Product Review – Kogan Wi-Fi Internet Table Radio with iPod Dock (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Overview

Kogan Internet radio

Kogan is an Australia company who are selling good-quality value-priced consumer electronics like LCD TVs in a manner that is considered common in the USA but rare in Australia. It is to sell the goods under their own brand through what used to be known as mail-order. You can buy equipment like this Internet table radio by visiting their Website or calling 1300 304 292.

The set, which is sold direct for $169 excluding delivery but including Australian GST, looks like a mantel radio made during the late 70s just before that style of radio went out of fashion and has a generous-sized front-facing speaker behind a mesh grille. An iPod or a USB memory stick can be connected to sockets installed on the top of the set.

The set is powered from the mains through a small AC adaptor but the adaptor that came with the review sample had something that can be annoying if you were to properly switch it on or off at the wall, because it sticks upwards.

Connectivity

The set has an iPod dock which can work with most of the Apple iPod range; and a USB port for connecting USB memory keys, MP3 players and other devices that present themselves as USB Mass-Storage Devices. This port may be better placed on the front or back of the radio so as to avoid dust, crumbs and other nasties falling in to the set and causing unreliable operation with USB devices.

It also has a 3.5mm jack for connecting up another MP3 player, Discman or similar device to play through the built-in speaker; and has a 3.5mm headphone jack which can also be used to play the set through a pair of better-sounding active speakers.

Setup

When you unpack the set, you don’t get the instruction manual as part of the packaging. Instead, you have to go to the support section of Kogan’s web site to download the manual as a PDF file.Kogan Internet radio - close-up

There are some issues that affect the way you integrate the radio to the Wi-Fi home network. One is that there needs to be a clear indication for “enter” to confirm the WPA-PSK key and another clear indication for “backspace delete” of erroneous characters.

As well, you have to make sure that your router’s wireless-network security is working in a “pure” WEP or WPA-PSK mode rather than a “compatibility mode” that may be common on some routers made when WPA just started to come in as a Wi-Fi link-level security option.

Once the radio is on the home network, everything is effectively “plain sailing”. The unit can be set up to get the time from the Internet, but you have to determine the time zone yourself by going to the Main Menu – System Settings – Clock Settings option. You will also have to change the time zone by an hour every time we switch from standard time to daylight-saving time. For example, in Sydney and Melbourne, you would have to set the Time Zone to +10 during Standard Time and to +11 during Summer Time. This may be rectified in a future firmware update for this set.

As far as the DAB (digital radio) operation goes, there isn’t a “clean-up and scan” routine available. Typically you have to do the “full scan” routine which adds new stations to the multiplex roster. This was annoying because the review sample, like the Revo iBlik RS clock radio reviewed in a separate review, had come down from Sydney and had references to the Sydney DAB multiplexes and stations. It can also be a headache for those of us who move between towns, or if there is a situation where the DAB multiplexes are being re-organised.

Use

The menus on the set are mainly navigated through the use of the tuning control which you turn to select the option and press to confirm the selection. There is a “Back” button to go back through the menus if you need to do so. The volume is adjusted with a smaller knob rather than “up-down” buttons. You change between FM, DAB, Internet Radio, Media Player, USB, iPod and Aux modes by pressing a MODE button. This control arrangement  makes the set appeal to be easier and comfortable for older people to use and makes you think of it as a proper radio.

Access to Internet radio stations is through an integrated directory that is regularly updated. You can select stations by “home area”, “country” or genre. I did a test to find Heart 106.2 London, a radio station that I often listen to over the Internet. Here, I went to “all stations”, then “country”, then “Europe”, then “United Kingdom” to filter for UK radio stations. After that, I went to all stations and browsed the list of UK stations to find “Heart London”.

There are five preset buttons which you can assign to a station in each of the radio modes. This means you have 5 FM stations, 5 DAB stations and 5 Internet radio stations held as “one-touch” presets You associate the button with the currently-playing station in the same manner as most car radios that are currently in use i.e.: hold the button for around 10 seconds until the display shows that the station is with the preset.

The radio also works well as a DLNA network audio player with the ability to honour the UPnP AV Media Server’s media hierarchy. It even worked well with playing music hosted on my computer by allowing a smooth playout experience. One main problem was that the transport keys such as the play-pause button didn’t work for the network media stream.

The radio does work well as an iPod speaker dock and the function keys worked properly when navigating the iPod’s content. I also attempted to adjust the volume from the iPod, but the sound came through at the same level, thus requiring you to use the radio’s volume control to adjust the sound.

Sound quality

The sound was something typical of either a classic mantel radio or one of those mono radio-cassette recorders made during the 1970s. There isn’t any way to adjust the tone on the set, whether through the menus or a separate control. There is still some “punchiness” in the sound but not the full bass expected by today’s young generation. A difficult-to-reproduce piece like the BBC brass-band rendition of “God Save The Queen” played at the end of the day (UK time) on Radio 4 may sound “difficult” at times. For talk-radio broadcasts, the sound is clear and intelligible whether turned up loud or at a modest listening level.

The sound volume is relatively loud, thus allowing the set to fill a room with its sound and can compete with a noisy appliance operated nearby. I even ran our noisy rangehood fan while the set was playing and it could easily compete with that. This means that it could work well at “belting out the tunes” in a takeaway-food shop, café or similar establishment.

Fit and finish

I have observed that this unit has avoided fingermark-attractive “gloss” finishes but this may be considered as a set that is dull and boring. But this also has been a bonus with a review unit that has “done the rounds” and been handled by many reviewers. This would be a bonus for radios that are likely to be handled by many users or spend their working life in a kitchen.

