Digital radio has been a part of the Australian media landscape for a little over 12 months, but the hardware has been very slow to catch up. While many radio stations have been broadcasting images and slideshows digitally since launch, to our knowledge only two out of the dozens of available devices are capable of displaying them. One is the iRiver B30 and the other is the Pure Sensia. It's a digital radio with a twist — a large touchscreen, internet radio and even Facebook integration!
Design and features
Pure has taken a number of cues from Bowers & Wilkins, with the design of the Sensia not only shaped like B&W's Zeppelin but it also uses side-firing woofers as well. While this means you lose a "stereo" image it also means the audio is more evenly distributed throughout the room. It seems the Sensia is designed to provide ambient listening rather than be used for intensive hi-fi sessions.
The main focus of the Sensia is the large, bright 5.7-inch touchscreen. It features a resolution of 640x480 and is the main method of interacting with the device. The Pure also features a power button on top, but we found it sits in quite a poor position as you naturally rest your hand there to navigate the screen meaning that you can accidentally turn it off.
As we alluded to in our introduction, one of digital radio's main benefits is the wealth of information not available via traditional FM. Artist and track details are just the start with weather, news and sports results able be pumped over the waves and displayed on the Sensia's large screen. But that's not all, the radio gives you access to Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, DLNA content and internet radio via the large screen.
Connectivity is ample, with 802.11b wireless (but no Ethernet), radio antenna (naturally), USB, 3.5mm auxiliary input and a headphone jack. While the Sensia is ostensibly designed for use indoors, Pure has provided a ChargePak slot for the optional rechargeable battery.
Despite the Sensia letting you listen to internet radio and FM, this is a digital radio first and foremost. Even though you may live in a metro area you may find that you can't pick up digital radio, and while the Sensia has a telescopic antenna the tuner isn't particularly sensitive. CNET Australia's office is in the heart of the Sydney CBD and we were only able to get reception once we moved the radio to the corner of the office so that the antenna was pointing straight up George St.
With digital radio tuned in, the Sensia presents a likeable enough sound but lacked intimacy. We've spoken in other reviews about the shortcomings of digital radio and specifically its lack of treble response. The Sensia does its best to gloss over this and instead gives a very mid-range heavy sound.
Pure recently added the ability to view slideshows and other graphical information, but it's hardly a great selling point as not many of the stations are using this or have got it working properly — for example, ABC Digital Radio's cover art was stuck on the same artist song after song.
The radio accepts an auxiliary input and when fed a lossless copy of Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's Red Right Hand we found the bass to be a little flabby, vocals were distant and there was a lack of stereo spread. Engaging the "boost" control does put back some of the treble and increases intimacy, but not to the level of equivalently-priced products.
While the side-mounted woofers mean the sound is enjoyable over a wider part of the room, it also mean it's not good for concerted hi-fi sessions. This radio is better for use in a workplace or by the pool.
While the radio is mostly fun, and the quality of internet radio is also good, it's the interface that lets it down. Pure has demonstrated in the past it knows how to make digital radios, but it can't make a touchscreen interface to save itself. Navigation is frustrating and quite unintuitive, and when scrolling through to Facebook or Picasa the lag is so slow between applications that it's a disincentive on future visits.
For a device that costs north of AU$700 we would have expected both higher quality audio and a better user experience. Facebook integration is superfluous, and we'd happily forego such a large display for a better navigation system.
In the end, the Sensia looks more fun than it actually is. It is pleasant enough to listen to once you've got it working, but unfortunately you can't "snap off the Bakelite knobs" to keep it working that way.