An internet radio without the computer, the COM One Phoenix WiFi Radio connects to your Wi-Fi network and lets you listen to countless internet radio streams and podcasts as though it was an old-fashioned wireless.

Obituaries for radio as a popular medium have been appearing since television invaded the homes of the 1950s. But radio survived TV, and it looks like it may survive the Internet Age as well.

Do you want to listen to audio without hovering over your computer or isolating yourself with a pair of headphones? You may want Com One's Phoenix WiFi radio.

The Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio is a slickly-designed 802.11b/g device (in profile, it looks a bit like an italic "L") that connects to your wireless network (or, via a USB port, to a USB drive or media player) and plays your audio out loud.

And not badly. The two stereo speakers offer good sound, especially for two relatively small speakers placed close together - we didn't crank it up to its maximum for fear that a neighbour would call the police, but we did get some good sounds out of it.

The speakers are located on either side of a 128- by 64-pixel LCD; below that is the play/pause/directional button and a nicely old-fashioned volume knob. The Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio also offers eight buttons that you can use for presets.

When you first start the Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio up, it immediately brings up a wizard that helps you connect to your wireless network. While it's a bit of a hassle when it comes to entering a WEP or WPA key (you have to use the volume knob to scroll through the all the letters and numbers, and then use the play/pause button to choose one), once we had gone through the process, the Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio immediately connected to our network, and we didn't have to trouble with it again.

The Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio comes with a bunch of preprogrammed internet stations; you can choose by location or genre. If you don't see anything you like, or have a favourite streaming feed that you want to connect to, Com One's website offers a wider selection of stations - once you log in to the site, you can add the feeds to your own radio's list or import any unlisted feeds manually.

Once you've configured your feeds, you can listen to them via the Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio whether your computer is on, off or in the shop.

NEXT PAGE: configuring stations, wireless connectivity and sound quality > >

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An internet radio without the computer, the COM One Phoenix WiFi Radio connects to your Wi-Fi network and lets you listen to countless internet radio streams and podcasts as though it was an old-fashioned wireless.

The site's configuration page has a rather unfinished feel to it (the word "beta" is prominent), and we had a bit of problem getting it to accept a feed that was not on Com One's list. (We kept getting an error message saying that it couldn't find the feed - and then, after we gave up, the feed suddenly showed up on our list.) There is also very little support information aside from copies of the user manual and a rather short FAQ. With any luck, Com One will do some work on this.

Another problem with the Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio is pretty predictable - namely, the unpredictability of the feeds. At least 50 percent of the stations we tried were unavailable - they either never got out of the buffering phrase, reported "Radio service overload or broadcasting interrupted," or generated an error message in French that (not speaking French) left us in the dark.

And, of course, there's the unpredictability of your wireless network - if your laptop doesn't pick up the signal in your basement office, the Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio won't either.

The bookmarking feature, which is supposed to let you bookmark favourite songs, is only somewhat useful, since few stations support the technology yet. And you can expect the occasional pause as a station goes into caching mode.

Battery life on the four AA Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries wasn't great - we clocked about four hours of continuous play - but since the Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio is most likely to be stationary, and therefore plugged in, we don't consider that much of an issue.

For the latest games and home entertainment news and reviews visit Digital World.

Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio: Specs

  • MP3, WMA, WAV digital audio file support
  • M3U, PLS, ASX playlist format support
  • integrated WiFi 2.4Ghz IEEE 802.11 b/g module
  • USB port for connection to USB keys and MP3 players
  • TCP/IP support
  • 3.5mm stereo jack
  • 4 AA Ni-Mh batteries (included) or AC/DC power
  • MP3, WMA, WAV digital audio file support
  • M3U, PLS, ASX playlist format support
  • integrated WiFi 2.4Ghz IEEE 802.11 b/g module
  • USB port for connection to USB keys and MP3 players
  • TCP/IP support
  • 3.5mm stereo jack
  • 4 AA Ni-Mh batteries (included) or AC/DC power

OUR VERDICT

All that being said, it was nice having a bedside radio that could hook us into a huge range of stations and podcasts - and could let us listen to the music on our media player without the discomfort of earbuds (it handles MP3, WMA, and WAV formats). The Com One Phoenix WiFi Radio is small enough to easily carry around the house; it's not bad to look at, and great to listen to. If you've got £149 inc VAT to blow on a handy household audio player, you could do worse.

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