When I bought my own one of these sets, I had it working as a “utility radio” for the household and at times had seen it used in a workshop and outdoors while there was carpentry work going on. This hasn’t had any impact on the set’s finish or operation.

Points of improvement and product-class development

Connectivity improvements

The 3.5mm headphone jack could be positioned up front so as to allow “walk-up” headphone use and could be set to override a 3.5mm external-output jack on the back as well as the built-in speaker. The role of this rear-mounted jack could be determined by a menu option as a “line-out” jack independent of the volume control and headphone jack or an “external speaker” jack that is dependent on the volume control that can be set to either run with or override the internal speaker. This would allow Kogan to supply a “right-channel” active speaker as an accessory thus causing the radio to become a 2-piece stereo radio.

The manufacturers could relocate the USB port to the front of the set thus removing the risk of problems associated with dust and foreign objects falling in to the top-mounted USB socket.

Improved display

The display could be improved as far as legibility goes. It could be a high-contrast LCD with a strong LED-array backlight. Some other reviewers wanted to see a variable backlight display, which could make the set fit for use in a bedroom. This would be best executed with a backlight setting for standby use and a setting for whenever the set is in operation.

Possibility of tone control

There could be the possibility of some form of tone control, not just as a “bass-boost” option. This could be in the form of the classic “tone” control knob used on older sets which provided a bass-rich sound at the low setting and a bright treble-rich sound at the high setting.

WiFi connectivity improvements

Some users may take one of these sets between multiple locations like home and work or home and a friend’s house or holiday home; as I have often seen with some clock radios and portable radios. An improvement that I would like to see would be to allow the user to have up to eight “network profiles” stored in the radio, like what happens with computers and mobile phones. There could be an SSID and WEP/WPA passphrase associated with each of the profiles so the set doesn’t have to be reconfigured when it is taken between regular locations.

Similarly the set could support WPS “quick-connect” options so as to avoid messing with “pick-and-choose” WPA passphrase entry.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This set would be best suited as a radio you may use in a small office, household kitchen, small shop or waiting room at a doctor’s or lawyer’s office. It is also a set worth considering for the workshop or garage even though it is as loud is most typical clock radios because of the fact its finish isn’t susceptible to these working environments. It wouldn’t be appropriate in the bedroom as a replacement for that old clock radio because the set would be too big for a bedside table, the display is too bright even when switched off and the alarm-clock functionality isn’t easily accessible.

I also applaud Kogan for providing a tabletop Internet radio that is positioned at a price that most people can afford and this could be a way for them to cut in to the premium table radio scene. They could go further with a unit that has two speakers, a portable DAB+/Internet radio that can run on batteries or AC, or a tuner that can pick up FM, DAB+ and Internet radio; with all these sets being capable of playing audio from DLNA Home Media Networks.

But I would still recommend the Kogan Wi-Fi Digital Radio with iPod Dock as a value-priced entry-level DAB/Internet radio for situations such as your first Internet radio or when giving someone an Internet radio as a gift. It may also be a good excuse to ditch that tired old radio in the kitchen or office for something that offers a lot more.

Purchase online:
Kogan Web site

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Kogan and their public-relations company, Profession Public Relations. As well, Professional Public Relations have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media and I had taken up this offer.

The review has been updated with further notes from my experience with this set and may help with your purchasing decisions.

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Avoiding “online scalping” when buying event tickets online

Buying concert tickets online can be risky warns Consumer Direct : Directgov – Newsroom

My comments

After I heard the radio ad on Heart 106.2 London about consumer rights concerning online ticket sales in the UK while testing out an Internet radio that I was reviewing for the blog, I thought that this is an issue worth touching on in an international context.

As well, a friend who I know very well told me that whenever an alternative-music festival sells its tickets, all of the tickets are sold out within 10 or 15 minutes of them being available.As soon as this fact is announced, the tickets are immediately hawked on bulletin boards and similar locations on the Internet at heavily-marked-up prices.

I had gone through the advice but looked at it from an international and trans-national perspective so as to allow for those travellers who buy tickets for events they want to attend while they travel.

Advice – from UK news release but suited for international application

The first thing to do is to check the event’s or venue’s official website for information concerning ticket availability. Then prefer to deal with online box offices that are well-known.

If you are buying for an overseas event, find out whether your local online box office can sell the tickets for the overseas event? It may be possible if the event’s ticket agency is part of a chain with an international footprint. If the tickets are only available through ticket agencies located in the country where the gig is, find out how you can make sure you can get the ticket. Some agencies may forward it to your home or business address or they may forward it to the address of where you are staying. In most cases you could arrange to collect the ticket at the event’s box office or have the ticket sent to you as an e-ticket. It may also be worth asking whether you can pay for the tickets now so you can lock the transaction to the current exchange rate. If you are organising your travel through a travel agent, it may be worth getting their help in organising tickets to the overseas event.

As well, shop around the reputable online outlets for the best prices for the event. Check for a full street or postal address – don’t just rely on an e-mail address.

Don’t rely just on “domains of credibility” like nation-specific top-level domains usually associated with your country or established Western nations such as “.com.au” or “.co.uk” to determine the geographic location of the company. This is because there aren’t methods to check this location and it can be easy to set up a forwarding address and "out-of-country" phone number to fool authorities. It may be wise also to do a “whois” search on the domain to locate its owner’s details.

The website, especially the form where you enter your credit-card details, should have encryption. This is indicated with https at the start of the URL and a closed padlock on the address bar or a complete key icon on the  bottom of the browser’s user interface. If you use Internet Explorer 7 or 8, Firefox, Safari or other newer browsers, you are at an advantage if the address bar is green or you see a similar indication on the address bar because of extended-validation SSL certificate. These have stronger credibility and authenticity tests than the regular SSL certificate.

