Smart speakersCheaper wifi speaker has Bluetooth plus Google or Alexa for great indoor and outdoor music
Tue 13 Apr 2021 07.00 BST
Sonoss new smaller and cheaper Roam portable speaker is one that wont end up relegated to a drawer collecting dust as it sounds great at home too.
The £159 Roam joins the much bigger and heavier £399 Move as the second of firms battery-powered models and proves itself as one of the best options in a saturated market.
The Roam can stand upright on its end or lay down with little silicon feet on one side to keep it from vibrating against a table. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The speaker has both wifi and Bluetooth and is triangular in shape, like a Toblerone, but only about the length of a 500ml bottle. It weighs 430g so wont drag down a bag and is easy to grip for carrying about the house.
The front is a metal mesh, the back is high-quality mat plastic and the end caps are rubber to help absorb impacts if you drop it. The speaker is water resistant and can be submerged in up to 1m of water for 30 minutes, so it is durable enough to survive most outdoor settings. It doesnt float though, so dont drop it in a pool.
Its a really good design thats both functional and attractive looking the part in the home as well as outdoors.
The top has four buttons: one for muting the voice assistant microphones, two volume controls and a pause/play button that also skips tracks when double or triple pressed. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

  • Dimensions: 168 x 62 x 60mm
  • Weigh: 430g
  • Connectivity: Wifi 5 (ac), Bluetooth 5, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect
  • Battery: 10 hours playback, 10 days standby
  • Charging: USB-C (up to 15W; 5V/1.5A or higher), Qi wireless
  • Water resistance: IP67 (1m depths for 30 mins)

Setup and features
The Roam has three LED status lights: one on the top showing when the mics are turned on, one just above the Sonos logo showing when the speaker is turned on and one at the bottom showing when its charging. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
You must set up the Roam on wifi using the Sonos app before you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker, but it only takes a couple of minutes. The Sonos app acts as a controller for playing music from practically every music streaming service available via wifi. The speaker can also be controlled straight from the Spotify app or using AirPlay 2 on Apple devices. To use it outdoors you simply pair it with your phone via Bluetooth like a regular portable speaker.
The Roam has a few tricks up its sleeve if you have other Sonos speakers. It can share music being streamed to it via Bluetooth with other speakers on your home wifi network. But it can also create an instant group with your nearest Sonos speakers or transfer music to or from them just by holding the play/pause button on the Roam. It works like magic.
The Roam also supports voice assistants from Google and Amazons Alexa, allowing you to swap between them. It has three mics built into it and works just like one of Googles Nest or Amazons Echo speakers on wifi, answering questions, streaming and controlling music. They need an internet connection to operate so dont work on Bluetooth.
Great sound
The speaker sounds its best when playing something grand and melodic over wifi cranked up to at least 20% volume. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Roam lives up to Sonoss reputation for quality sound. Its audio performance punches way beyond its weight and size, producing some of the clearest, crispest and most well-balanced audio even at high volumes that Ive heard from a portable speaker.
It doesnt have really thumping bass, and while it is certainly loud enough for personal listening or in small groups anything louder than 30% while on a table in front of you is really more than enough it isnt up to smashing out the beats for a large outdoor party. But its separate mid and tweeter speakers give a real vibrancy and depth to music that is often poorly reproduced on competitors of this size. It will handle anything from high-energy electronica to a string quartet with aplomb.
The Roam also has Trueplay,the system which tunes the speaker automatically, adjusting for orientation, environment and obstacles. Still, I think it sounded slightly better when stood on its end than when laid horizontally. You can also adjust the treble, bass and loudness in the Sonos app and create stereo pairs with two Roams while on wifi, but not Bluetooth.
10-hour battery life
The power button is just above the USB-C charging port. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Roam lasts for about 10 hours of playback on battery on wifi or Bluetooth, which is a bit short of key Bluetooth speaker competition but more than enough for a days music in the park or around the house. You can see battery life in the Sonos app on wifi or ask the voice assistant, but theres no way to see it on Bluetooth other than a blinking LED when the battery is low.
The speaker ships with a USB-A to USB-C cable, but no charger, requiring a 5A/1.5V (7.5W) or greater power adaptor, which should be most smartphone chargers. It takes more than two hours to charge with a basic adaptor or faster with a more powerful 15W one.
It can also be charged via Qi wireless charging in more like four hours. Sonos sells an optional £44 wireless charger that magnetically attaches to the base of the speaker, but any Qi-compatible charger should do it. The speaker can be used while charging.
Sonos rates the battery in the Roam for 900 full-charge cycles before a significant drop in performance, which is says equates to about three years of use. The battery is not user-replaceable, but the company will offer a factory replacement service similar to most smartphones.
The company commits to a minimum of five years of software support for feature updates after it stops selling a product, but has a track record of much longer including bug and security fixes for its legacy products.
Sonos did not comment on the use of recycled material in the Roam, but offers trade-in and product recycling, and publishes annual responsibility and sustainability reports.
Very few speakers let you switch between two different voice assistants, stopping you from being tied into only one service forever. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

  • Unlike other Sonos speakers, Roam cannot be paired with a sub or used as surrounds in a home cinema setup.
  • There is currently a battery-drain bug with the Google Assistant integration for which Sonos is working on a fix, but in the meantime it suggests turning the speaker fully off after use, turning off Assistant or switching to Alexa.
  • Trueplay only works when the mic is not muted.

The Sonos Roam costs £159 on its own or £203 bundled with a wireless charger and ships from 30 April.
For comparison, the UE Boom 3 costs £129.99, the UE Megaboom costs £149.99 and the JBL Charge 5 costs £159.99.
The Roam is easily one of the best portable speakers and, unlike the majority of the competition, it works even better indoors.
It isnt the biggest or the loudest and doesnt have thumping bass or super-long battery life. But the Roam produces quality, well-rounded sound with a clarity unmatched by rivals. Outdoors it functions just like any rugged, water-resistant Bluetooth speaker. Inside it works like Sonoss other excellent wifi speakers, compatible with practically every music service available and with a choice of voice assistants too. It even looks great as a sleek piece of premium electronics, and like other Sonos speakers will be supported for a very long time.
For existing Sonos users after a portable speaker, the Roam is a no-brainer. For others what you get is far more than a simple Bluetooth speaker for much the same price as top competitors. For many it might be the only personal music speaker you need.
Pros: great sound, Trueplay, easy to use, wifi and Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, water and shock resistant, optional Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, small and light, USB-C and Qi wireless charging, battery can be replaced through service, very long software support.
Cons: battery life only about 10 hours, takes a long time to charge, cannot be grouped as part of a Sonos home cinema system, not cheap.
The Roam is smaller than it looks and offers considerably better sound than youd expect from its svelte frame. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
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