Editors' note: This review has updated to reflect a recent firmware update that fixed several minor issues and added access to the streaming music service Pandora. The rating has also been raised to reflect these changes.
Internet radios are kind of like the Jerry Lewis of consumer electronics--apparently they're really big in Europe, but you don't hear much about them in the States. That's too bad, because while your local AM/FM radio might be lame, and satellite radio is still expensive, you're bound to find something you like on the thousands of stations available on an Internet radio. Web radio offers online simulcasts of many of the world's broadcast stations, as well as a wealth of Internet-only streams--in other words, even the most eclectic music and talk radio fans can find something worth tuning into. The Grace Wireless Internet Radio is one of the few Wi-Fi radios available in the U.S. market and--for about $200--the price is right. Now, with that low price you'll have to make some concessions: the Grace is a bit short on connectivity, and we especially missed an auxiliary input so we could connect an external source such as an iPod. On the other hand, the Grace Wireless Internet Radio scores well on many counts, including an attractive design, good sound quality, and hiccup-free playback of Internet radio streams. With a recent firmware update fixing several minor issues and adding Pandora access, the Grace ITC-IR1000B is now at the forefront of the Wi-Fi radio category.
The Grace ITC-IR1000B Wireless Internet Radio is a sharp-looking little radio. Its glossy black finish looks nice, but it is prone to collecting fingerprints. The left half of the unit is dominated by a black speaker grille, which houses a single 4-inch speaker. There's an LCD readout in the upper-right corner of the device that displays about four lines of text at a time, including artist and track information if the station supports it. Down and to the left of the display are nine buttons used for playback, storing presets, and navigation. Below that is a medium-size volume knob and to the right is a large knob that is used to navigate the thousands of stations available.
Overall, the experience for navigating all the stations is decent, especially if you're used to using a traditional tabletop radio. When you first turn it on, it connects to your wireless network, then loads up the last station you were listening to. If you're in the mood to select a new station, you can hit the browse button at the top.
One slight usability problem we ran into was how light the Grace Wireless Internet Radio is. The large scroll knob can be pressed to make selections, but often when we went to press it, we wound up pushing the whole radio back instead of pressing the button. We got into the habit of holding the Grace Wireless Internet Radio by the side when we wanted to make a selection, but it would be better if we didn't need to support it. That being said, the Grace's controls had a much nicer feel to them than the competing Asus Air, which feels cheap in comparison.
While we appreciate Grace's decision to keep things simple, we definitely would have liked some extra search categories. For instance, we'd like to be able to narrow the fields by bit rate to weed out those rough-sounding 32Kbps feeds. Alternatively, it would be great to be able to use multiple filters at once--like jazz stations in Germany. As it stands, too often you'll make a couple of choices and have a thousand feeds to flip between, which are too many to reasonably choose from. It would also be nice if there was some way to see how others users rate stations as another way to make it easier to find a station you like. In general, we preferred to use the online interface (discussed later) to load up a bunch of our favorites, then just select from that smaller list on the actual radio.
The Grace Wireless Internet Radio gets streaming audio from the Internet via your home's broadband connection and Wi-Fi network. The Radio has a built-in 802.11g, but it'll also work with slower 802.11b and faster 802.11n networks. There's a single Wi-Fi antenna in the back, which can be rotated, but not replaced--you cannot unscrew it. It's compatible with both WEP and WPA security, and we had no problem logging into our WPA network--although entering the network key is a bit tiresome using the scroll wheel (luckily you only have to do it once). There's no Ethernet jack--meaning the wireless network is mandatory, not optional--and the only other connection available is a stereo headphone jack around the back.
The radio has clock, alarm, and sleep functionality, and each works pretty much as you'd expect. You can set five separate alarms, which have convenient options such as setting an alarm to only go off on weekdays or only on weekends. The alarm can be set to a standard buzzer or one of the five preset stations. We would have preferred access to all of the stations we've marked, but in reality, it's not that big of a limitation. A nice addition to the radio would have been a big snooze button on the top of unit, but hitting the big scroll wheel works well enough. Sleep functionality works as you'd expect, with the capability to set any amount of time in 30-second increments up to 24 hours.