Find out what you are being charged for in the transaction – the seat price, booking fee, transaction charges as well the seat you are being allocated or class of patronage you are in for.

Check for delivery costs if they deliver the tickets by post or courier. These shouldn’t apply for “collect-at-venue” tickets or “e-tickets” that you print out on your printer.

A credit card is your ally because in a lot of cases your credit-card issuer can offer you protection. This is often facilitated by various consumer-protection laws in most countries as well as business agreements that the card networks have established.

It may be worth checking “secondary agency” and anti-scalping laws in your location and/or the location where the event is hosted in (if the event you are buying tickets for is overseas) to be sure whether the tickets are meant to be sold.

Make sure that you can get a refund of all fees if the event is cancelled. This is more important for some sports events that may be cancelled if there is adverse weather.

If you do have queries about the tickets being sold, it may be worth checking with your local government-run consumer-affairs department or the similar department in the country you are travelling to if the event is overseas. In the latter case, it may also be worth visiting the country’s “online-government” portal or contacting their embassy or consulate in your country.

Conclusion

I have often found that a campaign that concerns online consumer protection that is ran in one country can have merit when it concerns transactions that are performed from or within another country, It may differ in certain details like local contact details or country-specific practices but the basic elements are the same the world over. Sometimes, if you listen to an ad for a campaign like this one via Internet radio or see it as an ad in an overseas Web site or “expat’s” newspaper, the basic elements may be conveyed in the ad, with location-specific details when you “descend further” to the associated Website.

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Product Review – Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Revo iBlik RS 1 I am reviewing the Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio which can work as a speaker dock for the iPod. As well Marks & Spencers, the British department store commonly known as “Marks & Sparks”, sell the same radio under their private label but without DAB digital radio as the M&S Internet Radio with iPod Dock.

Overview

This radio looks like one of the classic clock radios sold through the 1970s and 1980s but, instead of being a flat box with the faux wood-grain finish, it has a trapezoid look that is finished in dark charcoal grey. The top of the radio has a random-styled speaker grille and a removeable panel where you dock an Apple iPod or iPhone, and the right had side of the top surface has all of the radio’s control buttons. The front of the radio has a darker middle stripe with the LCD display. The set uses a telescopic aerial (antenna) rather than the ordinary “pigtail” aerial wire that is common with clock radios for FM and DAB operation. The only limitation, which is common with most portable radios, is that you can’t replace a broken telescopic aerial yourself. The Wi-Fi aerial is totally integrated in to the set.

2009-11-07 001 When the unit is turned off, the display is just bright enough to be a nightlight, which makes it suitable for bedroom use. The display becomes significantly bright when the set is in operation, but there could be improvements in the contrast issue. Revo could have improved the display by using a fully-bitmapped display which can allow for a full-height time display which would be more appropriate for this class of radio than a two-line date and time display.

The set comes with a slim remote control which can be a bonus if you need to operate it from the other side of the room. The only problem with this was that you had to be relatively close to the set to operate the remote control. This may be a problem with the review sample that had “done the rounds” and the remote control’s battery was nearly exhausted and had been transported with the battery in place.

Connectivity

The set has a 3.5nn line input jack (referred to as an mPort jack) for use with portable CD players and the like as well as a pair of RCA line-out connectors on the back for use when connecting to an external sound system or a recording device.This connection is a boon to small businesses who may want to connect the radio to a music-on-hold setup or public-address system if they want to play DAB, Internet radio or music held on a computer over the network through these devices.

Setup

This set is set up in a manner similar to other Frontier-based radios like the Kogan reviewed elsewhere in the blog. <Hyperlink to Kogan review> There is still that niggle with the confusing arrow and “return” symbol when you enter your wireless network’s passphrase. As well, you need to make sure your router isn’t using a WEP-WPA compatibility mode because the set may not connect to the wireless network.

The radio has the option of obtaining the time from the Internet or the local DAB multiplex so it sets itself to the correct time. If you set it to refer to the Internet, you then determine your local time zone. It also has a dedicated “DST” option which you turn on when the clocks go forward for Daylight-Saving time and turn off when the clocks go back for regular time. This is unlike the Kogan where you have to advance the time zone by an hour when the clocks go forward.

The DAB function doesn’t have a “clean-up and scan” option for situations where your set may be moved between locations or if the local DAB multiplexes are re-arranged. This was more of a problem with this review sample which had been taken between Sydney and Melbourne.

Use

Revo iBlik RadioStation - control panel You navigate the menus using four “arrow keys” and a “select” button in the centre of those keys. They are also used to tune the radio amongst the FM, DAB or Internet stations. There is a “mode” button to change between the different sources such as the Internet radio, DLNA music player, DAB radio, FM radio, iPod or aux inputs.

The set can store 10 preset stations in each of the FM, DAB or Internet-radio “bands”, which can be an asset if you dabble in many of the Internet-radio stations. This radio also works as a DLNA media player but can only support control from the set’s control panel or remote control.

Suitability for the bedside table

To set the alarm clock, you press the ALARM key. Here you have room for four different alarm times that can be set to apply once only, every day, Monday-Friday or Saturday-Sunday. This could be useful for setting an earlier wakeup time for the work week and a later time for the weekend where you can afford to have that sleep-in; and you can even have a different wake time for him and her on both the work week and the weekend.

You can set the unit to wake you to the buzzer; a particular station on either FM, DAB or Internet radio; or music held on an attached iPod at a chosen volume. What you set the radio to wake you to can be different for each alarm event, so you can factor in different radio programs that are broadcasting on different times. This definitely offers more than the typical clock radio that most of us use where you have up to two different events and you can wake either to the buzzer or the last-tuned radio station.

