Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/08/28/review_roberts_stream_202/

Roberts Stream 202 DAB/FM/net radio

Full stream ahead or does this digital radio run out of puff?

By Lewis Caliburn

Posted in Hardware, 28th August 2008 11:02 GMT

Review In what Roberts claims to be a world first, this unit delivers DAB, FM as well as Wi-Fi connected internet radio and music streaming all in a traditional kitchen-style portable.

A more modern look than perhaps Roberts is known for greeted us when we opened the box. The exterior is attractive enough, with a metallic grille and an angled upper surface on which the controls are laid out. The black version looks slightly better than the silver version. However, the overall impression isn't of the usual reassuringly solid feel you get with a Roberts: this one feels a little lightweight and on the ‘plasticky’ side. The carry handle also feels a little flimsy.

Click for larger image

Roberts' Stream 202: lightweight?

The control array, which consists of the main knob and a range of buttons for navigation and selecting favourite stations, also looks a little fussy, and we felt could be simplified. The aerial is of a good length, but also feels a little on the vulnerable side. The central control delivers with a smooth click-and-scroll action for selecting functions and stations.

Only 15 station presets are available: five internet, five DAB and five FM - not a particularly generous amount. The unit is mains powered, but does have the option for battery use in the form of six hefty D-size cells. Roberts admits that the battery option is really only meant as a back up or for occasional use - the unit has a power consumption level - which damages the Stream's portability credentials.

The user experience isn't an altogether a happy one either. Whilst navigating, the mode and menu buttons work in partnership - so why are they on separate sides of the control array? One is blue plastic and pill-shaped and the other is a metallic pin-head type of button. Moving from menus and modes just feels a little more complex than it could have been.

The blue display is large enough and provides a reasonable amount of information, but the text is quite block-like. It's fine if the characters are still, but the less-than-rapid refresh rate means that once text starts to scroll across the screen, it becomes very difficult to read.

The Stream's DAB reception isn't the best we have seen either. We compared it to a Roberts RD8 portable digital radio in the same spot and the older model performed considerably better, picking up a few more stations and delivering a more robust output.

The Stream 202's sound quality is also a little disappointing, with the sound feeling somewhat unsatisfying, especially on classical or rock. ZZ Top’s Looking for Some Tush had little depth in those dusty blues riffs and Holst's The Planets felt like it hadn't taken off. Things improve a little, however, with broadcast speech, the sound of which is clean and crisp.

The machine seems to feel more at home and playback quality improves upon selecting the FM option. OK, so we run the risk of upsetting the FM-is-great-DAB-is-bad brigade. ‘Of course it sounds better FM is better than DAB!’ we hear you cry. But we're not just talking about the amount of information coming down the pipe necessarily, the machine just feels a little more sure-footed in FM mode.

Roberts Stream 202 internet/DAB/FM radio

You'll find all the standard ports you need at the back

Thankfully, the online experience is a much happier one. The Stream 202 quickly finds local networks and access keys are easily entered through the central control dial by selecting from a number and character menu. Alas, there's a lag time between turning the dial and the screen reacting, so it's easy to shoot past and select the wrong character. The internet search menu and search engine bring things back into line with a simple, well-arranged menu system. Those categories are just getting wackier - World Tropical radio, anyone?

Search and load times for internet stations are good, with selection and playback time averaging between three and six seconds. The unit also takes the time to provide an alternative to some of the self-indulgent, sycophantic babble broadcast as it includes a listing for the most popular internet stations out there.

Bit rates aside, the unit enjoys playing internet radio more than DAB and selecting a station with a decent bit rate results in the radio hitting its stride. Streaming tracks from a home computer also produces decent results. The radio’s media player supports MP3 and WMA, but the playback of DRM-protected content isn't supported. Tracks are accessed is by Windows file-shares or the UPnP protocol with the later providing the more satisfactory experience due to its more straightforward and hassle-free operation.

Verdict

The internet and streaming capabilities are by far the best features of the Stream 202. But the other features aren't strong enough to really justify Roberts' claim that this is a 'universal' player. This is not a bad radio - we just know that Roberts can do a lot better. And at £150, the price is a little on the heavy side too.

The Stream 202 feels like it was perhaps a little rushed in its development. Hopefully, Roberts will get it right next time. But there are similar products from other manufacturers waiting in the wings - keep an eye open for them in these pages very soon.