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Com One Phoenix WiFi/IP Radio Review

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The methods by which we receive audio content just keep on expanding. In fact, there are so many ways to get free music and Podcasts it’s hard to keep up. And, if you think about it, it’s a wonder that any service that charges for content will be able to keep its head above water.

One of the free categories bubbling up is internet radio which gives you incredible flexibility and some interesting tools. Let’s say, you’re going on a trip to Poland, like my editor Biggs. You can tune in and listen to the local radio, find out about the weather, traffic and even political issues. You can receive all the information that any local resident can get, and that makes the world a smaller place. Yes I know, this is already available to anyone with a computer, but that isn’t too convenient or very portable. I think that’s a significant reason why it’s been overlooked by many.

It Does what?
The Phoenix, a WiFi, AC/DC portable internet radio runs on four AA rechargeable batteries (included) or with the switching power supply (240-110W AC input). Embedded 802.11 b/g WiFi, the Phoenix streams music from non-subscription Web-Radio sites. Content can be streamed in WMA, AAC, Real, WAV and AIFF formats. You can also play your MP3 content using a USB stick or via WiFi and just use the Phoenix as a player.

This wireless digital content stereo player comes preloaded with 300 URLs, but that’s just a start. Users can go to Com One’s Web site to get URLs of about 7,000 more radio stations for the Phoenix. Additionally, you can use the Com One site to add stations not in Com One’s database by keying in a station’s URL.

One of the reasons this works is the embedded software that makes for an easy connection to Com One’s internet-based service distribution platform. You can get firmware upgrades over the air either by hitting the update button, or they will come seamlessly at two week intervals all via WiFi.

What’s it got?
The Phoenix has an alarm clock, eight preset radio station buttons and a charger. The unit has two stereo speakers (4 cm each), a 2 x 2 watt amplifier and weighs less than two pounds. They improved the digital sound quality with Bass Boost and spatialization enhancer technology. You also have the ability to plug into any stereo system via the 1/8” (3.5mm) stereo headphone jack. If you want, you can have Bluetooth connectivity with an adapter offered through Com One. There are cool features, like the ability to bookmark your favorite songs or stations for quick access.

The Phoenix is based on the Intel PXA270 processor, clocked at 300MHz. It boots Linux for 8MB of flash, and has 32 MB of RAM. Com One choose Linux because of its “open environment” and its many available open-source libraries. This enabled Com One to build the Phoenix without outside assistance. It has a USB host port supporting USB devices and USB Bluetooth transceivers. White back-lit graphics display with 6 lines (128 x 64) pixel monochromatic LCD screen. Battery life is about 4 hours; short I know, but WiFi sucks…err requires a lot of power.

Plug it in already
I install the rechargeable batteries and plug it in. I know I have a good WiFi hotspot in my apartment, so I try to activate the radio. I put it on search and try to lock on to a WiFi signal. First attempt failed, it locked into the search mode. So I do a hard reboot (took out the batteries) and on the next attempt I get the list of WiFi spots and it connects to my router. Then, I select the automatic connection mode. (DHCP), and when it’s searching there is a blinking blue light, when it locks-on the blue light is steady. There is a WiFi signal bar on the LCD much like a cellphone and my signal varies between two and three bars. Now, I’m connected, and by pushing the music icon I get a list of radio stations. First station is an open source Reggae station which is broadcasting at 32kb/s. It sounds ok, not great, but then I put on another station at 128kb/s and the sound quality is much better. The whole process took about two minutes. The next day when I push the number one preset button the radio is playing music in less than 10 seconds.

I go to the website to update the radio. I sign up, log on and go to the station page; once there I see various different categories (country, city, genre, etc). I choose new stations and within moments those stations show up on my radio. The site isn’t as user-friendly as I’d like, but it is still in Beta. I’m listening now and it sounds pretty good, but the speakers are small so for a bigger sound I hook it up to my stereo. Now we’re talking, the sound is clean and robust.

Even though the Phoenix is still in Beta, I think the portable aspect is the right ingredient for success. Also, seamless firmware upgrades will keep this product improving. Of course, we will see hardware upgrades as new units come out. I suspect in the future there will be more ways to get content on the player. The sound on the Phoenix is what you’d expect from two small speakers; not bad, but certainly not audiophile quality. I congratulate Com One, and I like their thinking. This might just work out.

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