We're longtime fans of the Rhapsody subscription services and we were really impressed with the Squeezebox Radio's implementation. Tracks loaded up almost immediately on our network, complete with album art and essentially gapless playback between tracks. It's a pain to search for artists using the navigation wheel, but you can get around the problem by adding albums to your library using a PC, then choosing from your selected albums/tracks on the Squeezebox Radio.
Internet radio and podcasts: Like every other Wi-Fi radio on the market, you'll get access to the wide range of free Internet radio stations that are available. There are thousands of stations available and if for some reason you can't find your favorite stations, it's easy to add the URL using the SqueezeCenter software. It's also easy to add podcasts in the same manner (via RSS feeds); you won't need to download the files, you can just stream them off the Internet.
Apps: The "app" terminology is a little grating, but we appreciate Logitech's effort to adding functionality to Squeezebox products more user-friendly. We didn't test all the available apps, but both the Flickr and Facebook apps worked as you'd expect.
PC-based music collection: Most technophiles have amassed large libraries of digital music, and the Squeezebox Radio is capable of streaming nearly any audio file from a computer running the SqueezeCenter software. The good news here is that the software is available for Windows, Macs, and Linux machines. The list of supported file types is extensive: MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, and Ogg Vorbis. During the setup process, SqueezeCenter can directly look at your iTunes directory (or any other music management software), and it can work in parallel with them as well. In other words, you could keep running iTunes to interface with your iPod or iPhone, while having SqueezeCenter running to interface with the Squeezebox. SqueezeCenter is infinitely tweakable and we didn't have any problems organizing our rather large digital music collection to our taste.
Alarm clock: Most Wi-Fi radios have basic alarm functionality, but lack the ease of use provided by a $10 alarm clock you'd get at a drug store. The Squeezebox Radio's alarm functionality is significantly better than other Wi-Fi radios on the market, although in some ways it's still inferior to a cheap alarm clock.
On the upside, the Squeezebox Radio's alarm settings are very customizable. You can set several different reoccurring alarms, select which days you want it to go off, set the precise amount of time snooze delays the alarm ringing, and choose from a library of preset music sounds to wake up to. These features are all a step above what you usually get on a Wi-Fi radio.
On the other hand, there are a lot of ways the Squeezebox Radio falls short as an alarm clock. Even with the alarm button right on the front, it takes more steps to set an alarm using the onscreen menus than a standard alarm clock with dedicated controls. Also, when you go to select an alarm sound, you don't get to hear what that sound is; we also couldn't find a way to pick just a plain old alarm sound. And when you set the alarm volume, you set it based on a number out of 100, without getting to actually hear how loud that is. Lastly, we initially weren't sure you could use songs from your music collection as an alarm either. You can, but you have to save them as favorites first.
If you can deal with a little complexity and fiddling, the Squeezebox Radio offers a ton of alarm functionality, but for a lot of people even a little fiddling is too much on an alarm clock.
Connectivity: There's not a lot of need for connectivity on the Squeezebox Radio, but it's still well covered. Around the back, there's an Ethernet port and a minijack auxiliary input, in case you want to, say, connect a friend's iPod. There's also a headphone jack, which is smartly positioned on the side of the radio, toward the front.
Control via browser/iPhone: We love the front panel controls, but the ability to change settings via the SqueezeCenter software or MySqueezebox Web portal is still handy. Even better, the Squeezebox Radio works like a charm with the iPeng iPhone app ($10), giving you yet another way to control you radio.
Add-on pack: Logitech handles the two main deficiencies of the Squeezebox Radio by offering an add-on pack that includes a rechargeable battery pack and a remote. Logitech says the $50 accessory pack is scheduled to come out in "late November/early December." We haven't had a chance to test the Squeezebox Radio with the rechargeable battery, but if it works as advertised, it's likely to be our top portable Wi-Fi radio pick.
What's missing? Overall, the Squeezebox Radio has the best feature set of any Wi-Fi radio on the market, but there are a few features it's missing that competitors have. The most glaring to us is the lack of a weather app; this is available on the competing VTech IS9181 and the Acoustic Research ARIR2000 and seems like a natural fit with the SB Radio's color display. It also lacks an AM/FM tuner. We're not exactly fans of terrestrial radio, but it's often the only way to tune in to local sports broadcasts. (Otherwise, any local radio station with online streaming is available on the Squeezebox.) Other radios also offer a more traditional line-out port, for connecting it to a home stereo, although it's worth pointing out that there are plenty of other Squeezebox products better suited to that task.
Another issue worth noting is that the Squeezebox Radio doesn't offer any support for USB-based media. That contrasts with the upcoming Squeezebox Touch player, which allows you to pull audio from any connected USB hard drive or flash drive--a nice convenience for those who don't want to keep a PC powered up all the time.
Yes, these are shortcomings, but in reality the lack of a weather app is the only feature we really felt was "missing"--and it's easy for Logitech to add this in the future.
Sound quality on Wi-Fi radios is always a compromise. The units are small, usually mono, and the music is compressed, sometimes much more than your usual iTunes download. That being said, the units definitely sound different and it's worthwhile to compare their performance.
All things considered, the Squeezebox Radio sounds about as good as you can expect from a product like this. We found the sound to be extremely well-balanced--it was hard to make it sound boomy or harsh--and it remained clean and distortion-free, even when we turned up the volume. The creeping bassline at the beginning of "Come Together" by The Beatles has a surprisingly natural sound from a small radio, although we did note that bass response varied quite a bit depending on where we placed the radio. Mixing in some jazz tunes from Charles Mingus and more aggressive rock from Queens of the Stone Age proved it could hold its own with a variety of genres.
On the other hand, it's definitely a significant step down from the Squeezebox Boom, which sounds more detailed and can "rock out" a little more. If you're a stickler for sound quality, the Boom is the easy choice, as you might expect from its larger size and stereo configuration.
Stability and smoothness of playback were exceptional on the Squeezebox Radio, as we've come to expect from Squeezebox products. Local music plays back gapless, which is a huge plus if you're listening to, say, "Dark Side of the Moon" where tracks flow right into each other. We're also always amazed that Squeezebox products play back Rhapsody tracks with only a slight hiccup--we get a bigger hitch using the actual Rhapsody software!
While we enjoyed stutter-free playback, we did run into some operational glitches. During our testing, there were a couple instances where the Squeezebox Radio would just stop playing back audio--we could queue up music and the progress bar would move, but no audio would come out of the speaker. The only way we could get around this was to unplug the unit. We also had the unit spontaneously reboot itself twice during our testing period. It was rare enough during our testing period that it wasn't a deal-breaker, but it happened enough that we hope Logitech makes stability its No. 1 priority for future firmware fixes.