When you set the alarm, you have to make sure you save the changes by highlighting the “Save” option and pressing SELECT. This is also true if you want to override the alarm clock by turning it off. The ability to set the alarm clock to come on to a nominated radio program allows you to sleep to music from your iPod, DLNA network media server or a different radio station while you wake to your favourite radio program.

The all-important snooze bar is located at the front edge of the control buttons and is bracketed by two other buttons which are radio presets or “previous-next” buttons when the set works as a media player or with an iPod. This same button can be used to set up the sleep timer. Here, you press this button repeatedly to determine how long the radio can play before switching itself off, then press the “select” button to engage the sleep timer whereupon the radio will turn itself off after the nominated time.

Sound quality

The sound quality is similar to what you would expect for a typical 1980s-issue clock radio. This is because it uses the same speaker size as these units and the speaker is positioned to come out the top of the set in the same manner.

Fit and finish

The finish is a “satin-style” plastic finish that is similar to most current-issue clock radios and portable radios. This hasn’t harboured unnecessary fingermarks and the buttons are quick and responsive. It does then have the look and feel of a good-quality clock radio.

Points of Improvement

For this class of radio, the main point of improvement would be a larger bitmapped display with an EL backlight or a larger bitmapped OEL display which can show the time in large figures which makes it suitable for viewing from a distance. Other than that, the radio suits its best-placing very well, as a clock radio for the bedroom.

There could be an option to have the alarm set for particular days of the week, such as Monday, Saturday or Sunday; as well as Monday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday so you can cater for situations where you may have to factor in particular shifts that occur on particular days.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This is an Internet radio / iPod dock / network music player that I would recommend for use in the bedroom as a highly-flexible alternative to that old clock radio. This is more so if you want to wake up to more than regular FM and AM radio or need something that provides a highly-flexible alarm clock. It can also be used in the office, kitchen, shop or waiting room as a radio or background-music device, and can become a conversation piece in itself because of its shape. 

If you are after this radio in Australia, from my experience, I have found it for sale at the electrical department of the David Jones department stores at Westfield Shoppingtown Doncaster. You may also find it available in other premium department stores like Marks & Spencers.

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Bush Australia. As well, Bush Australia have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media.

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Buyer’s Guide – Buying an Internet radio

Introduction

You love the sound of overseas radio stations or are fed up with what is playing on the local radio bands, and want to hear something different. You have then dabbled in Internet radio, usually through clicking on “Listen Here” links on radio station sites or using programs and Internet-radio directories like vTuner. You then realise that it would be better to hear this content through a standalone Internet radio rather than moving your laptop computer around and hearing the content through tinny speakers or being tied to your desktop computer.

There used to be a few Internet radios on the market but the number is slowly increasing, with nearly every premium-radio brand or boutique electronics brand running at least one model in at least a tabletop or portable form factor. The units can also pick up podcasts and support “listen-again” functionality for podcasts and similar content. Nearly all of the Internet radios on the market will have a built-in tuner for at least FM and/or DAB digital radio; and, save for a few cheap units, they are capable of playing music held on a computer or network-attached storage device via the home network using at least the UPnP AV (DLNA) protocol.

Where to go

Not many mass-market home-appliance and consumer-electronics chain stores stock Internet radios at the moment because most of these chains perceive that “Average Joe Six-Pack” won’t understand these radios. This is more so in Australia because of it being a smaller market than the UK or USA. You may be lucky to buy a set from the electrical / consumer electronics department of one of the established department stores like Myer, David Jones, Macys, Selfridges or Marks & Spencers; or some supermarket chains like Aldi.

The best bet for finding Internet radios would be to go to an independent audio-video or electronics dealer like SoundStream or Radio Parts Group. Alternatively you could shop online through a place like Amazon or one of the catalogue-driven direct-marketing outlets like Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer or Innovations. There are some manufacturers and distributors like Kogan who supply Internet radios and other equipment through their own direct-sales channels.

What do you need to know

Form factors

Tabletop (mantel) style

Tabletop Internet radios.jpg
Left: Denon S-52 Internet Radio / CD Player   Right: Tivoli Audio NetWorks Internet Radio

Examples: Denon S-52, Sangean WFR-1 Series, Pure Avanti Flow, Revo iBlik RadioStation, Kogan WiFi Digital Radio with iPod Dock

Kogan Internet radio

This is the most common type of Internet radio, where the set is similar to a clock radio or classic mantel / table radio. These units are designed to run only on AC power and have one or two integrated speakers.

 The reason Internet radios have appeared more in this class of set is because there is a renewed interest in this type of radio in the premium radio sector.

Most of these units have a line-level input jack so one can play a portable CD player or MP3 player through the radio’s speakers as well, in some cases, a line-level output to connect the radio to a recording device like a MiniDisc deck; or an external amplifier. Some units will have an integrated CD player, integrated iPod dock and / or USB socket to play music from a USB storage device.

The more expensive units like the Pure Avanti Flow, the Sangean WFR-1 Series or the Denon S-52 illustrated above have a sound quality that is very similar to one of the large high-end “ghetto-blasters” of the early 80s and can be an alternative to a regular bookshelf music system for a small apartment like a studio apartment or a college dorm room.

Portable style

Examples: Pure Evoke Flow, Roberts Stream 202, Revo Pico RadioStation

PureEvokeFlow.jpg

Pure Evoke Flow portable Internet radio

There is an increasing number of portable sets that are the same size as the typical portable radio of the kind with the large handle that sits on many kitchen benches and window sills. Most of these sets have a single speaker and will have a line-level input at least. A few of them can work on integrated batteries, either as a set of D-size cells or a rechargeable battery pack that is charged when the set is plugged in to AC power.

