Product: Hidden Radio
Rating: Weak Recommend*
English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once advised to, "seek simplicity, but distrust it." That's probably an applicable word to the wise when it comes to an audio device without any discernable controls, a cylindrical mystery harboring an artfully disguised hidden twist on the typical wireless speaker design...
The beauty of the Hidden's design is both its nondescript form factor and small footprint, blending in anywhere in the house. Accompanied by music from the radio, the Hidden made washing dishes a little more bearable.
Out of the Box: The idea an electronic device should require tech-hieroglyphic deciphering is bucked by the simplicity of Hidden Radio's minimalist design. Once the twist-to-increase-volume feature is revealed to new users, the Hidden is capable of evoking smiles usually reserved for parlour tricks or the discovery of hidden passages. There's definitely a Jobs/Ive sensibility of less-is-more, including a few similar maddening instances where form compromises function.
The concealed speaker grille isn't the only trick up Hidden Radio's sleeve; what looks like anodized metal is actually a faux metallic plastic case covering the top. The effect is convincing, with the plastic finish as satisfying as one could hope. Still, at this price real metal would have been preferred. Underneath, a sticky rubber bottom is designed to keep the speaker in place for the signature twisting feature to work. In reality, it works great on high gloss surfaces, only requiring a single hand for operation, but not as impressively on unfinished wood or low tack surfaces where you'll need both hands to release the Kraken...ahem...speaker.
Setting up the device only requires charging for a few hours via included microUSB cable. Bluetooth pairing mode is on by default, with a blue light blinking to its own silent rhythm until connected to a wireless-enabled source. The process took about half a minute at most, whether it was the HTC 8X, Samsung Galaxy SIII, or the iPhone 5, and although I never tested whether the lithium ion battery could last all advertised 15 hours, battery life easily lasted throughout work hours in both radio and Bluetooth streaming mode.
Switch the Hidden Radio into Bluetooth mode (blinks blue), turn on Bluetooth connectivity on your mobile device or computer, select "HiddenRadio", and in just a few seconds you're wirelessly streaming audio.
Sound Quality: Sadly, the sound department is where the Hidden falls short. While sufficient at close proximity, even stationed arm's length away at the desk, the small drivers and cone inside the Hidden Radio produced a sound characterized by a flat, one-dimensional experience despite the 360-degree design. Even engineered for a purported maximum 90dB output (just above city traffic volume, below the sound of a jackhammer 50' away), the limitations of a compact and portable form factor come to roost, especially when volume is pumped up with bass-heavy music. Molasses and muddy, nobody is going to be Brooklyn shaking to the speaker except within earshot distance; streaming the new My Bloody Valentine album, discerning individual instruments became near impossible.
When used as a portable FM radio, the Hidden Radio was more satisfying, especially while listening to talk-heavy NPR. But at this price, you're better off simply streaming from your computer speakers or headphones.
Hidden Radio is undeniably a thoughtfully designed speaker, with an undeniable charm and minimalist pedigree. Unfortunately, unless portability and the design are primary motivating factors, it's hard to strongly recommend this Kickstarter-turned-consumer device to anyone quite yet at this price. The Hidden Radio is a promising version 1.0...I look forward to future versions with optimized sound (perhaps a tad larger) and/or reduced price.
Pros: Clever minimalist design, extremely small form factor, on clean surfaces the twist for "volume up: function works with one hand, pairing is quick and simple.
Cons: Price, limited range in sound quality, must flip to switch from Bluetooth to FM Radio, no speakerphone mic.
(Images: Gregory Han - Video: Hidden Radio )
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.