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 is 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), a 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 black speaker grille that surrounds the display.
The only buttons on the NP2900 are located on the top of the unit, and there are only four of them--power, volume up/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 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 our album art--but it's also functional, making the device less intimidating to use for tech novices.
Like all Wi-Fi radios, the NP2900 can tune into the thousands of free Internet radio stations, instead of the standard AM/FM fare. If you can't stand what's available on AM/FM (neither can we) and don't want to pay for satellite radio (neither do we), there are plenty of great stations available online for just about everybody. Philips doesn't disclose what service populates their listings, but we found plenty of quality stations across several genres. If your favorite station isn't listed, you can register on Philips' Web site and add it yourself.
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 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 and files by artists are at a fast speed, 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 little more speed would really help the NP2900 with large libraries.
There's a headphone jack for late night listening, as well as a coaxial digital audio output if you want to connect the NP2900 to a home theater receiver. (If you don't need the built-in speakers of the NP2900, you can opt for the step-down NP2500.) There's a stereo analog auxiliary input, which consists of two RCA jacks, rather than the more common minijack input. Rounding out the connectivity is an Ethernet jack.
As mentioned before, the only way to navigate the NP2900 is 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.