Review: Logitech UE Smart Radio and Phorus Play-Fi Wireless Speakers
It's a given that smartphones and tablets are at the heart of today's digital media experience. The latest wave of small, mobile devices provide access to every streaming service under the sun and enough file storage to make not only portable media players, but pretty much every other part of the traditional listening rig obsolete. Big systems are going the way of the dodo - little wireless table radios are where it's at nowadays. Enter the Logitech UE Smart Radio and Phorus' Play-Fi system, two worthy contenders with very different design philosophies.
To understand the difference between these units, you've got to ask yourself a serious question: Do you want to use your phone as your primary do-it-all AV device, even at home? Maybe the answer falls along generational lines. Still love the smell of a freshly opened LP sleeve? Maybe a phone-based system feels like a bit of a kludge - and what do you do when the phone rings? Grew up on Xbox and Napster? Who cares what the platform is, so long as it gives you seamless access everywhere. You'll txt them back anyway...
Well, whatever your fancy, it's not a bad time to be interested in wireless audio gear. And if you've made your peace with digital audio (analog only luddites, we'll have to just leave you out of the), plenty of high-end and affordable devices and ecosystems now exist to serve your needs.
Logitech UE's new Smart Radio, as befits its status as the latest in the venerable Squeezebox lineage, is a bit of a throwback - the well-connected device is, more or less, an internet appliance (and by that, I don't mean a refrigerator that places Fresh Direct orders for you). I mean it's a standalone device meant to replace your computer/tablet/phone/what-have-you in certain key areas of your life. . . like, say, enjoying music. Sure, the Smart Radio has a mobile app, but once set up, you can access anything you desire from the front panel, and leave your phone on the bedside table where it can get some rest (and you can ignore it for a while).
Play-Fi, a new streaming protocol of which Phorus's system is the first example, is, philosophically a relative upstart (though designed by industry veterans). It's a mobile-focused, Android-friendly solution, aimed at people whose tablets and phones are their primary listening devices - but who still want a comfortable home listening experience.
Interestingly enough, looks - and even intended use cases - can be deceiving. Despite its hominess, the Smart Radio offers smoother access to streaming services than the mobilecentric Play-Fi app, while the Phorus system does a better job on the traditional home media server front, offering incredibly easy playback of content from from DLNA/UPnP servers, whether they reside on NASes, phones, tablets, or whatever else you have in your stable.
Read on for details.