Review: Q2 Internet Radio

Think of tech products that are easy to use, and you’ll almost certainly think of Apple. But a new product called the Q2 Internet Radio makes the iPhone look as user-friendly as ENIAC.

The $129 Q2 is a cube measuring roughly 4 inches on each side. Except for a tiny (and pretty much unnecessary) power switch on the back, you won’t find a single button or control on it. To change stations, simply roll the cube onto a different side. To turn the volume up, tilt the cube back. To turn the volume down, tilt the cube forward. To turn the Q2 off, turn it onto its front or back.

If you’re thinking, “That’s so easy my grandma could do it,” you’re right. In fact, I bet you could train a dog to do it. But that’d be a bad idea, ’cause every time you use the Q2 the dog will keep changing your stations. Come to think of it, your grandma probably will, too. (These comments are not intended to disparage grandmas by comparing them with dogs, or dogs by comparing them with grandmas.)

Compare this process with what I go through now to change stations on Internet radio, which I usually listen to through my cell phone connected to a Bluetooth speaker. I hit one button then swipe the screen to get to the cell phone’s controls. Then I open the TuneIn Radio app. Then I hit the Favorites button, then pick from a list of stations. The process takes a minute or two, plus some concentration.

With the Q2, you turn it to side 1, 2, 3, or 4 — whichever corresponds to the desired station—then walk away. In two or three seconds, your station is playing.

The front of the cube has a grille covering a 3-inch speaker, which is powered by an amp of unspecified power and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery said to provide 12 to 15 hours of juice. The back has a port to reinforce the little speaker’s bass, plus the aforementioned on/off switch and a USB jack for charging the Q2 or connecting it to a computer. Also on the back is a 3.5mm headphone output jack that doubles as a line output to connect the Q2 to an external sound system.

The Q2’s available in five color schemes, ranging from black with a blood-red pinstripe to pink with flowers. So no matter your gender or your level of insecurity about your gender identity, there’s a perfect Q2 color for you.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about Internet radio knows most Internet radio apps give you a choice of more than 10,000 stations. And anyone who knows anything about cubes knows cubes have only six sides — and if the front and back of the cube are used for the on/off function, you’re down to four sides. So how do you access 10,000+ stations with just four sides of a cube?

Configuring the Cube

Truth be told, you can’t access 10,000+ stations with the Q2 — not all at once, anyway. Through a PC or Mac app, you preset your four favorite Internet radio stations on the Q2. The app gives you the usual selections by location or genre, and also lets you search for your favorite station. It’s pretty safe to say that no matter what your taste in music or talk radio, you can find plenty of stations you’ll like. If you try out a station and don’t like it, just plug the Q2 back into your computer and swap it out with a different station.

By the way, if you think having just four stations will be too limiting for you, you might be wrong. When I met the representatives from Armour Home Electronics, the U.K. company that makes the Q2, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, they cited a BBC study that found most people listen to only three or four radio stations. Personally, I could go for a couple more, but for the ease of use I’ll make the sacrifice.

You also use the app to connect the Q2 to your WiFi network (it can memorize passwords for as many as five networks), and to set the turn-on volume.

The Q2’s setup app also lets you play podcasts. As with the Internet radio stations, you can choose by location or genre, or search by name. However, the Q2 kinda sucks for listening to podcasts. There’s no way to choose among episodes and no way to pause or skip back or forward. If you change channels or turn the Q2 off while the podcast is playing, then go back to the podcast, it starts again from the beginning.

Also, I couldn’t get my two favorite podcasts. One, NPR’s Planet Money, wasn’t on the list. The other, Discovery Channel’s Stuff You Should Know, showed up in the search bar but wouldn’t play.

There’s only one problem with the Q2’s radically simple ergonomics: It’s hard to get precise adjustment of volume using the tilt technique. A volume knob would be simpler, quicker, and more precise—but nowhere near as cool and fun.

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