I rarely use the clock radio in a hotel room. One, I don’t trust that it will work, and two, I don’t want to spend the time figuring out the typically Byzantine path to programming it. Lately I’ve been using my cell phone for an alarm, but I prefer music to the beep of my Treo. And I prefer my music to what plays on most commercial radio stations. The confluence of these preferences leads me to Philips’ ShoqBox Personal Sound System: A combination alarm clock, speaker system and MP3 player in a travel-size case.
Design and Features
At 2.28 x 2.08 x 7.16 inches and a Â¾ pound, ShoqBox is the size and weight of a 1990-era cell phone. You wouldn’t tote it around like an iPod, but it’s small enough to fit easily in carry-on luggage. Two tiny speakers deliver stereo sound either from FM radio or digital tunes stored in flash memory inside the device. It also accepts an input from a portable music player, enabling you to listen to a vault of tunes stored on an iPod or Zen through the tiny music system. At night it’s a music playback system; in the morning it’s an alarm clock. Now that’s versatile.
Our PSS110 review unit was a 256MB version ($129) on which I crammed 28 jazz tracks and then, after a swap out, 44 shorter-length pop songs. A higher capacity version doubles storage to 512MB and lists for $149.
ShoqBox’s alarm clock wakes you to a buzzer, radio or your own MP3 or WMA tunes that you’ve downloaded to the device. Its rechargeable battery specs at 10 hours, so you need to back up battery power with the supplied AC charger when you travel. The sleep timer sets to intervals of 15, 30 and 60 minutes.
Various equalizer settings tailor sound to genres including rock, hip-hop, jazz, dance and funk. The differences among the modes are subtle; you’re likely to stick just with one or turn them off altogether. The Dynamic Bass Boost button, on the other hand, beefs up the overall output, pumping up the sound to levels that defy the size of the mini music maker.
Image Courtesy of Philips
Setup and Use
ShoqBox only plays tunes ported from the bundled Musicmatch software. Once Musicmatch has pulled your music into its library, you can either automatically sync tunes to the device or make manual selections one at a time. Our unit, even when fully charged, couldn’t be recognized by the Musicmatch software unless it was connected to AC power.
Music storage is organized by artist, album, genre and playlist. Playing music is straightforward, using the four directional buttons on the left of the display to navigate through albums or artists, then tapping the Play button on the right. A separate source button switches you through radio, music and line-in sources. Navigation is blissfully simple.
Setting presets on the radio portion are more complicated. The multiple-step operation requires the manual, which is only available on the installation disc, which you’re not likely to take with you on vacation or a business trip. You also need the supplied pigtail antenna to get reception, an accessory that’s sure to wind up on the forgot-to-do list.
As an alarm clock, ShoqBox works well enough, but you’ll want a dry run before relying on it the morning of a command performance. You learn only from the manual that hitting any button once puts the alarm in snooze mode for an additional 10 minutes. Hit any button twice, and that shuts off the alarm for good. The problem there is, if the volume level was too loud from the night before and you try to turn it down, hitting the volume down button puts the alarm in snooze mode and you lose the music altogether. Why not just add a snooze button?
The PSS110 tells time only on the 24-hour schedule, which is inconvenient when you’re living on a 12-hour clock. You can wake up to radio, music or buzzer but not to a line-in source. You have to remember to unplug any line-in sources that are connected to the unit, since the alarm won’t work if another MP3 player is plugged in.
Within music mode, you can choose to wake up to an album or artist, but you can’t drill down more than that. That means you could wake up to a song from the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper album, but you can’t choose the song “Good Morning Good Morning.” The selection process should take it to the next level.
Image Courtesy of Philips
The sound from this half-pint hifi system is surprisingly robust. The 4-watt system can fill a room with without lisping or sounding screechy at the high end. There’s just so much bass you can get from a pair of speakers the diameter of a half dollar, but ShoqBox does a nice job there, too. It’s an impressive little unit.
Of course, the user has control over sound quality, depending on the amount of compression used. You’re far more tempted to cut the audio corners if it means getting 100 tunes on a device rather than 25. The 256MB flash fills way too quickly. At $20 more, the 512MB version is the only way to go, and even that is on the “lite” side.
There was a glitch with some of the songs not playing on the device, even though they listed on the Musicmatch device manager and showed up on the ShoqBox display. I don’t know whether to blame Musicmatch or ShoqBox for the bad handoff, but some songs from the same album played and some didn’t.
Just when I was going to sign off on performance with glowing marks, the PSS110 locked up. It wouldn’t play, change tunes, or power off, instead remaining stuck at the 0:00 second mark of Madeleine Peyroux’s J’Ai Deux Amours. The clock, strangely enough, continued to change on the display and show the correct time, albeit in the 24-hour format. I’ll have to wait for the unit to lose juice and try again–and hope the crash was a one-time wonder. Keep your fingers crossed.
Philips has come up with a clever little device that makes a great travel companion. Because of the limited storage, it doesn’t replace an MP3 player but accessorizes one with amplified speakers and a tuner. As a clock radio, it runs circles around the standard hotel alarm. A few tweaks to the music wakeup options, radio preset process, and clock settings would make an already appealing product even better. More memory just might make it irresistible.
- Better than most travel clock radio units
- Plays MP3’s
- Supports batteries
- Has an inline audio jack
- Good sound quality
- Limited storage space
- Quirky clock radio settings
- Some problems with MusicMatch