Top positive review
464 people found this helpful
A great radio, with some interface flaws - but which are hopefully fixable
on 2 October 2008
I'll get straight to the things that you'll probably want to know about this radio first. It does play the BBC's listen again audio streams, it plays radio station live streams, and it does play podcasts. You can also add your own streams that you find to your radio.
I'll also go on to describe the audio quality of the set in a moment, but in short the sound quality IS very good - none of the online audio I have listen to has been of a poor quality - so patchy streams obviously benefit from the nice sound you always get from a Pure DAB radio.
However, I wanted to mention the interface that you use to change station and browse internet stations. This was the thing I was most curious about, so thought I'd use this to answer some of the questions I had to help others.
The screen is bright, and yellow, an interesting and not unattractive choice. There are different settings for when the radio is turned on and when it is off - and you are able to set the screen to stay on showing information, or go completely blank after 7 seconds. You are able to change the brightness manually, or use what appears to be an inbuilt light sensor just below the volume dial.
There are always displays to show what station you are listening to and mode you are in (DAB, wi-fi etc), as well as volume, signal strength, time, battery level (if using the optional Pure battery one) and an icon to show whether an alarm has been set. As well as this, you can also choose what information is displayed on the screen. This depends on what mode you are in, but for DAB and FM this is scrolling text, information on the broadcaster (DAB only), the time and date, or signal strength. For internet listening these options are a station description, station location, time difference, signal strength, URL and time and date again. If any of this information is too large to fit on the screen it will constantly scroll slowly upwards in a loop. This can cause the screen to become a bit busy as the station name will scroll along the top of the screen in a horizontal direction - altogether a slight distraction.
The alarm can be set manually, as well as automatically from a broadcast signal, and there are options for the length of snooze, to set an alarm to wake to DAB or an Alarm (not wi-fi), a countdown timer (called Kitchen timer) that works in hours and minutes, and a sleep timer which goes up in 15 minute increments up to 90 minutes. The handle across the top of the set also works as a snooze button, and wakes the screen up when it is set to go blank.
Controlling the radio is done by starting at one main menu. Despite working well, this is one of the set's most annoying points. In DAB, FM, PC streaming and Auxiliary input modes it is fine - when you want to go back to this menu, you press the back button - much like on an iPod on a Sky box. However, in wi-fi mode it's a confusing route through the menus to get back to this screen - pressing a button, scrolling down 5 out of 6 items in the menu (meaning careful, precise selection of this option, as you can't just spin the dial to the last option), then selecting it with a different button.
Altogether, this means it's impossible to change from wi-fi to another mode quickly, or with one hand (you have to hold the radio as the button you press is not one of the touch sensitive ones). In a rush it's easy to get this menu mixed up with a wi-fi submenu where you navigate wi-fi options too, and then you get lost inside a maze of menus. This may sound like a small problem - it's not. I consider myself someone who is easily able to get to grips these things, and after 2 or 3 weeks, I still make mistakes.
The one hope for this gripe is that the set's firmware (and therefore interface) is upgradeable over your wi-fi connection (this has happened once already, so shows positive signs that Pure are still developing the set), however there were no obvious changes to the interface. It was quick and simple (a few confirmation button presses), taking about 2 or 3 minutes. Connecting to wi-fi is similarly painless: a connection wizard is ran (this may happen automatically when you enter the wi-fi mode for the first time - I can't remember now), it detects available networks, when you select yours it asks you for the password - a standard wireless connection process.
So getting over this annoyance with the main menu, you navigate online stations, streams and podcasts through Pure's "Lounge". This takes the form of a sub-option on the main menu which allows you to look through a list of your favourites, live streams, listen again programmes, podcasts and Pure Sounds (more on these later).
There is a quick scroll to move through the list of the whole 8000 or so stations Pure lists quickly - this isn't great as it the screen doesn't scroll smoothly, so the list of stations judders as it moves, however it is the best a screen of this type could do, so it would be hard to mark the unit down for this. Thankfully
there is also a good search function on the radio. However, this is also accessed through a confusing route through the menu system, rather than just a touch on the screen. It involved a touch, scroll down 6 places on the menu, a button press, and then a scroll down one item in the menu before *another* button press, then a press of a touch
However, when you reach the search, it *is* worthwhile, as it does offer comprehensive search options.
You can hunt down stations on name, genre, country, language and audio stream quality. The station name search allows you to type the name in (or part of it) from the on screen keyboard, operated by turning and pressing the select dial on the unit, the other options are selected from pre-set lists on the radio.
Listen again streams and podcasts are navigated and searched in similar ways, and you can have similar menu navigation problems moving between listen again, podcast, and live stream functions. When listening again to programmes or podcasts you are able to pause, rewind and fast forward - though you can't do that on live streams - a shame. However, the pause and rewind functions are a bit clumsy: there is a bit of a delay between pressing pause and the audio stopping, and when fast forwarding or rewinding, progress is shown in percent, rather than time, and there is no option to show time remaining. This means you often end up missing the point you were scanning to find. When selecting a listen again programme or podcast that has more than one episode, a list of available programmes are listed (usually with a date).
