Ask people to list off wireless speaker systems they can control with their phone, and you’re probably going to get a single answer: Sonos. A new challenger has approached, by way of the Phorus Play-Fi, and they’re looking to take on the established name in the franchise by putting out quality wireless speakers of their own. Their big selling point? Total support for Android devices via their Play-Fi app, and even going so far as to brand their products Android ready (instead of the fruity alternative) to elicit support. It’s a bold move, for certain, but does it work? Can the Play-Fi contend with other products on the market? Or is it just another product to make the list of So how does all of it stack up? Join us after the break to find out.
Let me start off by saying this: the Phorus Play-Fi sounds good. Darn good, actually. In fact, when I first powered it on, I was surprised at the quality of sounds coming out of a speaker so small. This is certainly a speaker to notice, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk hardware.
Raw measurements are something I like to sprinkle in, because they’re easy to quantify, and better yet, easy to understand. That being said, the Phorus Play-Fi measures in at 8.3-inches x 6.2-inches x 5.5 inches, and weighs a scant 1.32 pounds.
The Phorus Play-Fi is shaped like a rounded cone, almost, although instead of having a circular base, it’s cylindrical. The speaker is covered in a black, soft, mesh-like material, and the bottom has rubber grip to keep the Play-Fi from sliding around. Above the power and volume buttons is a rubberized “docking” area for your phone or tablet, although I use the term dock loosely.
Instead of there being a proper microUSB interface to dock something on, it’s simply just a piece of rubber. That’s great if you want the look of a docked device, but not so great if you wanted the Play-Fi to tab into your device’s library the same way iDevices do.
Just north of the Phorus logo are your three main buttons: power, volume up, and volume down. All of their functions are self-explanatory, but let me just say this: this speaker gets loud. You wouldn’t expect so much sound to come out of something so small (or maybe these days you would), but if you’re looking for volume, the Play-Fi can deliver.
Just south of the Phorus logo are your Bluetooth and Wi-fi buttons. The Phorus Play-Fi has two methods of control: either as a single, Bluetooth speaker, or as a speaker that lives on your Wi-fi network.
If you choose to use Bluetooth, you control all of your music straight from your phone, from whatever media player you’re using. If you’re going the Wi-fi route, however, there’s more to it (and more you can do). Phorus has a Play-Fi app in the Google Play Store that syncs up your speakers (yes, plural) so you can control them independently or make them all play as one.
Flipping to the back of the Play-Fi, you’ll notice a couple of ports. From left to right, there’s an auxillary input (3.5mm), a full-sized USB port, a microUSB port, your A/C adapter, and a reset button (hidden behind the power cable).
This is actually where two of my biggest grips with the Play-Fi come into play: the USB port and the power cable. In all promotional images of the Play-Fi, the speaker is shown with a phone “docked” on it, with nary a cable in sight. Seeing that, I figured it ran off of batteries or they’d developed a clever way to keep it wirelessly charged, but such is not the case.
Same goes for the full-sized USB port. Phorus includes two cables with your speaker, a USB-to-micro-USB and a USB-to-mini-USB. While this ensures you should be able to charge any Android device you have around, it forces you to have a cable running from the back of the speaker to your device’s charging port.
For anything that has it’s micro-/mini-USB port on the bottom bezel, that means it won’t be sitting straight up and down, and you’ll have this oh-so-gorgeous cable hanging around the speaker. While it might seem like I’m harping on a small point, in our increasingly wireless society, if you’ve got cables, be upfront about it. If you try to hide it, it only shows you know people won’t like them anyway.
As aforementioned, if you’re controlling your Play-Fi through Wi-fi, you’ll need the official app from the Google Play Store. Upon first opening the app, you’re taken through some very simple and straightforward steps that connect your speaker to your phone’s app.
Once you’re all connected, you can give your speaker a name (which is more useful if you have more than one speaker), choose to connect to it, and you’re off to the races. You’ll also notice that before I’ve even chosen any options to play music, I can already control the volume of the speaker from the moment I’m connected to it.
After you’ve advanced from your speaker selections, you’re finally at the main menu (the first picture of the three), where you can select your source for music. There are three input options (music, Pandora, and media server), and a settings menu.
The settings menu is pretty simple, which choices to add another Play-Fi device, force an update for your Play-Fi’s software, and force your device’s screen to stay on.
Moving back to the main menu, notice that Google Play Music is absent. While this is probably more a Google problem than a Phorus one, for those people who keep all their music in the cloud (like me), it certainly made the Play-Fi a less attractive option. You can still stream Google Play Music via Bluetooth, but only to a single speaker at once.
If you have a media server on the same wireless network, the Play-Fi app can tap into that library and stream it out to your Phorus speakers (picture three).
If you choose the Music option from the menu, you’re shown a list of all the music stored on your device. You can sort by song, artist, album, genre, and folder, although the app doesn’t follow Holo design guidelines, so you can swipe from column to column (only tapping).
Perhaps the most shining feature of the Play-Fi app is it’s Pandora integration. Simply tap the Pandora button, login with your account, and you’re presented with a pretty full Pandora experience that includes album art, song name and album, and your Pandora-specific “thumbs up/thumbs down” buttons. Couple this with the ability to stream Pandora to multiple Phorus speakers in different rooms, and you’ve got the start of something very promising on your hands.
Wow, where to begin? Phorus touts the Play-Fi as a “Hi-fi over Wi-fi” product, and while I’m not a true audiophile, I appreciate what their speakers are doing me.
Highs are high, mids are ever-present, and perhaps the most impressive of the bunch, is that lows are actually low. I’m a bass player, myself, so low tones hold a special spot in my heart, and with them being full available to my listening range, I think Phorus is doing something right.
An odd quirk I did notice, though, is that speaker placement can really affect the sounds you get (and usually not in a good way). For example, I put a speaker in a corner, where it had walls on two sides. The result was an overly-loud bass voice (I love bass, but not that much), so much so that it actually drowned out the rest of the music. Moving the speaker to a more open area fixed the problem instantly.
Really though, these speakers sound quite incredible. They’re also pretty liberal with how loud they go, so if you really want to crank one up, it’ll deliver. With only a single speaker, I could fill up my apartment with music that was too loud for me, so don’t fret that you’ll need a small army of them to reach the levels you want.
In a word, I’d say: impressed.
So, is the Play-Fi right for you? I’d say that certainly depends.
If you’re someone who doesn’t host your music in the cloud and opts for local storage instead, then I’d say definitely. If you’re a pure Google Music user like me, perhaps not. The Bluetooth functionality is there, but there are plenty of other single purpose speakers to fill that void.
The deceptive pictures (sans cables) is also a con, but if a cord here and there doesn’t bother you, go for it.
At the end of the day, these are all little niggles, and if you want a speaker that puts out some great quality sound at a wide range of volumes and want something you can control over your Wi-fi, then yes, the Phorus Play-Fi is for you, especially if you want to be able to control multiple speakers at once.
At $199 a speaker, the price may be a deterrent for some, but when you compare that to the prices of other wireless speaker options out there, the Play-Fi is actually the most affordable of the lot, and without sacrificing sound quality, to boot.