These units will typically have a sound quality reminiscent of the typical large portable radio or 1970s-era mono radio-cassette.

Internet-radio tuner

Examples: Sangean WFT-1 Series, Linn Akurate DS

These units don’t have built-in amplifiers or speakers and are designed to be connected to an existing music system via its line-level inputs or, in some cases, digital inputs. Some of these units may have a built-in DAB or FM tuner and can easily work as a replacement to an existing AM/FM tuner.

Some manufacturers may market these units as network music players because of their ability to play music held anywhere on the home network through the hi-fi system.

Music system or home-theatre receiver

Examples: Pioneer X-Z9 Network SACD Receiver, Denon AVR-5308, Onkyo TX-NR5007

Some tabletop music systems or home-theatre receivers, most notably models at the top-end of most manufacturers’ ranges, have Internet radio and network media playback as an extra “source” or “function”. This is usually to add extra value to these units, especially at this end of the market.

Some manufacturers may also integrate Internet-radio function in to “music-server” or “music jukebox” components. These are components which have an integrated hard disk where music “ripped” from CDs played in an integrated CD player or recorded from line-level inputs is held and can be played through the connected amplifier or, in some cases, provided over the network.

Network Connection

The tabletop and portable units and some Internet-radio tuners will typically have integrated 802.11g WiFi connectivity to a home network’s wireless segment. This connectivity will work properly with wireless networks that use standard WEP, WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal methods for their security, and usually require the passphrase or WEP key to be entered using a “pick’n’select” method. They also work well if the network has a visible SSID and most of them won’t support WPS or Windows Connect Now “quick-setup” routines or WiFi networks secured to corporate methods. As well, these sets won’t self-connect to hotspots that use common “browser-based” authentication setups.

Some of the tabletop and portable radios and all of the Internet-radio tuners and music systems / home-theatre receivers have a regular Ethernet jack for connection. This connection also works well with HomePlug powerline segments if you connect a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge appropriate to the class of HomePlug segment that you are operating to the Ethernet jack on the set.

Internet station directories

These sets, which are based on one of four platforms (RadioTime, Reciva, Frontier or vTuner), typically work with an integrated directory of Internet streams and podcasts that is able to be updated over the Internet. This can be done automatically or manually with the user pressing an “update” key. They also work with a Web portal which allows you to have a list of “online favourites” alongside the favourite streams associated with the set’s preset buttons.

The Web portals also exist for uploading a user-specified streaming-audio URL to the radio, which can be good for adding new Internet radio streams to your set.

Choosing the right Internet radio for your application

This is similar to choosing a regular radio, especially a premium radio set or music system / component, but you will have to factor in what kind of Internet connectivity you are running. If the site is capable of operating an 802.11g WiFi network or 2.4GHz 802.11n WiFi network operated in “compatibility mode” and secured with WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal, you can use any set that works with WiFi networks such as all of the tabletops and portables. On the other hand, you may have to prefer a set with an Ethernet connection and, in some cases, use a pair of “homeplugs” to locate the set where you want to have it.

As far as bringing Internet radio to the hi-fi or home-theatre system is concerned, an Internet-radio tuner may be what you need if you are happy with your current  system or have just bought a new receiver or music/AV system. As well, some of the tabletop and portable radios have a line-level output which can be another way of bringing Internet radio to your music system. You would have to make sure your existing equipment has a vacant line-level input such as an AUX, TAPE, CD or TUNER input. On the other hand, it may be worth factoring in Internet radio and network media playback as a feature to look for when upgrading or replacing your receiver or system.

Other things to know

Once you own one of these sets, it may be worth reading the DLNA Media Network series of feature articles in this blog, especially “Getting Started With DLNA Media Sharing” to understand the UPnP AV media player functionality that these sets offer. This can help you “liberate” your music collection held on your computer’s hard disk through your newly-purchased Internet radio,

Some of the Internet radios, most notably the Tivoli Networks and the Pure Evoke Flow are designed along the classic two-piece stereo principles that used to be practiced with some consumer-electronics equipment during the 1950s to 1970s, and commonly practiced with cheaper computer speakers. This is where the radio has one integrated speaker that yields mono sound but, whenever it is connected to a matching accessory speaker, it can yield stereo sound. Most of these sets that work that way have the accessory speaker supplied as an extra-cost option.

Conclusion

Once you know what is involved in purchasing an Internet radio, you can enjoy the fun of overseas, out-of-town and offbeat radio without needing to be near your computer.

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Devices not associating with your Draytek router? Check for “compatibility modes”

I have tried to connect my Nokia N85 mobile phone and a Kogan Internet radio (which is on loan for an upcoming review) with a 2007-era Draytek VPN-endpoint router used as our household’s Internet “edge”. But what would happen is that I would supply the correct WPA-PSK passphrase and it would not admit the device. It would admit Apple MacOS X and iPhone equipment as well as Windows computers without a hitch. The problem was that the router was on a WEP-WPA compatibility mode which you may have set up for when not many embedded WiFi network clients supported WPA out-of-the-box.

A good idea would be to make sure your router operates in WPA security mode. This is to make sure all your WPA clients associate properly and quickly when you give them the WPA-PSK passphrase and your network is also secure to the full extent of the WPA standard.

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Product Review – Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone (Symbian S60 version 3)

Introduction

Nokia N85 smartphone I am reviewing the Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone, which is part of Nokia’s high-end “N-series” multimedia phones. It has been positioned as a second-tier model in their lineup and is one that can be easily missed in the crowded multipurpose mobile phone market, especially where this market is dominated by the Apple iPhone for personal use and the Blackberry phones for business use.

