Review POGO Products Radio Your Way Review

 

Here are my first impressions after a week of moderately heavy use of this new product. First and foremost, it is what it claims to be: an AM/FM radio broadcast recorder – oh, and by the way, it plays MP3 files too. First blush impression: great little product.

 

I want to urge all of you to go out and buy one of these little units. The POGO is clearly a version 1.00 product with lots of room for real functional improvement. But if it doesn’t sell, I doubt if any of us will see next year’s model. So buy one now! As long as you know what you’re getting, you won’t be disappointed. The basic idea, what some have called “a TIVO for your radio”, is spectacular. But none of that will come to fruition if the POGO Radio Your WAY doesn’t sell. Let me repeat. Buy one!

 

Having invoked the “T-word” (TIVO) in the previous paragraph, I have to emphatically say that the POGO is not a TIVO for your radio. Geez, it’s not quite even a “VCR for your radio”. But it’s the closest thing out there and no other products even come close to what the POGO can do.

 

As I said at the outset, the POGO does what it is advertised to do. Perhaps not perfectly, but it does it. Functionally, the closest ancestor to the POGO is the ubiquitous AM/FM cassette recorder. If you know how one of those big cassette recorder boxes work then you will feel right at home with the POGO. Added to the simple functionality of recording from the radio are three features that make the POGO unique enough to force you to pull out your wallet:

1) the recorded files are digital (in a proprietary RVF format) and can be rapidly uploaded to your home PC for editing, storage, and transfer. The RVF format can easily be converted to WAV files with the included software. One reviewer complained about the software but I have not experienced this problem at all;

2) the POGO includes a standard SSD/MMC memory card slot for adding additional storage, so the paltry built-in 32MB of memory is not the major handicap some have portrayed it to be. Even with the standard 32MB, the POGO can record over 4 hours of voice-quality audio – more than good enough for saving radio talk shows; and,

3) you can program the POGO to record radio programs (or live audio from the built-in mike) at a future time, the so-called “radio VCR” feature. This is the Rosetta Stone of the POGO!

 

It is slightly smaller and with the same form factor as a pack of cigarettes; so it feels familiar in the shirt pocket of a former smoker like myself. And the POGO is only a tad heavier than the cigs - which means it is quite lightweight. So, although the POGO may be addictive, it won’t kill you! Other reviewers have pointed out that the construction of the POGO is so lightweight it is a good candidate for instant destruction if you drop it. I agree, but only up to a point. Though I haven’t intentionally dropped mine yet, I suspect it is so lightweight that it would likely survive most inadvertent falls. Remember your freshman physics here: F=ma and “a” doesn’t change so a low mass object like the POGO will not hit with the force of a heavier object when it does get dropped. This is why you can swat a fly and he keeps on flying! But I digress…

 

Working with the POGO:

There are four basic modes for listening to the POGO: AM radio, FM radio, playback of POGO-recorded files (the so-called “Voice-file” playback mode), and standard MP3 file playback. The “Voice-file” mode is how you listen to files you have recorded with the POGO’s proprietary RVF recording mode. Whenever you push the “Record” button on the POGO, you are automatically recording to the RVF format. There is no MP3 record mode; only playback. Which means the only way to get an MP3 file onto your POGO is to download it with the included “RYW-Explorer” software. This also means that the quality of off-the-air music recordings is pretty poor because the sampling rate on the RVF format is optimized for voice-quality recordings. But if you use the POGO for simple “live” radio listening, or, for listening to playbacks of talk radio shows, you’ll be thrilled. Here is where the POGO has shined for me.

 

I have a particular talk show that I love to listen to. But it comes on in the middle of the day when I am at work. So I simply program the POGO to record the shows for me everyday and then I come home and listen to them during my evening walk later on. I also downloaded 15 or 20 favorite songs onto the POGO so that if the show that day is boring, I can switch over to MP3 and listen to some tunes. Not high-quality playback mind you, but better than listening to commercials for herbal Viagra.

 

If you stop reading right here, you have my seal of approval on the POGO. There is simply no other product out there that has the POGO’s functionality. “Now wait”, you say. “I’ve seen MP3 players with FM tuners!” And indeed you have, but: 1) They don’t have the ability to set up timer-based recording (like a VCR), 2) they don’t have an AM band on them! and, 3) Let’s be honest, that is an unfair comparison because the POGO is not really an MP3 player. You’re comparing Chevrolets to Oak Trees.

 

Here’s a test: If the radio programming you want to record is:

1) on the FM band, and

2) if you can physically be present to push the “record” button when it starts, and

3) if you can physically be present to push the “stop” button when it ends,

then you don’t need a POGO. See ‘ya later.

 

So I like this cute little baby called the POGO Radio Your Way, but this puppy is not housebroken yet.

