When DAB radios first went on sale a lot of people asked where the portable ones were. FM, after all has for many years been available in easily portable form. Sadly, DAB required - especially at launch - a great deal of bulky electronics, and had power requirements that could only be satisfied by mains electricity.
Happily, the onward march of technology means that it's now possible to get a DAB radio that is powered by a pair of AAA batteries. We can't help but be a little impressed by the Oxx Pocket DAB Radio, which offers both digital and FM tuners in a tiny package that costs just £60.
The Pocket DAB is really very small indeed. About the size of a TicTac box, and not a great deal deeper, the largest part is the place you put the two batteries. The rear has a curved design, clearly to make it as small as humanly possible.
On the front is a small display, A pair of buttons marked "mode" and "preset" and a navigation key made up of a circle with another button in the middle. There's a headphone jack at the top, and that's pretty much all there is to say about the device.
The display is quite detailed. It welcomes you warmly when you turn the radio on, and has the station names written clearly when you're tuned to a station. Despite its small size, it's really easy to see what's going on. It's also backlit, which is useful for gloomy public transport.
Simple to use
When you first use the radio, you'll need to tune it in. This process is quite simple, and takes a few minutes to complete. The first time we tried it, we were on a bus, and it didn't pick up any stations at all. We tried again when we were next outside, and it found lots of stations and automatically stored them.
It's worth pointing out that, although the radio wouldn't find the stations initially, when we subsequently got on the bus, it was still able to tune in to the pre-stored stations. Clearly, the tuning process requires a stronger signal than regular listening.
There are quite a lot of radio stations on DAB, and a great many of them are utter cack. So it's handy that you can store favourites too. This is simple enough. Just press and hold the preset button, and you'll see it marked with a tick. Then to navigate through only your favourite stations, you press it once quickly, and then use the direction buttons as usual.
Aside from that, there's nothing unusual here. You can replace the standard AAA batteries with rechargeable ones instead, but as the batteries last a long time anyway, there might not be much point, although rechargeable cells are much better for the environment.
One of the best things about the Oxx Pocket is the headphones that come with it. These are made by Jays, and have a nice in-ear design. They are incredibly comfortable too, beating even more expensive pairs, in our pretty average earholes.
The other distinct advantage to the Jays is that they have a flat, tangle resistant cable. We can't tell you how nice it is to take headphones out of your pocket, and not have to spend your whole journey fiddling about trying to get the chord untangled. While it does still get a little knotted up, it's really easy to solve.
We used them with other devices too, and they sound terrific with everything. They're not high-end headphones, but they rival those that cost £30 in the shops.
There are two aspects to quality with this radio. The first is that of sound quality. Here we have no complaints at all, the Jays headphones convey a crisp accurate sound from the radio to your ears. Radio 1 sounds great, as do all the BBC stations.
As always though, digital runs in to trouble when the bitrate drops. And some DAB stations over-compress, and that leads to a rather unpleasant sound. This is, of course, nothing to do with the Oxx at all, and there's little anything can do to fix it.
The final issue is one of signal quality. With no external aerial, save the earphone cable - like mobile phones, the headphones are the aerial, without them it won't pick up anything. This does have an impact, and there are times in our house, where a DAB radio with a proper aerial works, and the portable does not. But then that's no surprise.
And when you're out and about, especially walking, you get crystal clear reception. We didn't have too many problems on the train either, although the older trains seem better for listening to radio than the newer ones, which must have more insulation from the outside world.
Great battery life
Considering a few years ago, you couldn't power a DAB radio off less than a car battery, it's amazing to see the electronics run on two AAA batteries. And what's more, it runs for a long time too. We haven't used this radio every day, but it's still showing a full charge after a good long run over several months. Heavy users will, obviously, see less time, but it's not a disaster.
Really, there's nothing not to like about the Oxx Pocket DAB. It's not too expensive, and although you could get a pocket DAB radio for less, the inclusion of proper headphones really makes the extra price well worth paying.
The sound quality is great, the radio is simple to use and well designed and we loved using it from the first moment we plugged it in to our ears.
The only limitation is using it on some forms of public transport, but for those who love the outdoors, it's perfect for long walks to work in the summer, while listening to the only radio station that matters: Radio 4.