Editors' note: While the Logitech Squeezebox Radio reviewed here has been discontinued, it has been replaced by the nearly identical Logitech UE Smart Radio.
The Squeezebox Boom has been our favorite Wi-Fi radio for some time now, but any tabletop radio that costs around $300 is going to have limited appeal. The Logitech Squeezebox Radio ($200) is designed to offer almost everything that's good about Boom in a smaller package and for less money--and it succeeds. Like every Wi-Fi radio, the Squeezebox Radio can stream thousands of Internet radio stations, but it is also adept at handling music stored on a PC, tons of online music services (Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker, Last.fm to name a few), podcasts, and even photos via Flickr. The Squeezebox Radio's physical design is uncommonly refined, with an eye-catching color screen and superb layout of the front panel controls. Most of our complaints are nitpicks. Logitech charges extra for an accessory pack that includes a remote and a battery pack; $50 to make the Squeezebox Radio portable is fair, but the remote should have been included. The initial setup will be daunting to those new to streaming music over a home network, but after the initial time investment, it's smooth sailing. The Squeezebox Radio is more expensive than competing options like the Grace GDI-IR2000, the Livio Radio, and the VTech IS9181, but in this case it's worth paying extra for its outstanding design, unparalleled feature set, and solid sonics.
We've raved about the Squeezebox Radio's exterior design since we first saw images of it and our time with the product hasn't diminished our praise. It gets just about everything right. The cabinet is made of plastic, but has a solid feel and the glossy finish is stylish, although it does attract dust/fingerprints (it's available in black or red). The back panel has a built-in handle, which makes it easy to move from one room to the next. From the front, there's a speaker grille on the left side, and the right side has the controls and color display.
The large knob in the center handles navigation. Pushing the button while browsing menus confirms a choice; when a song is playing, it brings up more options, such as "thumbs up/down" controls for Pandora. There's a separate, smaller volume knob, which is a plus, since many Wi-Fi radios (including the earlier Squeezebox Boom) combine navigation and volume control in one knob. Pushing the volume knob activates mute. The other soft buttons handle other crucial functions, including a shortcut to alarm functionality. The six buttons lining the display access Internet radio presets, which are set by holding the buttons down while listening to a station. Overall, the control scheme has a slight learning curve, but everything made sense after a little fiddling.
The Squeezebox Radio features a 2.4-inch color LCD display, a feature we've seen on two other Wi-Fi radios, the VTech IS9181 and Philips NP2900. The display can get plenty bright--which is a good thing--but it can also make for an unwanted nightlight in your bedroom. The Squeezebox Radio handles this with an autodimmer function. Although it works, we found it to be too aggressive; once we turned the lights off, the screen looked like it was off from across the room and we couldn't see the time. (It's visible when you get up close.) It's a nitpick, but we'd love for Logitech to hone this feature or make it more customizable so you can set your own "dim" level.
While most Wi-Fi radios are stuck with plain text menus, the Squeezebox Radio features a relatively high-resolution screen, with a graphical user interface. This allows the display to present a lot more information, plus eye candy in the form of colorful menus and album art.
The main navigation is done via the home menu. Here you can access your music, see what's currently playing, launch an app, or go into the settings. Luckily, you can customize your home menu (in case you want to add/drop certain services), although we'd love the ability to change the order of the menu items.
The display when a song is playing is nicely arranged. It's easy to see the album art, song title, artist, album name, and track number. There's no indicator as to how long a song is, but there's a progress bar so you have some idea.
The most frustrating aspect of the user interface occurs whenever you need to enter information, like when searching for an artist in Rhapsody. You'll have to spin the navigation wheel to select each letter and it gets tedious quickly. We haven't seen a device that gets around this problem and it's only rarely something you'll have to deal with.
Setup and configuration
The initial setup required for the Squeezebox Radio is a chore, especially if you don't own any other Squeezebox products. Be prepared to download the SqueezeCenter software, install it, scan your music files, register for a MySqueezebox account, enter all your online accounts info, tediously enter info on the Squeezebox Radio--it's a serious undertaking, especially if you intend to use all of the Squeezebox Radio's functionality.
There are two basic "modes" that the Squeezebox Radio can operate in: SqueezeCenter or MySqueezebox. When you're using MySqueezebox, that means your radio isn't connecting to a PC running the SqueezeCenter software; you won't be able to access your personal music collection, but any music services that stream from the Internet (like Internet radio, Pandora, etc.) will work perfectly. When you're in SqueezeCenter mode, you're adding the ability to stream your own music collection, plus extensive browser-based control.
Unfortunately, all this terminology gets confusing quickly. For instance, there are now three different control panels you can use to remotely make adjustments to your Squeezebox Radio: MySqueezebox, Squeezebox Server Control Panel, and SqueezeCenter. They break down logically in some cases, but it's not quite clear; MySqueezebox mostly handles your online media accounts, SqueezeCenter handles most the preferences and settings, and Squeeze Server Control Panel is a simplified version of SqueezeCenter. Even knowing that breakdown, there were plenty of times we'd want to make an adjustment and realize we were in the wrong "zone," and then try to remember where it is.
Like the step-up Boom, the Squeezebox Radio is packed with more features than any other radio on the market. It comes with plenty of built-in popular streaming audio services, plus you can add all kinds of additional services via the App Gallery or community plug-ins. There are too many features available on the Squeezebox Radio to cover them all in detail, but we'll hit most of the major services. (A more complete list of apps are here; there are also plug-ins created by the community.)
Online music services: Like the Squeezebox Boom, the Radio offers the most comprehensive suite of online services on the market. Supported services include Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, Live Music Archive, Live365, Shoutcast, RadioIO, RadioTime, and MediaFly. (Note: Last.fm and CNET are both properties of CBS Interactive.) Some of these require registration, others index popular online or terrestrial radio streams--but all of them are completely free (though some, like Pandora, cap free usage hours per month, encouraging you to step up to a paid premium version).
Pandora is probably the most popular of these services and you get access to essentially everything you get in your browser, including thumbs up/down control, bookmaking, and album art. Our favorite feature? The ability to switch between multiple Pandora accounts on the radio, in case not everybody in your household has the same musical tastes.
We'd also be remiss to not throw some attention on the underappreciated Live Music Archive. It offers thousands of free live concerts from "taper-friendly" bands like the Grateful Dead or Derek Trucks; it's simple to quickly dial up, say, a 1979 Grateful Dead concert at Madison Square Garden and it will start streaming nearly immediately.
The Squeezebox Boom also delivers full access to popular premium (paid) subscription services such as Rhapsody and Sirius Internet Radio. It also works with MP3tunes, an online "music locker" service that lets you access your personal digital-music collection online.