 

Major Complaints:

1) When you push the pause button during playback of an RVF or MP3 file, the POGO will only save your place IF you don’t change modes. For example, if you are listening to a previously recorded RVF or MP3 file and pause it, then temporarily switch to AM radio for a few moments, then switch back to the file playback mode, your pause position has been lost. Let’s say you are listening to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and want to pause it so that you can catch the hourly news on the radio, then switch back to listening to the file. When you come back to the file playback mode, you’ll be surprised to learn that your pause position has been lost and you have to fast forward back to where you were before. Very irritating!

2) There are 20 memory positions for radio stations on the POGO, 10 positions each for AM and for FM. This setup is not peculiar to POGO, almost all manufacturers make this mistake. I prefer having my memory positions allocated to my favorite stations regardless of which band they are on. So Memory position 1 might be an AM talk station, position 2 an FM oldies station, position 3 a different AM station, etc. By segregating memory positions based on which band the station is on, the POGO forces you to change bands first before you can change memory channels to a favorite station on a different band. This sort of complaint might be trivial on many products, but the POGO is targeting radio listeners. As such, a more user-friendly station memory setup would be appreciated. I used to have a car radio that did this and I loved it. I was disappointed that the POGO did not. Please fix this in version 2 guys! I don’t want to have to push the “Band” button when I change from one memorized station to another.

3) You cannot record directly to MP3 format. This design omission also seems trivial at first, but leads to other complaints (see below). Native MP3 recording with a decent sampling rate would go a long way to making the POGO a more competitive product. Let’s face it, there are so many talk radio junkies out there trying to time-shift their favorite AM radio talk programs.

4) The built-in equalizer only works when you are listening to MP3 files! It doesn’t work when you are playing back RVF recordings or listening to the radio. Why not? With the poor quality of off-the-air music recordings in the native POGO format, the equalizer would make a big difference in making things sound better. Ditto on something as simple as listening to music on the FM band. Come on guys. The circuitry is there, can’t you tweak the firmware a bit!

 

Minor Complaints:

1) The included software, RYW-Explorer, doesn’t allow you to save files uploaded to your computer in the MP3 format. You have to convert the native RVF format to WAV (which the software does) first, and then use a third party WAV-to-MP3 converter. And, are you ready for this, then download them back onto the POGO. Hassle city!

2) The playback quality of MP3 files, which you must download from your home computer onto the POGO, is poor. While some reviewers have listed the lack of playback quality as a deal-buster, I disagree. I list this as a minor complaint because the POGO never claims to be an MP3 player. Rather, as an added bonus you get crappy MP3 playback. But if the fidelity is there on the MP3 I download onto the POGO, why does it sound so crappy on playback? At least the equalizer works there. Thank goodness for small favors.

3) The manual absolutely sucks. Oops, I’m sorry, was that too blunt? Manuals for technical products are notoriously dense in the first place. This one was written by someone who is obviously not a native English speaker. As such, it becomes bogged down and confusing because of poor translation choices. For example, the universally understood concept of using a timer to record future programs (timer recording or time-shifting) is obliquely referred to as “reserved recording”. Huh? Try to find that in the index. For that matter, try to find an index. Look guys, here’s a simple proposal, send me a complimentary POGO 2 unit when you get them ready and I will write you a nice, easy-to-understand manual in the English language for free. What will that cost you? $30 including shipping?

4) The timer recording function, which makes the POGO sort of like a VCR for the radio, only works on channel you are listening to at the time you program it for later recording. Let me use a VCR as an example of what I am talking about. When you program a VCR to record a future program you have to enter the start time, the end time, AND the channel to record. The POGO doesn’t ask you for the “channel” but defaults to whatever you were listening to at the time you did the programming. This is a little confusing so let me reiterate: the POGO will “change channels” to do a timer recording, but it will switch to whatever channel you were listening to when you did the initial programming. So if you were listening to NPR on the FM band one evening and programmed the POGO to record a talk show on AM radio for the next morning, you will get a recording of NPR from the next morning. The timer recordings will always point to whatever channel you are listening to when you set the timer.

5) And that brings me to my last minor complaint. When I first read about this product in a Popular Science article, I thought “Cool, I’ll buy one if they cost less than 75 bucks.” I was shocked, yes shocked, to see that the best price I could find was $132 delivered. OK, I’m a radio junkie so I paid the price, but that is not how to make this item soar at the sales counter. Fix all of the things I complained about and THEN you might have a $132 product. But as it is, the POGO with a MSRP of $150 is overpriced.

 

Final Comments:

My little POGO is sitting on the desk next to me as I type and I think it is whimpering a little because I have been so hard on it. That makes me feel bad because this really is a cool little product. The analogy that comes to mind is my old 1965 Mustang. I would love to have another Mustang but if I ever buy one again, I’m going to look for a ’66 or a ’67. The original model was just too buggy. But of course the purist among us will insist on having the original, bugs and all! This seems to apply to the POGO Radio Your Way too. I love this little buggar. And I’ll love it a lot more when they get the kinks worked out! But you have to buy one first or there won’t be a successor.

 

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