When I saw its picture and read the description, I thought this would be the ideal product for a radio buff like me. Like the TiVO on my TV set, I could program it to record AM or FM broadcasts so I could time-shift my radio listening.
Griffin Technology's RadioShark does that, but that device has to be connected to a computer. Radio YourWay LX is a portable recorder/player about the size of an iPod that doesn't need a PC connection to record programs. Like an iPod, it can also be used to store and play MP3 files that can be transferred between the device and your PC or Mac.
As a great bonus feature, it also allows you to record and create MP3 files from a microphone or other audio input source and it can be used as a portable storage device for data files.
The 128-megabyte version ($199) can store up to 8.5 hours of audio. The 512 MB model ($250) is said to store 34 hours. It also has a slot for a SD memory card which could store an additional 68 hours of audio if you get a 1 gigabyte card ($90).
One more thing. The white plastic device looks a bit like an iPod. At 2.36" by 3.93" by X 0.78," it's even roughly the same size as an iPod. Unfortunately the resemblance ends there.
Before I tell you what's wrong, let me acknowledge that the product does, more or less, work as advertised. I was able to record a number of CBS hourly news reports and other programs from both the AM and FM tuner.
I was also able to transfer some MP3 files from my PC to listen to on the device and I used it as a portable digital audio recorder to record my voice. The AM and FM reception is reasonably good and the sound quality is OK. I also like the fact that it has a built-in speaker for times when a headphone is inconvenient.
There are two easy ways to transfer data between the device and the PC. If you connect the supplied USB cable, it instantly becomes a virtual drive that shows up on your "My Computer" screen as a "removable disk."
Or, if you store programs on an optional SD card, you can transfer data files between the device and the PC by moving the memory card between the two machines. Once connected by USB, it's even possible to use Windows Media Player to synchronize some of your MP3 music files from a PC to the PoGo.
So with all these great features what's there not to like? I can tell you in two words: "User Interface."
The fact that this device looks a bit like an iPod is about all it has in common with Apple's wildly popular music player. Its ease-of-use factor is the exact opposite.
To begin with, it comes with a horrendous manual that features flow charts, graphs and icons rather than actual descriptions of how to use it. Call me old fashioned, but I like to be able read real instructions that explain, in plain English, how to use something. A flow chart that shows you a sequence of menu options just doesn't cut it.
Of course, some devices don't even need documentation but this one does. Unlike the iPod, there is nothing intuitive about its user interface. If you press the Menu key it brings up the "System Menu" but if you want to get to one of the other menus, you have to press the right arrow key. Eventually most people will figure this out, but it's not immediately obvious.
But that's among the more obvious aspects of this little machine. Figuring out how to program it to record future radio shows was a nightmare. Yes, after considerable staring at manual and playing with the controls, I was able to figure it out, but it wasn't easy.
This device may be suitable for techies and people who have an overwhelming desire to use its features, but it's far from what I could call a consumer friendly product.
Also I was never able to get it to record from a microphone. The good news is that it did allow me to plug in an external microphone but the bad news is that I was unable to turn off its internal mike so my recordings did not sound particularly good.
Even when I called the company's tech support department (which to its credit promptly answered the phone) I couldn't get them to tell me how to make this work. The tech support person said that I must have been using the wrong type of microphone. But I'm sure that's not the problem: simply plugging in an external sound source should have turned off the device's internal microphone, and I tried using both a powered and an unpowered audio input source.
One three occasions, the device got stuck in a mode and wouldn't respond to commands to change modes. Even pressing the power key wouldn't work. I had to insert a paperclip in the small reset hole to get it back into a state where I could at least turn off the power.
The device might have some bugs or, admittedly, there is the possibility that my problems are a result of my not being able to figure out how to use it properly.
I don't claim to be the smartest person in the world, but I'm usually pretty good at figuring out how to use products. If user error is to blame, that says volumes about the machine's interface and poor documentation.
Either way, Radio YourWay LX is not yet ready for prime time.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid