Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Features of digital radios

What to look for in a digital radio

If our recommended digital radios don't appeal, or you spot what looks like a bargain, make sure that the radio you're considering does what you want it to do. Below, we list the key features to check in more detail. Station ordering and presets can make all the difference to finding the station you want easily and quickly on a digital radio - we look at this more closely in our page on Tuning a digital radio

You can also use this shopping checklist to remind you, so you can do your own quick consumer testing in the high street: 

  • good reception - ask and check for your area
  • good sound quality at the volume you use
  • analogue tuner for FM reception
  • display - how readable is it?
  • menus - how many levels do you need to go through?
  • controls - can you manage them?
  • station ordering - how helpful is it?
  • presets - how many and how easy to set?
  • recording, pause and rewind - does it do these and can you manage them?
  • power options - battery and/or mains
  • headphone socket
  • clock-radio alarm
  • portability - reasonable weight and comfortable handle?
  • accessible instructions
  • voice output should speak station names and other information

For reviews of the radios mentioned below, please see our test reports.

Easy-to-use controls

You're unlikely to have much difficulty turning a tuning dial or pressing up/down buttons to select stations, even with a weak or painful grip. This is something you can easily try out in a shop - check the size, how slippery and the force needed to operate them. We take full account of the usability of the radio controls in our ease of use assessments in our test reports

Display

This is helpful for sighted people. As you tune the radio, the station name shows on the screen and you just stop or press the dials or a button to select the one you want. You don't have to remember frequencies, and the displays can give other information such as the type of station and programme details. Look for a fair-size screen with contrasting coloured information against its background. Most are backlit LCD (liquid crystal display) but self illuminating OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays are coming in that should be brighter and use less power. Check also that you can see the information on the screen from different angles.

Electronic programme guide

Some more expensive radios have an electronic programme guide (EPG). This lists the stations and planned programmes, which you can scroll through on the displays. Depending on the model, you can set the radio to come on for a particular programme and even set it to record a future programme.

The Pure Evoke-3 and Roberts RD-41 had an EPG showing seven days of programmes. But when we tested, these guides did not list every programme of every station - only those transmitted on BBC and the commercial Digital 1 Multiplex. The listing will therefore include all BBC national and local stations. Take note that you need to be in a strong signal area to receive the EPG information. You also need to have enough sight to see the screen to set the recorder.

Pause and rewind

A useful feature if the phone rings or you miss some information in a programme. If you pause the programme, with a button press, you can then rewind to hear something again. The Pure Evoke-3, Roberts RD-8BW Duet and Roberts RD-41 had this feature.

Recording

Again, it was the two top-end radios that could do this. Recording a programme you are listening to was straightforward - just press the record button - as was playing back a recording. But setting the radio to record a future programme was through the EPG, so was dependent on being able to see the display screen. The programme was stored in the radio's internal memory or on a removable SD (Secure Digital) media card. Our Pure Evoke-3 and Roberts RD-41 could do both, but neither came with a media card. SD cards are readily available, even in supermarkets, with the price depending on the storage space they provide.

Accessible instructions

Check the instructions that come with any radio you are interested in. They often have print that is too small to read easily (or at all) and are printed on shiny paper that is more difficult from which to read. Instructions are unlikely to be provided in any alternative format such as audio, but two-thirds of the radios tested provided a copy online as a PDF.

Clock-radio alarm

Most digital radios have a built-in clock but not all of them can be used as a clock-radio.  Seven of the radios on test could do this; with the Pure Evoke-3  and Roberts RD-41, you could set more than one alarm. All the clocks automatically got the correct time from radio signals.

Portability

Check out the weight with the batteries in, if you are planning to use them, and any handle to see how comfortable it is. Just three of the tested ratios were small enough to be hand-held and each weighed around half a kilogram. Tabletop ones varied in size and weight, from just under a kilogram to more than 2.5 kilograms.

External aerial connection

If you live in an area with a weak radio signal, you might need a digital radio roof aerial (different from a TV aerial) to get good reception. Get an aerial installed by a registered installer (see Contacts). In this case, go for a radio with a built-in rod aerial that can be removed, so there is a socket to plug the new aerial into. This was possible with only six of the radios tested. All needed a tool to remove the aerial because the connection was recessed. Obviously, you will not be able to move the radio around the house once a fixed aerial is plugged in.

Last updated: August 2011


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