October 16, 2009
| by Arlen Schweiger
For starters, I’m going to let my Facebook status update regarding my review experience with VTech’s IS9181 Wi-Fi Internet Radio speak for itself: “Testing out VTech’s Wi-Fi Internet radio. Pretty much a magical music box. Already found a great Beatles-only station streaming from Russia, and it only took a few minutes to add gdradio.net and Live Phish Radio streams. Sleep can wait till tomorrow night, right?”
In the tabletop evolution from the old AM/FM-only radios to the cassette boomboxes of the 80s to CD/radio boxes to iPod dock systems, the VTech model is the ideal culmination of today’s technology wrapped up in a compact, pretty package.
The IS9181 is almost as simple to set up and use as a traditional boombox you may be used to, but with access to 11,000-plus Internet radio stations foremost among its highlights, it acts almost as a poor man’s multiroom audio system. Currently it’s selling for $174.95 on VTech’s website.
For the most part, the IS9181 is a pretty easy out-of-the-box solution. I was actually surprised by how compact the product was, too—dimensions are only 6.3” x 12.4” x 3.5” and the giftbox weighs just 4 lbs. The size makes the product even more feasible and flexible to use in just about any secondary room of your home or home/work office.
I plugged my review unit into a tidy corner counter space in our kitchen, perfect for when my wife or I are preparing dinner or putting away dishes from the dishwasher. It takes up about as much territory as a small toaster.
The IS9181 includes two manuals—the comprehensive user’s manual as well as the single-page fold-out quick start guide. I grabbed the quick start guide and it proved more than enough for my purposes. The guide says initialization after first-time plug-in can take up to three minutes, which may have been a minute longer than mine.
Following the guide from there, I activated the system and quickly got to the wireless network setup—the unit searched for and easily found my Linksys router, and I punched in my network password and was off and running. The virtual keyboard that appears on the IS9181’s GUI is simple enough to work, either using the included miniature remote control or the controls located on the top of the unit.
From there I also went through clock settings (you can enter manually or have them imported via the Internet) and weather settings. Yes, the device works pretty well as an extra clock for your room, or an alarm clock, and it also provides you with a 5-day forecast once you’ve entered your zip code.
With that taken care of, I was really to start the mega-listening experience that is the IS9181.
Features and Performance
There are four main ways to explore music from VTech’s Internet Radio—source choices are Internet Radio, My Music, FM Radio and Aux In. For this review’s sake, I focused on the Internet Radio, which I believe to be the biggest boon to the device as it taps into 11,000-plus stations—including just about any you can add yourself if they’re not already available.
Highlighting “Internet Radio” on the source menu brings you to a menu of Genres, Locations, Languages, Most Popular Stations, and My Stations. Let’s just say it’s good to have options when you’re dealing with such a vast quantity of stations. Those options are pretty self-explanatory, save for the My Stations.
That one, as well as the other choices, might best be discussed by pointing you to the Station Finder on VTech’s website. You first need to set up your account, by inputting the product ID, to go with your email address and password (sent to you). You can certainly scroll through and select the genres and individual stations on the device itself, but once you check out the Station Finder you will get a better idea of how much there is to choose from, whether it be typical genres like classic rock, jazz, classical, blues, bluegrass and more, or talk radio, for example.
Just as an example, there are 1003 Top 40 stations as of this writing, 230 Contemporary Christian stations, 53 Reggae stations, 10 World Hawaiian stations and 262 sports talk stations. Remember, these are global choices.
I used the list to scan some in the classic rock category, from North America, and add a few channels to My Stations. This acts like a Bookmarks area on your radio so it’s easy to quickly access some favorite choices. I found all-Pink Floyd and all-Beatles stations (both streamed from Russia), for example, that I managed to one-click add to My Stations.
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.