It would be interesting to know what criteria Pure use for listing these stations in their "Lounge" - the Listen Again content seems to be exclusively BBC programmes, and seems to only list continuing series - one off programmes don't seem to get listed. A programme which began its series today still isn't listed in the directory 12 hours later.
Thankfully, you are able to add your own streams, podcasts and listen again programmes with Pure's Lounge website. It is free to register - and you don't need to have a radio to check it out, so sign up for a login and browse to see what you think. Despite the front page looking nice on a big resolution screen, it's a pain on a small one, and overall the design and functionality is probably just average.
A brief word on the site's minor functions first: a recommended section and a what's new section both seem to be edited by hand, and so are not dynamic recommendations based on your listening patterns. There's also a recently played section (which doesn't seem to work) and a most popular section (which has odd choices, but presumably because there aren't yet enough people to make this list change regularly). Subsequently, there's nothing there that I'm interested in, and I don't think the content has changed in the past few weeks. There are options to edit your profile and register your unit with Pure (essential as you need to input your radio's serial number for it to connect to the Lounge and use it's search and ordering functions).
The site's main use though is to order your favourites - which again, is another essential task to help you access online audio quickly. You can create folders using a clunky drop down box, into which you can add stations, podcasts or listen again programmes from Pure's list. Crucially, however, this is where *you can add your own* streams, or podcasts (I haven't been able to establish if you can add listen again programmes here too), so this is where I have added stations I have found to be missing from Pure's catalogue. When you connect the radio to the website, a "My Evoke Flow" folder is created on the unit AND the website, and favourites you save on the radio set are added to this folder on the website - you cannot add them into folders you create yourself through the radio alone (a slight annoyance, but not that big a deal) - and you can't delete anything from your folders through the radio - all management must be done through the website.
Pure also offer an option to customise which stations the website shows you on it's homepage. It's obviously hoping that you use the site as a destination for online listening, but even this personalisation process is mystifying and thereby defeating the object.
The final option on the Lounge website and sub-section of the unit is for "Pure Sounds".
This offers about 80 different sound effects - most relaxing (noise of wind chimes, a babbling brook
and thunder storms), a few bizarre (pig farms, dogs barking, electric typewriters) and some quite useful (pink noise and white noise, which apparently help tinnitus suffers get to sleep). These are on long enough loops so as not to get too repetitive, and I have dozed once or twice to the noise of waves crashing on a beach...
Pure do ask you to suggest to them stations they have missed in their catalogue, and ask for your feedback on features. Despite doing this a number of times over the last few weeks, there has been no reply and my suggestions are still not in their library of online radio stations... (so they are still within my favourites list)
Moving back to the radio's functionality, and there are a few annoyances. When turned on the radio will starts up with what you were last playing. This in itself is not a huge problem, unless you were last listening to online audio or the media streamer. This is because there is a delay of about 10 seconds while the unit finds the network, connects to it, then finds the audio online. On battery power, this can be 30 seconds. And if the station has gone off air and the stream is no longer available, there is a considerable delay too.
Also, when playing non-live audio (e.g. a podcast or listen again programme), if you stop listening it (e.g. listen to something on DAB, FM, the media streamer, listen to a live stream, or even just listen to another podcast or programme), then the radio will not remember your place, and when you go back to it, you will begin at the beginning again. This might not be such a problem if the forward, rewind and time display weren't flawed as described above, but as such, they are a pain. Add to this the fact that there is no "recently listened to" style function on the radio, and it becomes difficult to flick between your a few stations
in turn if you are expecting something to come on the radio/a live stream.
The Media Player to stream content from your computer to your Evoke Flow works very well. You must Install some software on your machine from Twonky Media (search for it for an example). Then run a scan for servers on your radio, and it will look on your wi-fi network for your computer (it must be turned on). When it finds it, options
for browsing music, photos and video on your computer are available. I am confused by the ability to access photos and video on this unit - the screen is not capable, but I think these are just default and redundant functions the software contains. When you select the music option, however, you have an iPod style menu where you can browse music on your
computer by playlist, album, title, artist, composer or genre. It works well, but is dependent on your music collection containing good ID3 tags. You can fast forward, rewind, pause and move back and forward through tracks.
There is an Auxiliary input on the radio - I have not needed, nor been able to test this part of the radio. However, it looks like you only need select this option from the main menu and connect your external device with a 3.5mm jack (minijack) cable to the unit. Pure are selling an iPod dock to connect to the Flow, but I think you should be able to connect a normal iPod dock to the unit, or even any normal MP3 player's mini headphone connector with a 3.5mm - 3.5mm cable which should just cost a couple of pounds - my official iPod dock has the same connection as on the back of the Flow.
