I’m old enough to have fond memories of portable radios. These weren’t the large-juice-box-sized transistor radios that accompanied kids during the World Series but rather the antenna-bearing thick-hardback-sized radios your parents took to the beach to listen to the scratchy AM rock ‘n’ roll stations of the time. Pure brings me back to those halcyon days with its $230 Evoke Flow Internet radio.
Unlike those radios of old, the Evoke Flow radio eschews the AM band and instead supports FM and thousands of Internet radio stations (including a selection of podcasts and ambient sounds), music streamed from your computer or local server, and sources plugged into the radio’s auxiliary input jack (an iPod or CD player, for example). It doesn’t offer such streaming services as Pandora or subscription services such as Rhapsody, Napster, Rdio, or Mog. Similar to those old radios, it plays mono audio through its single speaker. That speaker produces quality akin to that of a decent clock radio—perfectly fine for the kitchen or bedroom or for spoken-word content, but not something that’s going to blow you away sonically. Fortunately, the Evoke Flow has both a headphone port and a stereo out port on the back, so you can attach headphones, speakers, or connect a receiver to it for better stereo sound. It can also be powered without a plug by Pure’s optional $50 ChargePAK E1 rechargeable battery pack.
To get the most out of the Evoke Flow radio you have to do more than pull it from its box and plug it in. You first need to make a Wi-Fi connection. Out of the box the Evoke Flow supports just wireless connections for streaming content (though you can pull in FM radio just like a regular radio), but you can also create an ethernet connection with Pure’s optional $30 USB Ethernet Adapter. This is done via a Network Settings command in the Options menu. The radio displays available wireless networks within range. Select the one you want with the Select knob, depress the knob to choose it, and, if necessary, enter the network password using an onscreen alphanumeric display with the knob.
Once you make the connection, log on to the Pure Lounge, which is where you register your radio and do most of the heavy lifting configuring Internet stations—searching for stations and saving favorites to folders. These favorites and folders then transfer to the radio wirelessly.
While at the Lounge, you can download a copy of Pure’s FlowServer to your computer. This allows you to stream music between your computer and the radio. You set this up within your Web browser. Here you can designate the location of music on your Mac. Only unprotected music will stream to the radio—DRM-protected music you may have purchased from the iTunes Store before Apple dropped such restrictions won’t work.
Controls and navigation
The Evoke Flow bears two knobs (that also operate as buttons when pushed) and five touch-sensitive buttons. The first knob is for adjusting volume up and down and, when pushed, muting volume. The second knob serves more purposes. It can be used for navigating up and down a screen of options, returning to a previous screen and, when pushed, selecting items on the display or pausing a playing track. The first two touch-sensitive buttons are contextual. When you’re using the Evoke Flow to listen to FM radio, for example, the first lets you call up stored station presets (you can create up to 40). When listening to music streaming from your computer, the two serve as previous and next buttons, respectively.
The third button is nearly always labeled Options. Tap it and you often find options for configuring alarms and timers, the display, the media player and network settings, as well as a couple of navigation options for moving to the top level of a particular function’s menu or to the home screen. The last button is marked with a Back symbol. Use it to move back to the previous screen or Home screen (depending on the context of the screen you’re currently viewing). The final touch-sensitive button is for turning the radio on and off.
Given the number of things the Evoke Flow can do, the limited controls, and the multi-function nature of most of the controls, it’s possible to get into situations where you forget how to navigate to particular functions or screens. Even after several days of using the radio I’d still tap the Back button thinking that it would take me back a screen when, in fact, it propelled me to the Home screen. Similarly, when you’re accustomed to using the second knob to move around the current screen, it’s disconcerting to twist it counterclockwise and be taken back a screen.
The Evoke Flow shares another interface limitation with similar portable Internet radios—moving through a long list of content is tedious. For instance, if you’ve connected your massive iTunes library to the radio and need to scroll through a long list of artists, albums, or tracks, you’ll either spend a fair bit of time twirling a knob or use the Evoke Flow’s search function, which requires you to enter characters via a clumsy on-screen interface to find the content you want. In an ideal world it would be great if there was an iOS app to control the radio, but that may be beyond the technical capabilities of the device.
For content from the Lounge you can create favorites so that it’s far easier to return to Internet stations you enjoy. The Lounge Web site is a boon in this regard because it’s relatively easy to add stations via the site. But for those times when you don’t have access to a computer and want to find new content, it can be a struggle when using the radio controls alone.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Evoke Flow has access to plenty of content—Internet radio, terrestrial FM radio, and audio streamed from your computer or server—but some people will want more in the form of Pandora and Last.fm and, possibly, AM radio. And when your world is filled with Apple’s elegant interfaces it’s easy to be put-off by devices that you have to occasionally fiddle with to operate. That said, if you understand the Evoke Flow’s limitations and embrace its primary purpose—a fairly flexible radio as at home at the beach as it is in the kitchen—it may be for you.