Nokia Digital Radio Headset DAB
Review It’s not uncommon to find an FM radio on a smart phone these days. And while the iPhone has seen fit to do without such a thing, it’s a great way to get your music and news on the move, without the need for Wi-Fi connection or any drain on your data tariff.
Tell-tale signals: Nokia's DAB headset
Every once in a while a device comes along that makes you wonder why it wasn’t available ages ago. For me, the Nokia Digital Radio Headset DAB falls into this category. It brings the wide, wide range of DAB radio stations to your Nokia mobile, cunningly disguised as a standard headset. Look a little closer however and there are a couple of clues as to its real purpose.
For a start, the plug is mini USB digital rather than a 3.5mm analogue jack, so you know this is no ordinary headset. Also, the inline box of player controls is considerably larger than you’d expect in 2011, measuring 55 x 23 x 15mm with a big clip on the back. The large buttons for forward, back and play/pause aren’t subtle but they are very easy to find and use. Next to them is a DAB button, which will get you straight into DAB mode and on the side are volume and call answer buttons.
Usefully, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the control box too, so if Nokia’s own earbuds aren’t doing it for you, you can always add your own. They’re not bad though, with noise-isolating grommets and fair control of the bass, though not perhaps the most revealing in the upper range.
A free Ovi Store app unlocks the functionality
So far so good, but this is very much a Nokia-only headset – you can’t plug it into just any phone and expect it to work. Oh no. And not even any Nokia phone either. As yet, it will only work with phones running Nokia’s latest Symbian^3 operating system, which basically means the C7 and the N8 for now.
Once you’ve downloaded the free DAB radio app from the Ovi Store, there’s a simple interface that allows you to scan for available stations – all laid out in alphabetical order. Once you’ve selected one, it will display whatever text info is available (programme name, track title etc) and you can skip to adjacent alphabetical stations using the large arrows. You can also save your favourites in a separate list so they’re easy to find.
Easily laid out with all the options you'd expect
These are multi-purpose headphones too, so long as you remember to hide the app. You can use them to play tracks held on your phone, in which case the controls revert to standard FWD and RWD. The playback audio will cut off automatically when you receive a call, with DAB returning automatically when you finish. But if you want to use your FM radio, you’ll have to remove the adapter and insert your headphones into the 3.5mm headphone jack, which seems like a trick missed.
As well as many of the stations you can get on FM (some of them with improved reception) DAB offers a host of specialist music stations including the Beeb’s 6Music and 1Xtra and additional sports coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra.
Nokia’s Digital Radio Headset doesn’t offer quite the same range, and therefore choice, as you might get with a tabletop DAB radio equipped with an extendable aerial. For instance, in a simultaneous scan for new stations the Nokia turned up 58, while a Roberts Stream 63i produced 66 stations and Pure’s Evoke Flow promised 64. Not a bad total though and, of course, as well as the greater range of stations, you’ll also get generally better sound quality too.
With DAB, if the signal’s not strong enough to reach you, you won’t get any of it, but if your radio can pick it up, it will be distortion-free with no hiss or crackle, though at the limits of your device’s range you may get occasional dropouts. It’s still an improvement on the wax and wane you tend to get with FM when you’re on the move.
There’s some justifiable criticism of DAB sound reproduction, which typically isn’t as good as you’ll get with a strong FM signal. But the perceived deficit isn’t so much endemic in the technology, more its application, as the audio quality is dependent on the broadcast bandwidth and to what extent the signal has been compressed to accommodate it. But compared to the compressed-to-the-hilt output of a pop station like Radio 1, sound quality is generally more than good enough for casual listening. Indeed, the more robust signal you tend to get on the move also makes up for any step down in sound quality.
With FM radios appearing in most Nokias, will users pay for more of the same?
DAB radio on your phone is a great idea given the more robust signal you get, assuming you’re in a DAB-friendly area, which is 85 per cent of the UK at present. The alphabetical listing of stations, many of them unique to DAB, and the additional information supplied, all improve the user experience. While this tuner is currently compatible with just two Symbian^3 devices, DAB on a handset has the potential to be a hit, but it seems Nokia users really do have to pay for the privilege.
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