Other connectors on the back of the Flow are the power socket, a headphone socket, a stereo out (for connecting to a hi-fi), and an auxiliary speaker (one of Pure's optional add on speakers to make the unit stereo). These connectors are all 3.5mm jacks. There is also a USB connector, presumably for upgrading the unit's firmware (though this can be done via wi-fi).
There is also a large square battery door for fitting Pure's optional extra ChargePak battery. The battery is not like your usual AA and needs connecting with a wire. Though a bit fiddly for large fingers, it is a very simple process. When running on battery power, the radio operates *slightly* differently:
- when turned off, the display shows nothing, regardless of how you have configured the radio
- the power light is not lit (on mains power this is backlit)
- turning on the unit requires you to hold the power button for a second or two longer
- the alarm will not sound on battery power
- powering off does not normally require your confirmation (it would require another button press for confirmation on mains power) though you have the option of cancelling your choice instead. However, there have been some instances on battery power where the turn off process of two button touches to turn off has applied. This inconsistency is another annoyance!
These seem to be the only differences I have found so far with battery operation. Battery life is good.
The double button touch to confirm a turn off is a nice feature (because 5 of the buttons are touch sensitive, it's to check you haven't just brushed your finger against the button by accident - and it does happen).
The ariel is an extendible and swivelable one like on most of Pure other higher spec'd sets, however it is fixed to the set (you are not able to detach it for replacement, or to connect an external ariel).
The piano black shiny style isn't exactly to my taste - it looks a bit "late 80s", but that's just my choice, and others might think differently. It's not that bad, though might have looked better in matt black - particularly as it picks up fingerprints really badly.
A particularly bad idea was to change the volume dial on this set, from that which is on most of Pure's other DAB sets. This volume control moves up in notches (it clicks into grooves when turned) which means the volume goes up in increments rather than fades up as you turn the dial. This is not normally a problem - except when using the radio for bedtime listening. I am not able to set the radio at just the right volume when listening in bed - it's either slightly too loud or slightly too quiet to hear because my optimum volume falls in-between two notches. Another big mistake.
The DAB and FM functions like most other Pure DAB sets - with options for automatically tuning, ordering the stations, dynamic range control and trimming out old stations. FM has options for manual or seek tuning and mono or stereo operation. There are 30 presets on DAB and 10 FM ones. As these often duplicate, this is probably more than enough. Storing and accessing these are easy - the screen has an option to enter the presets list by pressing a touch screen button, and when you do another press will store the playing station (move the highlight to the preset you wish to save the station in) or pressing the listen button will switch to the highlighted station. It is a shame the Flow does not contain a DAB EPG like some of Pure's other models, especially as it has the requisite large screen.
In conclusion then, there are some annoyances:
- A too complicated menu structure that should replicate the menu structure of something like an iPod (particularly as it acts like an iPod within the media streamer function) - particularly as there spaces the touch screen buttons could use which could offer shortcuts to the most used (and hardest to access functions)
- A volume control which moves in increments, not allowing you to set precisely the volume you want like on older Pure radios.
- A complimentary website which does not work as described and as it should - which needs to offer dynamic information such as suggested listening and recently played lists. The website also needs to be maintained to add suggestions to the directory quicker, expand the range of content it lists, and scrape content providers more often to pick up new and irregular programmes for their catalogue.
- Responses to and action on feedback that comes through the website.
- A clunky fast forward and rewind option with no time display when you are scanning through quickly, and smoother pause option. Plus a time elapsed/remaining option on the display when listening to non-live content.
- Starting up with the last station listened to - when this is online audio, it would be good if it displayed the main menu which would allow you to move to another function like DAB or FM rather than having to wait until the station to start up before moving out of it.
- The way the radio forgets your position in listen again programmes or podcasts when you break off from them, then return later. This is probably because of hardware limitations, but I would be surprised if this couldn't be solved by the radio notifying the website what point you were at in
the audio when you stop listening to it, so the website would be able to return you to that point when you restart listening.
- A lack of EPG for DAB radio
- Inconsistency in the turn off process when on mains/battery power.
It should be said that these issues could be addressed in future firmware updates and work on the Lounge website, so there is hope for them to be fixed. Cross fingers that they will offer advances in these areas over the coming months, or as the software is open source based on Linux (I believe), hopefully someone could write an amended operating system for the device. I'll try and post when and if the firmware is updates these problems.
Despite these issues though, I'd still mark the radio highly. It probably gets 3.75, rather than the 4, but this could easily be increased with updates to address the above. As mentioned, the sound quality is lovely and warm with a nice bass. It manages to make internet audio streams sound better and listenable to - it seems like it strips out a lot, if not all of the nasty sibilants and high frequencies that you can often get on bad internet audio. And although the interface is lacking in a number of areas, it is responsive and does what it's supposed to do: it's quick and responsive, and doesn't have any quirks (other than the annoyances mentioned above) or seemingly any bugs.
A good device - and don't be put off by the problems above - you'll find them either liveable with, work-roundable, or hopefully fixed in future.