In spite of all the ways we have to listen to music today, there's still nothing quite as comforting as switching on a radio and tuning in your favorite station. As an updated take on the classic portable radio, the Pure Evoke Flow ($229) expands beyond your local FM broadcasts, offering over 15,000 free Internet radio stations ranging from standards such as BBC and ESPN, to niche independents.
If your interest in radio is primarily about hearing great music, products such as the Logitech Squeezebox Radio, or even the Apple iPod Touch, offer a selection of streaming music services that the Evoke, unfortunately, can't match. But if your tastes span beyond music, into news, talk radio, and sports, the Evoke Flow offers a streamlined and well-built solution for hearing the world's online broadcasts.
Taking a break from the molded-plastic look of most of today's electronics, the Pure Evoke Flow is unapologetically boxy and retro. Constructed primarily of farmed wood, and finished with a thick piano gloss, the radio's design is a nod to the past and provides a reassuring sturdiness that is rare for this price range.
We wouldn't blame you if you mistook the radio for a lunchbox, since its 5.5-inch x 8.25-inch x 3.25-inch dimensions and solid metal handle fit easily within our grade-school memories. Your old lunchbox was never this cool though (no, not even the A-Team one). Using a combination of touch-sensitive buttons, old-fashioned knobs, an OLED screen, and a 3-inch speaker, the Evoke Flow strikes an intriguing balance between old and new.
On the back of the radio you have the FM antenna, power-adapter socket, aux input, stereo output, headphone output, aux speaker out, and USB port. Although we think it would be more convenient to have the headphone output located on the front panel, it's nonetheless an impressive amount of connectivity. One port not offered, however, is the Ethernet input included on the rival Squeezebox Radio. For an Internet radio geared toward portability, the lack of a hardwired Internet connection isn't a deal-breaker for us, but it's worth noting for the sake of comparison.
Also included on the back of the radio is a compartment for a proprietary rechargeable battery pack. While we can appreciate the ecological high-road Pure has taken by using a rechargeable pack, the $59 price tag is a steep premium for portability. As the total price of a truly portable Wi-Fi radio inches towards $300, the alternative of pairing an Internet radio-friendly $199 iPod Touch with a portable speaker becomes harder to resist.
As much as we enjoy the retro-futuristic look of the Evoke Flow's chrome plastic knobs and touch controls--the combo falls short as a user interface. The three illuminated touch-buttons are defined by labels above them on the screen. In one context they may serve as an option key or preset control, in another they be used as links to station search or listings. Combined with the nearby back arrow control and a dial for scrolling menus and making selections, the interface as a whole does a commendable job of doing more with less.
We did experience some initial frustration with the radio's controls, however. As with most Wi-Fi radios, entering in your network password using dial and onscreen keyboard can be tedious, though you only need to do it once. Our more nagging frustration was the poor breadcrumb navigation for backing out of some menus. For example, after tuning-in a classic rock Internet radio station using the search menu, hitting the back button takes you back to the main menu instead of the search results. To return to the search menu, we had to twist the selection knob to access the station listings, then press one of the contextual buttons to bring up search. It's hardly as intuitive as simply allowing the back arrow to step you one page back, but you get the hang of it.
The term "radio" encompasses many types of audio today, including AM/FM radio, satellite radio, online-only music broadcasts, and personalized Internet music services. No single device excels at delivering radio in all its forms. It's up to you to figure out what radio services are most important to you, and what devices will best deliver them.