So I bought the Roku Internet radio that I discovered at BestBuy in Langley (BC Canada) for about $100 cheaper than the equivalent some 20 minutes away across the border in the USA. Usually, the pricing is the other way around.
I love it, and I hate it.
What's to Hate
With its integrated subwoofer, the Roku SoundBridge Radio R1000 is too large for a modest bedside table. It towers, and it just barely fits mine.
The bass from the subwoofer can be unpleasant when listening to news radio. The unit has no tone controls. It does sound good for music, so all that would be needed is a way to reduce the bass for talk radio.
It is difficult to set up. If you needed your nephew to set up your home wireless network, you won't be able to listen to Internet radio stations. In that case, you can listen to AM, FM, and music from the integrated SD card reader.
What's that? Don't know how to place music onto SD cards? Then it's just AM/FM for you.
Oh, and the AM doesn't work on my unit. Roku product support hasn't responded yet to my request to get the AM working.
Neither does FM work, because it didn't come with an FM antenna and we tend not to listen to FM anymore and I can't be bothered digging out an FM antenna and the required adapter unit.
If you cannot figure out how to configure the unit for Internet stations, then you certainly aren't going to be streaming music from your downstairs computer, because that setup is even more complex. Roku did a good job in simplifying accessing the Internet with a household appliance, but there are some complex issues that cannot be simplified, like entering your wifi network's password. (The R1000 won't work in most hotel rooms, because most hotels require you to go through a browser-based screen to agree to their conditions and payment schemes, and this radio cannot handle that.)
(I'll describe the setup process in another posting.)
The problem with making complexity simple is that it results in simple complexity. For example, did you know that pressing the Pause button on the remote control snoozes the unit? Would you guess that pressing Play turns off the alarm? Assuming you can find the remote early in the morning.
Internet radio is fickle. Too many listeners and the station can't be listened to. Local ISP problems, and the broadcast is intermittent; it's very frustrating to listen to talk radio when there are 10-to-20-second gaps every minute or two, due to the radio reconnecting to the station. And yesterday evening, it lost its connection with my in-home wifi, so I needed to reboot the radio.
The extra software is not included on a CD with the radio. You need to download it.
It lacks an AUX port, so you cannot connect other devices to its speakers, such as an iPod or CD player.
The final problem on my list: choice. On our old clock-radio, my wife and I listen to a single AM station for falling asleep to and waking up to (AM980 CKNW). TV's 500-channel universe is a pittance. Now, there are some five thousand radio stations to listen to. Oh dear, which to choose? (There's Whispering, the all-solo-piano station.) Listening to one station a day would take 14 years to get through them all.
Our current list is short:
- Deutsche Welle (German Public Radio) English broadcast
- BBC news
- Radio Paradise (the most popular station for Roku listeners).
Give me good old AM radio, even if it crackles.
What's To Love
Once the R1000 is set up, it is simple to use. That is, as simple as it can be, given that the unit is the equivalent of a computer armed with a clock-radio interface. There are six preset buttons: press a button to listen to a radio station. The unit is loaded with the URLs of least 100 Internet stations. (More can be added, but not easily.)
Come across a station you like? Hold down one of the preset buttons until you hear the beep, and the station (no matter what its URL is) is assigned. An A-B-C button makes each preset button handle three station, for a total of 18 presets.
There are two alarms, and they are easier to set our than old clock-radio for one reason: I can move time backwards. No more moving the alarm time ahead 23.5 hours just to wake up a half-hour earlier! You can wake up to one of three alarm sounds, or to a preset station.
The time display is deadly accurate, because it is updated from the Internet. I like knowing accurate time.
The unit autodims at night; I can set the level of dimming. It took me a while to figure out how to dim the time display when the unit is off: press the <- button on the remote; it remembers this setting. Can also turn off the display completely when the unit is off.
Roku isn't leaving users in the dust. They update the firmware with new features every so often. For example, v3 added many more stations and genres. But firmware updates might be another technological hurdle for the non-technical person.
For the geek, however, the R1000 is a delight. The unit can be controlled from your computer, and there are APIs for extending its functions. For example, there is software that lets you control it from your handheld PC (Windows CE only, so far, but a Palm version is under development).
The company just launched rokuradio.com, a "social" site for instantly updating the most popular stations, searching for stations, currently-heard tracks, etc.
Although the R1000's built-in speakers sound great, you can hook it up to your stereo through its headphone jack. Roku has a cheaper SoundBridge unit that provides just the Internet and music streaming features to your stereo.
The R1000 works with wireless Internet only; it lacks the ethernet connector for wired connections. However, we have the unit in the exact opposite corner from my wifi base station, and it has few connection problems going through the 50 feet of walls, floor, and furnishings.
The R1000 is an all-in-one music station (US$299):
+ Music in several formats from SD cards.
+ Music streamed from Internet radio stations.
+ Music streamed from subscription services, like Napster.
+ Music streamed from your computer's hard disk using the free Firefly server or iTunes.
As my daughter said, we need one in every room of the house! The recent $100 price drop makes it more affordable.
(The company's URL is not roku.com but www.rokulabs.com.)