Software availability

This phone is part of the Symbian S60 Version 3 platform which has a wide availability of software from different places. This means that additional functions can be added “off the Web” by visiting Handango, software providers’ Web sites and S60-themed Web sites as well as the Ovi application store. This puts it as a decent alternative to the Apple iTunes App Store model that is being implemented by the “King Of Cool” with the iPhone.

As a multimedia phone terminal

High-contrast OLED 2

The N85's high-contrast OLED display

The display is based on OLED technology rather than the usual LCD technology which makes it easier to read in all light. The display is very bright and can be seen at extreme angles. Infact, I consider this display the “vacuum-fluorescent display for battery-operated devices” because it has the same brightness and consistency as the vacuum-fluorescent displays used on most home-installed consumer-electronics devices, especially Panasonic or Sony equipment. A disadvantage that this display may have is that this may lead to some pictures, especially some photographs, appearing too saturated and with a bit too much contrast but it may be how the OLED display reproduces the pictures. It may be a boon with text or diagrams such as the Ovi Maps.

The phone’s battery life is very good even when used as a music player as well as a phone. If you use 3G or WiFi data connectivity or the integrated navigation functionality for a significant amount of time, you can compromise the battery life. You can get around this problem while getting the most out of the phone while you are out and about but cannot readily use the supplied charger by investing in an external battery pack such as one of those “AA-battery”-powered mobile phone chargers. The phone’s MicroUSB socket is its power socket, which means that USB=based power devices used along with a micro-USB flylead can become the phone’s external power supply. The only problem with this is that some USB hubs may not be logically seen by the phone as a charger.

The phone as a GPS unit

The phone has integrated GPS but I am using this function with Ovi-based Maps 3.0 with City Guide subscription. For people who do a lot of walking, the subscription is very good value. One thing that I would like to see in the maps data is public paths for use by low-speed traffic like pedestrians, cyclists or horseback riders; but this is an issue with Navteq and the data they provide to Nokia. The GPS function can be used by other S60 3rd Edition location-driven applications like Nokia’s Sport Tracker GPS pedometer / workout diary or Google’s S60 siftware.

The phone as a Walkman

This phone beats the iPhone when it comes to personal-stereo functionality. This is demonstrable in the FM radio and the integrated music player, especially in how you can add music to the phone.

The phone has an integrated RDS FM radio which works only with wired headsets because the headset’s wire also is the radio’s aerial. There are a few discrepancies when it comes to working with RDS-enabled FM stations. If you preset an RDS radio station, the callsign details that are supplied through RDS aren’t used as a default station reference name. Instead, you have to manually copy the station’s name in to the station’s preset details. The phone doesn’t work with the so-called “dynamic RDS” features like TA/TP/EON traffic-information priority – a feature which can be a boon to public-transport users; PTY program-type functionality (including news priority) or RadioText dynamic text display. It does work with Visual Radio, which is an interactive radio service with 3G or WiFi as data backhaul.

The built-in music player is definitely flexible when it comes to handling music content because it works from music held on the microSDHC cards up to 16Gb / card in capacity. These can be exchanged at will in a similar manner to the classic cassette or MiniDisc formats. Similarly, you can enlarge the storage capacity by upgrading the memory card to a higher capacity. It is compatible with the SlotMusic “musicassette” idea that Sandisk put forward; and the MicroSDHC cards can be loaded with music through a “drag-drop” method via the file system and Nokia PC Suite or directly on to the microSDHC card in an SDHC card reader with the use of an SD card adaptor; or the phone can be synced through Nokia PC Suite or Windows Media Player.

As well, you can download content from a DLNA music server that you are connected to via the WiFi network. This yields a lot more flexibility than the Apple iPod / iPhone system when it comes to adding newer music to your portable collection  As far as codecs are concerned, the phone works with MP3, WMA and AAC codecs and can work with WMA up to 192kbps and MP3 up to 320kbps. The music player is operated in a manner similar to most MP3 players and if you make or take a call, the music pauses and resumes from where it left off. There is even the nice touch of the music fading up gracefully when you finish the call.

The integrated camera

The integrated camera is capable of high-resolution pictures and works well as an auxiliary camera if your main digital camera is out of action. It also works very well for video photography and will use the available memory on the microSD card for the footage rather a particular time limit.

One main problem with it is that if you intend to take pictures to send as MMS messages, it will prefer to send the high-resolution pictures which may not work with most mobile phones. To send an MMS, you would have to set the camera to work at a lower resolution before you take the picture. The picture you save would be a low-resolution picture. A point of improvement that could exist would be to have downscaling for MMS images when an image is sent as an MMS message.This is where a downscaled copy of the image is sent out as an MMS image.

Other than that, pictures and video that you take with the built-in camera can be transferred or printed out using PTP, Picthridge or Bluetooth or a PC can import pictures using Nokia PC Suite and any of the picture import functions that are part of Windows.

There is also a low-resolution camera on the front of the phone which comes in handy if you make a 3G videocall, but you can select to use the main camera during the videocall if you intend to show the other caller something rather than yourself.

Connectivity

As far as regular mobile-phone connectivity goes, this phone offers whatever is expected from a high-end mobile phone or smartphone.

The phone has a MicroUSB data and power socket and a 3.5” 4-conductor jack for headphones / AV lineout and headset / audio adaptor use. I use the phone with a Nokia-supplied headset audio adaptor with built-in microphone that is connected to a set of premium headphones so as to gain good-quality sound. The phone can connect to cassette adaptors for use with car cassette players or classic ghetto blasters; either directly or through an audio adaptor.

