Whether it's the shape or the screen you notice first, there's no denying the PURE Digital Sensia is an eye-catching piece of kit. This £250 radio tunes to FM, DAB and Internet stations, and streams MP3s from your PC. The most beguiling feature, though, is the 145mm (5.7-inch) VGA touchscreen, which is as easy -- and fun -- to use as an iPhone. It's available now from online retailers in a range of colours.
Tackling the design
The Sensia is a radio you just want to touch. For starters, it's shaped like a fat rugby ball, which if you've invested in the optional battery pack lends itself to being tucked under your arm and taken from room to room. When in use, it sits on a shallow cupped stand, which lets you tilt it to whichever angle is best for tapping the menus on the 640x480-pixel colour display. Despite not being fixed, it holds it well, and it doesn't tip away from you as you prod.
Apart from the remote and power button, this display is the only control. It's split into logical sections for scrolling through station names -- like entries in an iPhone address book -- and, to the side, accessing downloaded applications. At the moment these extend only to weather, Twitter and gallery apps, but PURE Digital has plans for others, and to release a software-development kit for third-party coders. All applications are hosted on PURE's own servers, and are free to use.
Twitter integration is an interesting curiosity, which allows you to keep up with friends or post tweets about programmes as they unfold, but for our money the weather application is the main draw, supplementing the news and travel of a radio show with truly useful graphical information.
Stations can also make use of the screen to display their own slideshows. These are downloaded over your Wi-Fi connection rather than the DAB multiplex, and for those that don't produce their own slideshows, the Sensia displays a default image deck provided by PURE. At the moment, that deck consists of adverts for the company's other products.
Making radio even simpler
The screen's biggest benefit, though, is the simple ease of use it lends to the set. This is obvious from the moment you open the box, as it greatly eases the process of connecting the Sensia to your Wi-Fi network. Having a proper on-screen keyboard through which to enter your encryption key is a huge time saver over the tedious twist-and-push dial entry of the Evoke Flow or the long-winded up and down arrow tapping of the Siesta Flow.
It also makes short work of finding what you want to listen to, as you can skip straight to a set of stations by entering the first letter of their name, or use the on-screen menus to specify genre, country, language and even quality to filter Internet streams. Again, compare this fully featured set of controls to the inevitable compromises of dials and buttons on the Evoke and Siesta Flow, and there's simply no competition.
Sound quality is excellent, thanks to the 30W speakers in the fabric-covered ends of the oval casing, and the shape ensures faultless separation as the left and right channels are fired in opposite directions. The tuner was strong enough to pick up all of the available DAB stations on the multiplexes in our test location, and FM reception was good, too.
We're going to find it hard, after this, to use normal twist or search tuning on our other analogue radios: on the Sensia you tune FM directly by either tapping a spot on the dial or dragging the tuning marker to the appropriate position. It's intuitive and very fast, and so is changing the volume, which also done by dragging your finger left and right across the screen, or tapping to mute and unmute.
Our only complaint is the speed at which it sometimes reacts to those taps and presses. On the whole it's acceptable, but there were times when we found ourselves tapping an on-screen button two or three times as it seemed to miss our initial prods. This is something we would expect to improve over time as PURE further refines the firmware and delivers automatic software updates over the Wi-Fi connection. Indeed, one such update installed during our tests.
The Sensia is an excellent radio. There's no other word for it. It's also no exaggeration to say this is a game changer. Nothing can -- yet -- hope to compete with that bright, colourful screen or the intuitive controls it affords. If nothing else, it helps you explore radio like never before: you're not afraid to tune off into the unknown when it's so easy to get back to your favourites.
It's not achieved top marks on account of the laggy firmware, but despite being a point and a half below a full house, we'd happily spend our own money on this set and wait for those free software updates to appear.
Edited by Nick Hide