The Simplefi is about the size of a typical hardcover book at 2 by 11 by 6 inches and sports a sparse design. On the front panel, there's a three-line screen that measures 3.75 by 1.0 inches and displays white text against an attractive, bluish-purple backlight. Unfortunately, song titles are hard to read at a distance of more than four feet--a drawback since you'll probably set up the Simplefi in your home-entertainment rack.
Oddly, there are no built-in front-panel controls. Instead, the small, slightly flimsy, 12-button remote control snaps onto the front of the Simplefi, where it functions as the device's control panel. While this helps keep the cost of the product low, a corner-cutting decision such as this has one main drawback: if you misplace the remote, you can't operate the unit.
Motorola took a basic approach to connectivity, including only the following rear-panel connections: a DC-power jack, a headphone minijack, and a stereo analog RCA output. We'd prefer to have a digital-audio output option as well, but luckily, the analog output sounds clean. Also, a TV output would have helped immensely with display readability since, as mentioned above, the LCD on the unit is too small to read at a distance.
In terms of setup, this unit is easier to attach to your computer than most DARs. First, we connected the supplied USB RF (radio frequency) transmitter for wireless connectivity to our PC--sorry, Mac users--and plugged the Simplefi into our stereo system. Then, we used the included SimpleServe Console software to set up a few Internet radio stations and add MP3s to the PC-based Media Manager library.
Navigating channels, playlists, and tracks with the remote is no problem, provided you've configured the SimpleServe software and the song library properly. Media Manager organizes songs into playlists and playlists into channels, which is great for setting up longer listening programs. Online Guide offers Internet radio options--currently, MP3.com and Shoutcast stations. My Tags lets you flag songs as you listen (more on that below). Finally, Add Device manages the PC/Simplefi connection. All software features are exceptionally well designed and almost fun to use. But if you want to sort music by genre or album, you'll have to set up your own playlists since the Simplefi doesn't generate those tags automatically.
Avid music enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy the Simplefi's clever TagIt feature, which enables users to tag a song whenever it's playing by pressing a button on the remote. Back at the PC, selecting the Media Manager's My Tags option takes you to a listing of all tagged songs, with deep links to Yahoo's Launch service, where you can view release dates, tour dates, reviews, and discographies, as well as purchase CDs--the most seamless implementation of this concept that we've seen to date.