The main problem I have had with the audio adaptors is their flimsy tie-clips anchored to these adaptors that break under typical use. If this happens to you, I would suggest using either a metal “bobby-pin” or tie-clip; or a regular plastic clothes-peg from the laundry, attached to the audio adaptor with a rubber band. The only problem is that it may look a bit ugly especially in conjunction with formal wear or good headphones; and, for women, may be uncomfortable against the cleavage. To do this, wrap the rubber band around the audio adaptor making sure it isn’t pressing any of the buttons. Then open the clothes-peg, tie-clip or “bobby-pin” and pass one of the jaws of the clip through the rubber band. You then are able to clip the audio adaptor to your collar, lapel or tie with the tie clip, clothes peg or “bobby pin”.

The phone has a built-in PLL-controlled FM transmitter which you can use alongside an FM radio for music playback. If it was able to use this FM-based link for handsfree calling, I wouldn’t use that functionality at all because of having to set up the radio to handle the call every time a call comes in – one step too many.

The Bluetooth functionality is equally comprehensive in that is supports the Headset and Handsfree profiles for handsfree calling; A2DP / AVRCP audio playback profiles for music streaming functionality; and SIM Card Profile and Phone Book Profile for the increasing number of advanced in-car handsfree devices available with newer premium vehicles or on the aftermarket. This certainly means that the phone can partner with all of the good Bluetooth headsets and helmets as well as all of the good in-car handsfree setups.

Existence in the small network

WiFi Networks

The phone’s main method of connection to a small home or business network is through the built-in WiFi transceiver.

This transceiver works with 802.11g WPA networks that work purely to the WPA or WPA2 modes as well as to insecure WEP networks. This avoids routers or access points that are set up for WEP/WPA compatibility modes. For business and other high-security networks, the phone can work with most EAP-based enterprise security network setups; including SIM-based security. The phone can be programmed to work with wireless networks that have their SSID hidden, with use of a “hidden” option when you create an access point. The WiFi radio is very sensitive, which can come in handy whenever you use wireless hotspots.

The main gap the the phone has concerning WiFi-network connectivity is the lack of ability to support the WPS easy-enrolment setup that is becoming the norm for currently-issued wireless routers.

UPnP / DLNA Functionality

The phone works “out of the box” as a media player to the phone’s display and speakers or as a UPnP AV Control Point for pushing content held locally or on anther DLNA media server to another UPnP AV / DLNA Media Renderer device. It can also share content held on its memory card to a DLNA Media Network. Playlist management – can it push the contents of a container to a device?

Mail terminal

The built-in Symbian mail client supports IMAP4 and POP3/SMTP e-mail systems and uses a similar auto-setup routine to Windows Live Mail, where you just supply your fully-qualified e-mail address and password and the phone just works it out. The client is a similar standard to what is integrated in most smartphones but due to 12-key data entry, may be best used for reading e-mail and sending short replies or notes.

Web browsing

The web-browsing experience is similar to most other smartphones and is limited by the small screen. It can be viewed horizontally by selecting a mode to “view horizontal”. Password entry for social-networking and similar pages can be difficult due to the 12-key text-entry method primarily used in this class of phone.

Internet Radio

There is an integrated Internet Radio receiver function that can work with WiFi networks or 3G networks. If you want to use this function with a 3G network, it will need to work on an “all-you-can-eat” data plan if you want to do a lot of Internet-radio listening. The station directory is similar to that offered by Reciva or vTuner; which means having the stations sorted by country or genre. The phone can also “pipe” the Internet radio sound through the Bluetooth A2DP audio stream which allows you to play Internet radio broadcasts through Bluetooth speakers and similar audio accessories.

Conclusion, including the phone’s “cool factor”

This phone will appeal to the mature users who want a fully-functional yet flexible multimedia mobile phone but don’t intend to do a lot of text entry on it. As well, the phone “sets the cat amongst the pigeons” with the OLED display which is different from the LCD-display norm, thus can appeal to those who don’t have good eyesight.

What Nokia needs to do is to offer phones equipped with this OLED display and Symbian S60 to cut in to established smartphone markets like the QWERTY-keypad business phone (whether Blackberry-style or lengthways) or the touchscreen phone.

I have bought this phone on a published 24-month Telstra 3G “cap” contract under the regular terms and conditions for all customers who sign up to the contract. Therefore I am not writing this out of fear or favour.

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Nokia sues Apple over iPhone • The Register

Nokia sues Apple over iPhone • The Register

Nokia’s press release

My comments on this lawsuit

I personally reckon that this lawsuit is similar to one filed in 2006 by Creative Labs against the same defendant in relation to the music-selection user interface on the iPod being similar to that which is being employed on Creative’s  “Nomad Jukebox Zen” hard-disk-based portable audio players. Apple settled the case through a cash payout to Creative Labs and access to their “Made for iPod” accessory-certification program.

The current Nokia lawsuit may be based on differing facts but the Creative “Nomad Jukebox Zen” litigation may be cited by the Apple legal team to justify their implementation of the mobile-phone technologies in the iPhone. Similarly, Apple would be in a strong financial position to defend the lawsuit due to their popularity of the iPhone and iPod platforms.

So definitely this hasn’t been the first time Apple has run afoul of other companies regarding intellectual property.

NOTICE REGARDING COMMENTS ON CURRENT AND PENDING LITIGATION

This post is a comment on information concerning a current or pending court case and is only referring to material that is based upon facts that are of prior public knowledge. The comments in this post are solely based on the author’s observations and are not intended to influence persons who are currently or potentially involved in the litigation.

As well, the comments facility in this blog is not to be used for posting material that could affect the right of the parties to a fair trial.

