Orange have very nicely lent me a Liveradio to play with for a couple of weeks. I think the idea is great. But at a tad under 200 euros, the price is a bit on the steep side. I suppose it will eventully come down, it usually does. I know at least one other manufacturer (Sagem) has one in the pipeline and there are probably more.
It looks like an ordinary radio that you would have in your kitchen or on the bedside table. The difference is that instead of picking up FM (we don't have DAB in France) it links in to your wifi network and then picks up a huge number (I haven't counted them yet) of radios streamed over the Internet. It also has a USB connector (awkwardly placed on the back) so you can plug in a pen drive or MP3 widget and play your own files. I've opened a guest account on the Orange web site so that I can configure it, but am still working on the finer points. Will update this blog when I get round to testing them.
Now for some minus points.
First of all, you can only configure a single Wi-Fi account. So, when you move to a different access point, you have to rekey your encryption key. That's quite a big drawback as far as I'm concerned, because the walls in this flat are prety impervious to wifi and I've had to install a separate access point in the bedroom. Consequently, when I carry the liveradio from the bedroom to the sitting room, I have to reset the wi-fi key. Also, it can't work with FON access points. These use unencrypted wi-fi but need authorisation to surf the web. I presume the same would go for Orange and other access points. So there's not much point in taking this radio with you on holiday, as most hotels use this kind of technology.
Secondly, the list of radio stations has been selected by Orange. I haven't figured out how to add other stations, or even whether it is possible - the manual says nothing about this. Will report back. I suspect that in some cases (such as the BBC stations) it may not be possible at all to reconfigure. Nor does it apppear to be possible to configure it to take podcasts other than those selected by Orange. Certainly a very big minus. Nor streaming the audio content of my PC hard disc to listen in the bedroom, or wherever.
Finally: there is no on-off switch. It is true that on-off switches have all but disappeared these days, but at least there is a standby mode worthy of the name. In the case of the Liveradio, it continues consuming power at a hefty rate. According to the manual, the battery can last around 24 hours in this mode before it needs a recharge. So if you take it with you on a trip, the chances are it'll be prety well run down by the time you arrive anywhere. It is definitely designed as a radio for the bedside table (it does include an effective alarm feature), to be left plugged in for most of the time, occasionally taking it with you to the kitchen or the loo. In fact I wouldn't be too sure about using it in the kitchen or while having a bath, as the speakers seem rather exposed.
There are lots of other features to play with over the next few days - podcasts, live books etc, so I will have plenty to keep me busy in the next few days instead of getting on with my guide on smartphones.