gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Roberts SolarDAB Solar Powered DAB Radio

Amongst the absolute wealth of DAB/Internet radios I’ve been looking at in the run up to Christmas, the Roberts SolarDAB still stands out as the most innovative and flexible, even though it’s a ridiculously simple concept.

It is far from the best looking DAB radio I’ve ever clapped eyes upon, but it makes up for this by being extremely portable, environmentally friendly and available in a selection of colours to, sort of, suit your taste.

The SolarDAB gets its title from, as you might have guessed, the large solar panel occupying almost the entire top of the radio. The solar panel is backed up by a large battery which must be charged to condition it for 24 hours before it can be used. The 24 hour conditioning charge is a bit of a pain, but I did it after using the radio for several days and everything seems to work okay still. So, you should be able to rip the SolarDAB from its box on Christmas morning and start listening straight away. Once you’re done you can leave it plugged in overnight to sort out the battery and be listening to it again by the following afternoon.

Once the battery is conditioned it will charge from any excess solar power not required to run the radio itself. If, for some reason, you don’t have access to a readily available source of sunlight you can also charge the battery from the mains adaptor and use the SolarDAB on battery during the night either outdoors or in.

If the idea of a completely portable and almost self sustaining DAB radio doesn’t sell the SolarDAB to you, then you might like to know that you can also use it as an external speaker for an mp3 player or other audio source. If there’s nothing worth listening to the radio on your picnic, for example, you and your friends can chill out to your favourite tunes from your iPod without needing to do that back-of-the-bus style listening-to-tunes-through-a-tinny-mobile-phone-speaker.

Now that I’ve exhausted my daily allocation of hyphens I’ll move on to build quality. The SolarDAB is clearly built to reflect its portability. The design is simple, reasonably rugged and sports a detachable arial which clips neatly into the back of the radio.

The arial itself is also rugged and plastic, expertly concealing a generously long internal telescopic arial which, unless DAB reception is diabolical in your area, you’ll almost never have to use.

The tuning and volume dial are soft and rubberised, as are the handful of buttons which allow you to turn the SolarDAB on and off, allocate presets, switch between DAB/Auxiliary mode and other basic features.

I love a proper volume dial, which is an oft-missed concept in this day an age. Volume buttons suck, categorically; There is no redemption from allowing volumes only as a set of pre-defined levels. Fortunately the Solar DAB will do everything from the faintest whisper that you can only detect with your ear pressed against the radio, great for bedside listening, right up to its closest approximation of loud, which is actually pretty admirable for a radio of its size running from the sun and/or a battery.

The display on the DAB is backlit, but the backlit wont stay on in the dark long enough for you to read what song is being played… at least I couldn’t figure out a way. This is a pretty minor annoyance if you like to use radio for music discovery. The display is clean, crisp and clear and doesn’t blur scrolling text beyond recognition like some similar products.

As far as the technology inside the SolarDAB is concerned, it’s nothing special. It’s a back-to-basics DAB radio with no capacity for streaming content from your home network or the internet. Of course, when you’re sitting listening to Chill in your garden or stuffing the SolarDAB on the passenger seat of your car you’ll not miss such advanced functionality. Sometimes it’s nice just to have a little easily accessed musical accompaniment.

I was able to chuck the SolarDAB on the window sill in the office and have it run indefinitely on solar power, a bonus if your place of employment has draconian electrical rules in place, or simply no spare sockets.

At night it’ll run on the battery until morning comes and you can pop it on the window sill to charge up again.

The only downside to the SolarDAB is its somewhat steep price. It’s listed on Roberts’ own website at a whopping £79.99 and I’m struggling to see many places online which stock it for much less than £70.

Clearly the price reflects either the expense of implementing such a large and effective solar panel, or is simply just the cost of trying to be slightly more environmentally friendly. There are far more capable DAB radios, such as the PURE One Elite (which has room for a rechargeable battery in the form of the ~£30 ChargePak), for significantly less if the ability to power the SolarDAB with nothing but the sun doesn’t take you.

But, you’ve read this far, right? So if it’s portability and not functionality that your heart desires, then the SolarDAB will set you back only a little more than a PURE Mini with a ChargePak B1 (which come to about £60 total) and will give you the ability to charge up and run your radio from the sun… surely that’s worth an extra tenner?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008, Home Entertainment, Personal Audio.