By Gerry Blackwell
November 21, 2008
Sanyo R227 Internet Radio
Price: about $200
Pros: Looks good; sounds good; works as Internet radio, FM tuner, media player; thousands of pre-programmed Internet radio stations
Cons: Media player functions difficult to set up; weak user interface
It was bound to happen.
The first major Japanese electronics manufacturer has jumped into the increasingly crowded market for Wi-Fi-based Internet radio appliances, a market dominated until now by start-ups and radio specialists.
Sanyo will introduce the R227 Internet Radio in the U.S. in January. It’s already available in Canada (for about US$200) and other markets.
I-radios are stand-alone devices that let you play Internet radio streams and podcasts without a computer or separate speaker system. They include built-in speakers and amplification and connect to audio streams on the Internet via a Wi-Fi (or wired) link to your local network.
Most also work as wireless media players, pulling audio files from your computers and hard drives, and as stand-alone FM radios.
The Sanyo R227 does all this and has a few things to recommend it over competing products. For starters, the price is right. I-radios with similar functionality sell for as much as $650.
It’s also one of the few on the market with true stereo capability–well, true in the sense that it has two built-in speakers instead of one, like most I-radios. Given that the speakers point out from the sides in opposite directions, it’s difficult to get real stereo effect.
Still, the R227 sounds good, better than some more expensive products, though not as good as the best, such as the Tivoli Audio NetWorks (which is also, at nearly $600, about the most expensive.)
Some listeners might complain that the sound is a little too warm, a little too bass heavy, but to our ears that made it easier to listen to for long periods. Most I-radios tend to sound too bright, verging on tinny.
And the R227 looks good. In form and size, it’s similar to an old-fashioned table radio of the 1960s, but finished in very modern glossy piano black and brushed steel with nicely molded contours.
On the debit side? Very basic I-radio features, a mediocre user interface and flawed media player functionality.
Our out-of-the-box experience, though, was generally good. Connecting the RSS7 to a wireless test network went without flaw.
Like most I-radios, the R227 includes a small monochrome LCD on the front for displaying menus, station and track lists, and FM frequencies.
Simple wizard software on the device, viewed on the LCD, walks you through the process of scanning for and selecting a network and entering an encryption key if required.
Our test network uses MAC address filtering, which requires adding the hardware address of each device to Wi-Fi router software. The preproduction user’s manual we received from Sanyo did, unlike the documentation with most I-radios, explain where to find the MAC address (in the configuration menus on the device) and even gave instructions on setting up MAC filtering.
As an I-radio, the R227 works well enough. Sanyo uses chip technology, firmware, and an Internet radio database from Reciva Ltd. The Reciva technology is used in I-radios from other vendors, as well.
Sanyo says that the R227 is preprogrammed to bring in “thousands” of Internet stations, without saying how many thousands. However, the Reciva database, according to the company’s Web site, currently includes 14,748 stations and 21,242 podcasts.
It’s not clear if the R227 can receive all of them, but it is able to play streams in all three major formats: MP3, WMA, and RealAudio.
The Sanyo radio does lack some I-radio bells and whistles found in other products we’ve tried. You can browse stations by genre or location, for example, but within each location or genre, stations are simply listed alphabetically. Some I-radios also organize stations by genre within each location and location within each genre.
There are no listings of recently tuned stations, new stations added to the database or favorites. And you can’t do keyword searches to find stations. These are all features other I-radios do offer.
Many also let you register yourself and your radio at a Web portal and use the portal to add new stations to the database and add favorites from the database that show up immediately in listings on the radio.
You can’t do any of that with the R227 either, although you can go to the Reciva site and request new stations be added to the database. (They appear within a day.)
I-radios work as wireless media players, but typically not as well as purpose-built devices such as the SlimDevices products from Logitech or the LinkTheater line from Buffalo Technology.
Those products use proprietary server software running on a computer to organize media libraries and manage communication with the player. I-radios rely instead on features built into Microsoft Windows–either folder sharing or media library sharing (the latter requires a recent version of Windows Media Player.)
Our experience setting up these features on the R227 was more frustrating than with most I-radios we’ve tried. The Sanyo radio could play sample tracks in a shared folder on the test system’s main hard drive, but not ripped files in a folder on an external hard drive.
It also had to scan for PCs on the network each time we entered Media Player mode. Other I-radios either do this automatically and much more quickly, or save the list of PCs and folders from one session to another.
Then it has to scan selected folders which, in the case of the very large main music folder on our external drive, took far too long and consistently caused the R227 to freeze and then reboot.
To be fair, this could be an issue with Media Player, with Vista, or with the way they’re set up on our test system. We have had similar, albeit not as severe, problems with media player functions on other I-radio products.
FM reception was good on the R227 and the seek function worked well, finding medium-strength stations in our area that other I-radios we’ve tried skipped over.
We also like that the FM antenna is a dipole type–a flexible wire instead of a rigid telescoping aerial as on most I-radios. A rigid antenna makes it difficult to place the radio on a bookshelf with a shelf above it because you can’t extend the aerial.
The R227’s user interface is decidedly not one of its strong points. The keys on the wireless remote are too small and poorly organized.
For example, the Select key is at the top while the Scroll keys (only up and down) are at the bottom. Virtually every electronic device on the planet today features a four way scroll control with a Select button in the middle. Why would Sanyo depart from this?
A big jog-shuttle dial on the front of the radio does make scrolling menus and lists easy–if for some bizarre reason you wanted to get up from your comfortable seat rather than using the remote. But other keys on the front are too small and/or hard to manipulate.
Not that the user interface is the most important criteria for evaluating a product like this. You can get used to a poor interface, but not bad sound.
That’s the bottom line: The Sanyo R227 is far from perfect. Internet radio features are basic, media player features were difficult to set up, the interface is mediocre. But it looks nice, sounds remarkably good for a small radio, and the price is fair.
Gerry Blackwell is a veteran technology journalist and a frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet. He is based in Canada.