The next-gen touchscreen Sonos controller is here, and as strange as it seems to say, it's actually better than the Sonos app for iPhone/iPod Touch for controlling their multi-room music solution wirelessly. But it is expensive.
The CR200 is available by itself for $350 and as part of the Sonos 250 Bundle for $1000. You save a little bit on the bundle since the ZonePlayer 120 and ZonePlayer 90 are $500 and $350, respectively. If you're not familiar with Sonos, it's basically a very fancy (and expandable) Airport Express-like unit to get music throughout your house. Our previous review of the last gen ZP80 was good, but the ZP90 and ZP120—this gen—are much better. They're both capable of streaming music either over your network, or wirelessly through a $100 ZoneBridge unit.
The main competitor to the Sonos controller isn't actually the last-generation Sonos controller, it's the free iPhone/iPod Touch app. With an iPod Touch coming in at $230 ($120 less than the CR200), using that to manage your music or internet radio and piping that through different rooms in your house seems like the natural (and cheaper) choice, seeing as the thing also doubles as an iPod Touch when not controlling your rig. Why would someone want to use the CR200? Because it's good.
Somehow Sonos managed to get the multitouch as responsive and as usable as the iPhone. Scrolling, flicking and even typing are taken directly from Apple's user interface designs, and thus, should be instantly familiar to just about everyone now. The screen is bright, and the blue theme throughout the controller is classy—unlike the blue iPhone app, which is just slightly tacky looking.
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But that's not why it's better. It's better because it's got a better user interface. You can arrange songs, adjust volume, configure zones, jump back into the Zones menu, adjust your queue, and do just about everything faster than you can on the iPhone app. Getting where you want to go takes fewer clicks. Sonos decided to put more effort into the CR200 (probably because it's not free in the app store) in order to drive sales of the controller, and it shows. It's not as if you can't do the same things on the iPhone app, you just can't do them as well or as fast.
The downside to the CR200 is that its battery doesn't last all that long, so you need to remember to dock it whenever you're done using it. You can leave it in your living room or your bedroom or wherever and it'll sync wirelessly to any ZonePlayers or ZoneBridges you have around your house. The range is fantastic, and has no problems penetrating three stories-worth of floors and walls to control music.
Basically, the CR200 controller is exactly what you'd expect from Sonos. The whole full-house music streaming still has that distinct taste of being futuristic, even though the prices are down to somewhat reasonable levels now. Given a few more years for prices to drop and for these things to be integrated at the builder and installer level for new homes, it'll become as ubiquitous as CAT5 wiring is now.
The Sonos CR200 is great at what it does and it's super easy to use, but it's still pretty damn pricey at $350. Sonos knows what kinda customers they're looking for: people with the extra money to outfit their house, Bill Gates style, with music in every room. No mere Airport Express would be enough for them, they want quality and they're not afraid to spend a little bit more for it. And that's the CR200. [Sonos]
Bright, very usable touchscreen
Better UI than the free iPhone/iPod Touch app
Good range, battery life