireless network, and the audio sounded full and lovely. Another nice touch: The HW-SMA4 can connect directly to any Wi-Fi equipped smartphone by creating an ad-hoc wireless connection. That's not something you need to do every day, but it's a useful feature other speakers don't offer.
The HW-SMA4 has five speakers total: dual three-inch mid-ranges, a four-inch subwoofer and dual 3/4-inch soft dome tweeters. It'll cost $400. The wireless speaker system also comes in two alternate versions. The cheapest is the $299 XW-SMA1, which has dual three-inch speakers and a 3/4-inch tweeter. The $400 XW-SMA3 is identical to the XW-SMA1 but carries a four-hour lithium-ion battery and a tougher case so that it's good to travel. All of the speakers will be available in August.
All of Pioneer's excellent Elite-line receivers will also support HTC Connect. Pioneer makes great gear, and it's interesting to see the company jump behind HTC Connect so enthusiastically. Who knows if the standard will catch on, but more connectivity for more people is always a good thing. Plus, Apple could really use the competition.