When the Logitech Squeezebox Boom came out last year, it set a new standard for Wi-Fi radios. Yes, it was expensive, but it offered excellent sound quality, a smart design, and tons of features in a tiny package--no competing products even came close. The Philips NP2900 is the first real competitor (sorry Tivoli) to the Boom's dominance of the high-end Wi-Fi radio market. It's the first Wi-Fi radio we've seen with a color display, and it makes the most of it with a graphical user interface that displays your album art along with your music. The NP2900 can stream music from a variety of sources (Internet radio, Rhapsody, connected PCs), and its Living Sound feature does a surprisingly good job of making the radio sound bigger than its size. The biggest problem with the NP2900 is its street price--currently $330--which is more than $50 than the Boom is selling for. It's hard to justify that extra cost, when the Boom offers more streaming music services, has more responsive controls, and sounds just as good. Judged on its own merits, the Philips is an excellent Wi-Fi radio, with a particularly attractive design and solid sound quality, but its high price will limit its audience.
The NP2900 is a slick-looking radio. Sitting atop a small silver stand, the NP2900 consists of a long (13.6 inches), slim (2.7 inches deep) black cabinet, with rounded corners, and a tapered back panel. There's a silver strip that runs along the perimeter, and the front of the unit is dominated by a black speaker grille that surrounds the display. In terms of style, we'd rather have the NP2900 in our kitchen than the competing Squeezebox Boom.
The only buttons on the NP2900 are located on the top of the unit, and there are only four of them--power, volume up and down, and mute. That means you can't navigate your music collection using the controls on the unit; instead you have to use the remote. We would have at least liked a clickable wheel on the unit for times when the remote goes missing, or when you're standing right over the radio.
Separating the NP2900 from every other Wi-Fi radio we've reviewed is its 4-inch color screen. While most Wi-Fi radios have a simple monochrome display, capable of displaying a couple lines of text, the NP2900's screen is capable of displaying album art and a full graphical user interface. The screen definitely serves as eye candy--we love that it displays all of our album art--but it's also functional, making the device less intimidating for tech novices.
User interface and setup
The basic user interface is well-laid out, with simple menu options like Music, Internet Radio, Rhapsody, and Aux showing up on the home menu. When you start playing a song, the artist and song information show up on the display, with the album art in the background. We're meticulous about updating our album art and it was a treat to see the NP2900 automatically display it when it started playing our tracks. Album art is also available on Rhapsody tracks.
While the NP2900 zips through the standard menus quickly, it's not quite as quick to sort through a large library of music. The competing Boom is incredibly responsive in this regard, where as the NP2900 chugs along at a slower--sometimes frustrating--speed, even when its SuperScroll function kicks in. It's not unbearable, but a bit more speed would really help the NP2900 with large libraries.
As mentioned before, the only way to navigate the NP2900 is by using the included remote. It's a full-size clicker, which we like, but we did run into some issues. For example, the directional pad doesn't work exactly as you'd expect it to. Counterintuitively, the right and left directions won't move you right and left in the menus; you need to press "OK" to move right and the back button to move left. We got used to it, but occasionally we'd revert back to the more intuitive controls. Some people may also be annoyed that there's no option to fast-forward or rewind, which can be a minor annoyance, especially on podcasts. On the other hand, the remote does a good job of separating important functions like the volume rocker and playback controls, while the full number pad makes it easier to enter in search terms.