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Product Review – TwonkyBeam (beta version)

TwonkyMedia have capitalised on their UPnP AV / DLNA expertise and developed a browser helper object that can play user-selected music, pictures and video from a Web site that you are browsing on to a DLNA-enabled media renderer device “there and then”.

What is TwonkyBeam

TwonkyBeam is a browser helper object which allows you to “push” media found on a Web page to your UPnP AV-enabled media device(s). This can come in handy with YouTube videos, Facebook or Flickr photos, last.fm music or similar sites where you may want to have the media on devices other than your PC’s screen or your laptop’s tinny speakers.

At the moment, the program has been written to work with Windows and Internet Explorer, but will be ported to other desktop Web-viewing environments.

How does it work

Once the software is installed, there is a window that lists all compatible media on the Website and you select which media you want to use. As you select the different media, the media file’s URL is highlighted in the main Web page. In that same window, there is a list of UPnP AV-enabled media players on your network that accept “push” content.

The user identifies the media player that they want to push the media to and selects the media to be viewed in the media list. Then, to show the image, they press the “play” button in that window above the media player list.

On the other hand, the user can right-click on the link and select “TwonkyBeam to” as a way of putting the media on to the DLNA device.

Limitations with certain Websites

At the moment, the current version that is available is a “rough diamond” beta version. In some ways, the program doesn’t provide full access to photo albums that are broken in to groups of, say, 20. This may limit its usefulness with large Facebook photo albums or Flickr photostreams, which is what I have often used the program with when testing it against the “TwonkyMedia Manage UPnP AV Media Renderer”. Nor does it provide access to embedded media clips like most of YouTube’s pages or video clips that are set up in news articles, blogs and social-networking sites. These are the ones where there are playback controls integrated in to the site’s user interface and you can typically see the video in the Web page.

Web developers may have to provide an “all images” view as an option for photo albums or write a “link” URL for video clips that are ordinarily embedded to work around the limitation. The “link” URL could be part of the article’s copy or as a separate link under the embedded video.

Development ideas

One way of improving this program would be for Websites to support media XML files that describe the primary media assets. This would include collections that are broken up in to paginated groups like most Web photo albums.

Similarly, there could be support for handling Flash-embedded videos that are common to YouTube sites and most Web sites that include video material. This could be looked at through the development of applets that “click on” to TwonkyBeam and similar programs and expose the video clips to these programs.

Conclusion

This program can work as a “quick and easy” way to get media that is in a Web site up on to the large screen or better speakers of a DLNA-connected TV or stereo system. It could, in some ways, legitimise the need for one of the Sony or Samsung DLNA-enabled flatscreen TVs in the office or conference room.

The review will be updated whenever the beta version of this program is “polished up” and ready for full release.

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Serious about music with DLNA

I have been observing the situation with UPnP AV / DLNA as a standard for network-based music distribution and have noticed something which may be considered unusual in the world of “serious hi-fi”.  A few boutique hi-fi manufacturers, Arcam, Linn, Naim, T+A and Revox, have spent a lot of time in technical research in to achieving the best sound with good music provided via FM radio, records, tapes and CD, have taken their expertise towards music distributed via the home network.

Their solutions have been based around the UPnP AV / DLNA media-delivery protocol over common IP networks and using common codecs like MP3, FLAC, AAC and, in some cases Ogg Vorbis and WMA. Because they don’t need to develop client and server software and that the DLNA media server is available in standalone devices like NAS boxes, therefore, it has become easier for the manufacturers to concentrate on high-quality decoding, digital-analogue conversion and reproduction of the music through their equipment. A lot of these units support the DLNA standard to full expectations such as support for “three-box” operation as mentioned in this feature article.

Some manufacturers have built the functionality in to a receiver(Arcam FMJ AVR600) or music system supplied with or without speakers (Naim Uniti, T+A Caruso, T+A Music Player) or have supplied it as a component (Linn Akurate, Klimax or Majik DS) or retrofit kit for existing equipment (Revox Module Multimedia for M10 or M51 receiver).

Other manufacturers in this league haven’t yet supported UPnP AV / DLNA because of investment in a multi-room audio distribution system or network audio technology they have invested in; haven’t yet developed such equipment or simply that they want to stay away from the field of network audio.

I have written up an article about integrating classical music in to your network music collection and have made suggestions regarding optimum codec setups for your digital-audio files. This is worth reading if you intend to use any of these products with your home network and want to get the best value out of them.

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Gateway back in Australia

From the late 80s through to now, Gateway 2000 Computers, one of the early “PC clone” manufacturers had existed alongside Dell as a mail-order “reseller” outfit. They had a major stronghold in this early market primarily by selling “build-to-order” computers in a similar vein to Dell, and had used the “cow” theme in most of their advertising. They even took out “themed” multi-page advertisements in the computer press, with such themes as 1950s USA, Wild West, soap operas and the like. Since 2000, they renamed themselves simply as Gateway Computers, but still maintained the “cow” theme.

They had sold some of their products to markets like Australia, both through direct order and, later on, through “bricks and mortar” shops. But economic conditions such as the bursting of the “dotcom bubble” had taken a toll on the company and they pulled out of overseas markets and moved towards just being an Acer-controlled computer wholesaler who sells through major online and “bricks-and-mortar” shops.

Now, they have reappeared in Australia through “Geek Central” who is a small computer dealer with two shops, one of which is in the CBD (downtown) area, and an online-order business. Here, they are focusing more on notebook computers “across the board”, including netbooks.

I had noticed this today when Geek Central had a display of Gateway notebooks with a sign that “Gateway’s back” at the Digital Lifestyle Expo in Melbourne. It certainly shows that some brands may live on in other forms.

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