22nd May 2005 | 23:00
Certainly the most chic pocket DAB radio we've seen
Common perception has it that Sony has lost its way. Despite the company recently employing a Brit as its MD, such new measures don't have a retrospective effect. In any case, he's got his work cut out.
This pocket-sized DAB radio may look the part, but sadly this is backed up with awkward usability. That's not to say it's not a very good radio - indeed, quite the contrary. It's just it's not the usual quality we expect from Sony.
Let's start with the display. The inverse-LCD display isn't backlit by default; you have to press a button to illuminate your listening. Because Sony has made the display inversed - the text on the screen appears light upon a dark background - it's actually really hard to see. Even at maximum contrast, any kind of sunlight puts paid to listening pleasure.
The other really disappointing aspect is the main joystick. It just isn't definite enough. We found it most annoying when altering the contrast of the screen. All we had to do was to move the joystick up and down, but it took a very fine touch to push it in the right way without pressing it down as if we were to click 'OK'. Between stations is also difficult.
Despite these design flaws, there's no doubt that the Sony DAB looks fabulous. We took the XDR-M1 to Twickenham to test its function on the move. And a portable certainly comes into its own in such a location. What most impressed us after the trip was the remote. We found it needed a screen, but the remainder of the remote functions are superb, exactly the kind of build quality Sony expresses with its MiniDisc portables. This is more like it.
The shell of the XDR-M1 is - functional niggles aside - a work of art. The broad silver buttons are tremendous. All they do is enable you to access the menu or switch the unit between FM and DAB modes but, even so, they're quite handy. However, the process of scanning for new digital multiplexes (groups of DAB stations) is rather complex.
Portable DAB radios are bound to be taken up across the country, and they should enable you to switch between the different station areas a lot more easily. Of course, this won't impact on the national multiplexes, but it will mean that you have to go through a lengthy scan whenever you leave a locality. This can never be completely sorted out, but some element of auto-scanning so stations can be picked up as they become local would be preferable.
Although it's £25 cheaper, the Sony really isn't a match for the Pure Pocket DAB or the similarly-priced Philips DA1000. Both of these devices have far less style, but far more function. Digital radio might finally be taking off in the UK, but at this physical size the technology needs far more convincing arguments for existence.