As a journalist for 12 years, I’ve reviewed some pretty cool stuff in my time.
Like the time I reviewed an interactive soft toy that gave birth to its own young through a flap on its under-carriage for T3 magazine.
Actually, that might not be a highlight, just an indelible, traumatic memory…
Anyway, the point is that as a hardened journalist and blogger, I’m pretty hard to impress. But last week, there I was on Twitter, musing aloud about how I could make my Spotify music on my PC play on my stereo, when a lovely PR person offered me this:
This unassuming little gadget is without a doubt one of the coolest things ever to enter my house.
It’s called a Squeezebox Touch and basically, it connects to your home WiFi network and any PCs that are connected to it – and plays the music it finds.
What this means is if you’ve got a massive iTunes library or loads of MP3 files on your laptop, you can now play them anywhere in your house, providing you've got some powered speakers. Cool, right?
Except what makes the Squeezebox my favourite thing ever is that if you also use Spotify (and if you don’t, why not? It’s what the internet was invented for.) your Squeezebox can connect to your Spotify account and you have real-time access to all the music in Spotify. Which means you now have a small gadget that provides you with high-speed access to around 10 million songs.
If you’re anything like me, this is pretty much as good as life gets. So you’re hanging out with your best friend, bickering about Bob Dylan lyrics – and within 20 seconds, you’re listening to The Weight and proving that, yes, it was a cover, and yes, Dylan did change the words when he sang it. Ha!
The Squeezebox comes with a handy remote control that does everything you’d expect, but the device itself is a 4.3-inch touchscreen that's fairly intuitive to get to grips with. And it doesn't look massively intrusive or geeky on the shelves, which I like. Everyone I've shown it to says, "What, this little thing? Does all that?" I like that sort of subtletly in a gadget, frankly.
We used the Squeezebox with some Logitech Surround Sound speakers, which were pretty impressive given the overall price of the package (the Squeezebox Touch costs £259, though you if you buy a Squeezebox and speakers together, you can currently pick up a package for just under £300. The speakers we tried were these, which produced brilliant sound quality considering the cost of just £79.99).
Installation was very simple – you need to download some console software onto your PC to allow it to talk to your Squeezebox, and you download a second app to link your Spotify account, but it was up and running within 10 minutes of getting it out of the box.
Spotify Premium costs £9.99 a month, which for me is a perfect investment – all my music is available whenever I need it, but I don’t have the trauma of having downloaded thousands of songs at 99p a time to my laptop iTunes, only to watch my music collection die along with my laptop.
If there's a downside it's that playing music over WiFi means that at certain times of day, when my helpful ISP slows down my broadband, the Squeezebox Touch can stutter a little if playing Spotify tracks. But overall, I think that's a minor flaw in an otherwise quite brilliant invention. Every home should have one.