Review: Logitech UE Smart Radio a solid music-streaming radio hampered by software
Logitech’s $180 UE Smart Radio is a music streamer, alarm clock, and speaker wrapped up into a compact, nightstand-friendly package. It can play music from a local computer (Mac or Windows PC), as well as from a number of Internet-radio and subscription-music services.
If the product sounds (and looks) familiar, that’s because the Smart Radio is essentially an updated version of the company’s Squeezebox Radio (3.5 out of 5 rating). It uses the same case and overall design (with minor differences, such as not having button labels), though it is now a part of Logitech’s UE (Ultimate Ears) brand.
With the same three-quarter-inch tweeter and 3-inch driver as the Squeezebox radio, sound quality isn’t outstanding, but it’s pretty good if you take the size and form factor into consideration: loud enough for a small room, but not a shaker of large rooms.
The big hardware difference from the Squeezebox Radio is that the Smart Radio includes a rechargeable battery (with up to six hours on a charge, according to Logitech) that lets you unplug and move the player around the house. That’s a useful feature for a streaming-music player that otherwise requires no wires (it features 802.11g Wi-Fi), and it’s a nice addition to the product considering Logitech didn’t increase the price from the Squeezebox Radio.
As before, the Smart Radio supports a long list of streaming-audio options, including Pandora, Last.fm, Spotify, Rhapsody, Mog, BBC Radio, Slacker, Sirius XM, Internet radio (including local stations based on your location), and more. You can also stream music from your computer in MP3, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, and Apple Lossless formats.
The other area where things have changed is software. The server software, which you must run on your computer in order to stream local music files, is now a little easier to set up than the Squeezebox version. For example, you no longer need to create an online account with Logitech to get started. Otherwise, it functions pretty much the same as before.
Similarly, the mobile app, Logitech UE Smart Radio Controller (for iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire), is much nicer than before, with larger buttons, more-attractive graphics, and a more-intuitive interface. Which is great, because using the Smart Radio’s physical buttons and click-and-scroll wheel to navigate menus or enter search or password information is an unpleasant experience. It’s a shame that the pretty new iOS app isn’t designed to run natively on an iPad (the older Logitech app is) and isn’t always very responsive.
Also on the negative side, I couldn’t get the new UE Music Library server to properly scan my Mac mini’s entire iTunes library or present my playlists on the Smart Radio, while the older Logitech Media Server software worked just fine with the older Squeezebox Radio and the exact same music library. However, installing the new server on my iMac, with it’s still-large-but-not-quite-as-big music library, worked just fine. And the server software still has some rough edges, such as no visual indication when you clear the cache folder or delete preferences.
Finally, the new server, online accounts, and mobile apps aren’t compatible with the older Squeezebox Radio. So if you liked the Squeezebox Radio and bought the Smart Radio to get your music in more rooms, you’ll need multiple accounts and versions of the software to control them.
The UE Smart Radio is a capable music streamer with access to both your local tunes and all the online services you could want. And the rechargeable battery makes the compact unit even more portable and versatile. What holds it back from being a better product is the sometimes flaky desktop and mobile software.