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Jonathan Takiff: Internet radio goes portable
[August 16, 2010]

Jonathan Takiff: Internet radio goes portable

Aug 16, 2010 (Philadelphia Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- THE GIZMO: Internet Radios To-Go from Grace, Pure, Logitech and Livio.

YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU: There's a world of audio entertainment pleasures awaiting you on the Internet. And this summer, you can take it with you _ into the back yard, out onto the front stoop, even in the car.

Today, we're surveying three Internet radios from Grace, Pure and Logitech that run on batteries as well as AC power.

Small and sweet-sounding, each begs "pick me up and I'll pick you up, too," with the best music, news and podcasts to be had from here to Zanzibar.

First things first. You'll need to register/activate the device online. Then you'll need to keep this Internet communicator within range of that wireless (Wi-fi) home modem/router that you initially installed for use with your computers.

Also on our reviewing table today is a just-out product from Livio Radio that lets you enjoy Internet audio content in the car. It's quite the liberator, too.

A STATE OF GRACE: The small, cube-shaped Grace Allegro (about $150) looks nicest on a nightstand and (like the others in our survey) offers alarm clock functions. There's no handle on this portable, drat, but it's easily carried around in one hand.

The Allegro is the only model surveyed that works with conventional batteries _ either six AA alkalines or Nickel Metal Hydride rechargables (about $15) good for eight hours of listening or three days of timekeeping between charges.

Grace claims access to "17,000 free radio stations worldwide" working with channel aggregator Reciva. The Allegro also supports the 120-channel Internet version of Sirius/XM (if you're a subscriber), the popular freebie Pandora, and (like the other Internet portables) will stream music stored on your computer, with a bit of doing.

Top-mounted controls including five channel preset buttons, a large snooze button and a grooved metal dial that's way too slippery. The Allegro comes with a decent remote control, or you can control the radio (like the Logitech Squeezebox) from a dedicated iPhone or iPod Touch application.

Grace Allegro's monaural speaker cranked to 96 decibels, but going to the limit makes the battery door rattle. There's a headphone jack (as on the other radios) for listening louder.

PURE PLEASURE: At once retro and freshly styled, the Pure Evoke Flow is the quirky little British-designed Internet radio charmer I've learned to love and tote around the most, to tune in radio faves like free-form KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., TSF Jazz Paris and Zouk Radio from the West Indies.

The glossy black "piano finish" wooden cabinet, large round speaker and user-friendly metal handle (it doubles as a snooze bar) ooze "classic portable radio." Meanwhile, the bright OLED display screen, combination of touch and knob controls and branching menus feel quite modern.

While all content is accessible on screen, the free, online Pure Lounge service (www.thelounge.

com) expedites setting up the portable with favorite music channels (including ALL THINGS British), podcasts (I like N.Y. Times Tech Talk) and on-demand environmental sounds _ from an Arctic blizzard to wind chimes _ meant to lull you to sleep.

This radio doesn't offer Pandora or Sirius/XM, but stands alone in having a very good FM radio tuner, making the music maker useful almost everywhere, not just in Wi-fi zones.

The Pure Evoke Flow played warmly and sweetly to a room-filling 92 decibels. Jacks accommodate a second (stereo) speaker and external music source.

British charm has its price _ the radio goes for a hefty $229 plus $59.95 for the custom rechargeable battery pack, good for about 15 hours of use after a fresh charge.

MOST LOGICAL: While my heart says keep it "Pure," my head says the Logitech Squeezebox Radio is the best portable Internet radio out there today.

For sure, it offers the most Internet music options _ with extras like Rhapsody and Napster on-demand subscription services, Pandora, Slacker, Sirius/XM and the Live Music Archive.

A bright, full color screen, polished menu system and six preset buttons make station and artist access a snap.

And the Squeezebox Radio plays best and loudest of the bunch, hitting 108 decibels without a hint of distortion.

My only complaint _ the thing just doesn't feel much like a portable, despite its small size and scoop-out hand grip in the back of the cabinet.

While introduced as a $199 table radio last November, the Squeezebox Radio can now be had for as little as $150. And the new $50 accessory bundle adds a small remote control and a custom battery pack good for six hours of use per charge.

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN?: While some pundits talk about Internet radio coming to the car environment "soon," Livio Radio makes it possible today, with a clever device called the Carmen.

First connect this palm-sized gizmo to your home computer, using the supplied USB cable. Open the automatically-loaded app, clicking on PC or Mac version. Carmen now leads you to Livio's home page menu with a claimed 42,000 Internet radio stations (though I couldn't locate some of my faves, like BBC 6 and Brazil's Radio Nacional FM 96.1). Pick one and 10 seconds later the channel will start recording onto the device.

You can listen along on the computer or "mute." Change the Internet channel and that one now records as a separate file. Up to 45 hours of content can be recorded in this fashion _ or by moving over MP3 music from your computer.

Now plug the Carmen directly into your car's 12-volt socket and start listening. Carmen's onboard FM transmitter beams the music wirelessly to an open channel slot (where available) on your FM radio. Or, for guaranteed static-free results, connect an included cable from Carmen to the Aux input on your car stereo system.

A listener can jump ahead on a channel in 15-minute increments, using buttons on the device and the more elaborate, credit card-sized remote control. Music fades in and out smoothly during transitions.

Not too shabby for $59.99, I'm thinking. And what a wicked competitive move from a CEO (Jake Sigal) who used to manage XM satellite radio development for Delphi. More info at

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