Fancy some political discourse, Olympic sport commentary, gentle DJ patter or pop-rock clatter on the run? It’s online and on your TV, smartphone and tablet, but hard-button radios are still one of the nation’s favourite gadgets.
The most popular radio in the UK at the moment is the DAB (digital audio broadcasting) radio, though a clear reception on the move can be tricky. If you don't need DAB, a portable radio sporting FM and MW tuners should do, while those with a smartphone and in reliable 3G areas should consider apps like TuneIn.
It doesn't travel well abroad where broadcast standards vary but DAB is perfect in the UK where quality is clear, even if the low bitrate does make everything sound a bit MP3. That said, if it’s a choice between that and a fuzzy medium wave sports-centric BBC 5 Live, we know which way our bread’s buttered.
Analogue radios that can tune into FM, and AM (which includes MW, LW and SW wavebands) are truly traveller class – they're usually small, inexpensive and less power-hungry than DAB radios. There are also models that operate on battery, solar or even simple wind-up dymo systems for use outdoors. Either way, these are the choices that get a great reception from us. Here are the best portable radios according to Pocket-lint.
Best for adventuring
Etón Raptor (£99.95)
With an altimeter, compass and barometer inside, the Etón Raptor is a serious option for proper adventuring types, though glampers are well served by its phone-charging feature. Completely solar-powered for up to 30 hours of radio, and with a USB port for charging a smartphone, the Etón Raptor also includes an LED torch, alarm clock and even a bottle opener.
Splash-proof in a five-minute shower (ie, while you try to undo your rucksack) and with a heavy-duty rubberised outer, the Raptor is outdoors all-over – it even harbours an aluminium carabiner clip on the top so can hang from a backpack while it recharges gadgets. Radio-wise, it offers FM, AM and SW bands, while there's line-in for cabling-up almost any audio device .
Best for exercising
Pure Move 2500 (£84.90)
There's nothing more soul crushing than performing physical exercise in silence (aside from DIY, perhaps), so a decent portable DAB & FM radio is worth catching-up with. One from the DAB radio expert, the Pure Move 2500 is a rechargeable and relatively lightweight slice of digital-ness that's a worthy upgrade on the brand's chunky PocketDAB 1500.
Managing about 14 hours on one charge – that's about thrice round the park in our case – the Move 2500 jogs into first place with its nicely designed scroll wheel and slim design, though it could do with a SD card option for storing MP3s.
If you're after something more basic for taking outdoors or to get the half-time scores at the footie, the Sony ICF-S22 does away with DAB and costs less than a tenner. With headphones jack and speaker, it uses two AA batteries to deliver either FM or AM stations. It won't provide crystal clear commentary, but it's more reliable than DAB on the go.
Best for global catastrophe avoidance
Cardboard Radio (£24.95)
For those after a radio with a small footprint in more ways than one, this Cardboard Radio is an interesting, if rather novelty, option. Reminiscent of Muji’s carboard speakers some will adore its eco-friendly credentials and low-fi cardboard covering, though the innards are pleasingly environmentally hazardous – how else could it tune-in to FM radio stations?
It's powered by 4x AA batteries (there is a DC inlet, but you'll have to hunt down your own DC wall adaptor), which make it both portable and – if you use rechargeable batteries – relatively eco-friendly to run. Speaker power is a fairly weak at 9W but there is a nice surprise in the shape of a line-in to hook-up a phone or iThing.
Best for all-round use
Sony XDR-S56DBP (£49)
Well made and just about pocketable, the Sony XDR-S56DBP is great for when you want some news, chat or tunes while you paint, or some DAB in the dunny. Compatible with DAB+ for future (and European) broadcasts as well as DAB and FM for the here and now, this Sony features a mono speaker, headphones jack and tiny LCD display, though it's the slim design, solid though lightweight build quality and concise audio that most impress.
The latter is best for speech radio, though music is acceptable and we like its easy access shortcuts to three radio stations (though 20 presets are possible). As well as ideal for using around the house, the XDR-S56DBP makes a decent travel companion if it’s fitted with some rechargeable batteries. Tuning-in to DAB can gulp power quickly. Also features a sleep timer and clock.
Best for the car
Pure Highway 300Di (£179.99)
If you listen exclusively to an FM radio station in your car, DAB is a pointless upgrade (until they switch-off analogue radio broadcasting in the UK in three years), but for DAB-only BBC 6 Music fanatics and sports fans sick of inaudible commentaries on Radio 5 Live, going digital on the dashboard is a must.
There are other retro-fit options from JVC and Philips to consider while we wait for car manufacturers to spec DAB radios as standard, but Pure's Highway is the quick-fix frontrunner.
Consisting of a main unit, controller and aerial, the Highway has USB slot for playing MP3s and even a pause/rewind live radio feature while a standard Apple cable can be used to attach an iDevice. The only catch with the Highway is that it needs to be professionally installed with the main unit hidden inside either the glovebox or behind the dashboard. Read our full review for more info.
Best for camping
Powerplus Rhino wind-up radio torch (£30)
Perfect for camping, this great value gadget radio is thoroughly affordable and rapidly rechargeable. Sporting FM/AM tuners and able to be charged via a wind-up handle, by mains or by disposable batteries; the PowerPlus Rhino comes with a carry handle and, best of all, a proper torch. Well, almost. The LED won’t help you put a tent up in the dark but it might help you find the loos.
While you’re there, give the handle a tug: just 90 seconds of winding gives enough juice for a whole hour of radio while a full charge will give you 20 hours – and it sounds pretty good. Build quality is rudimentary and there’s no input for an iPod but, with tuning-in stations a cinch and a headphones jack provided for late-night listening, this is a good-value camping radio. For a more robut, high-end version, Etón's FR650 (£45.95), is worth auditioning. It features a more powerful flashlight, siren and a wind-up or solar power charging option that can also recharge (if you're patient) a phone. Its also covers AM/FM/SW/LW radio bands.
Best for minority sports fans
Roberts Olympics Extra Sports DAB (£80)
Memorabilia with Union Jack designs are going top be hot property this year among royalists and minority sports fans, though Roberts' Olympics Extra Sports DAB personal radio is as pocket-friendly as any. Aside from the flag-waving exterior, perhaps, it's a well thought-out effort that combines both FM and DAB tuners with two telescopic aerials.
The first is an extendable telescopic type for when you're stationary, and the second consists of the cables of attached headphones, though unusually this portable DAB has a loudspeaker as well as a headphones jack. Features a built–in rechargeable battery and 20 station presets.