Top five easy-to-use radios for 2019
By Oliver Trebilcock
We pick five great-sounding and simple FM and DAB radios all with handy features to make it easy to listen to the radio - plus three to avoid.
A poorly designed digital radio will leave you fumbling with tiny buttons and struggling to find your favourite station due to over-complicated menus. These radios are a waste of money and you won’t get the most out of them.
Our independent lab tests help us to identify the radios that are straightforward to use and have features that are particularly useful if you’ve got dexterity problems, hearing impairment or poor eyesight.
Not only do the Best Buy radios in the table have impressive sound, but they also have carefully considered designs and functions that can make them simpler and hassle-free to use.
Our highest-scoring alarm clock radio has an impressively large and clear screen, with a bright display that can be dimmed for night-time use. It sounds great, and the buttons on top are well spaced. The only downside is the small, hard-to-read button labels.
The sizeable volume knob on top of this radio, and the surrounding buttons, are very straightforward to use. The large screen is basic, but clear and easy to read. It’s expensive, but the sound quality is excellent and this is a very high-quality, well-built radio.
Made in conjunction with the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, this radio excels in terms of usability. It has protruding yellow buttons and knobs, which are well sized and easy to operate, as well as a clear amber backlit screen. It's a solid and simple radio that sounds good, although it isn't cheap. It's one of very few radios to have Braille markings.
The high-quality colour screen is easy to read in any light conditions and the large handle on top operates as a giant snooze button. The protruding knobs are easy to grip, although the buttons and their labels are on the small side. But overall it's a simple radio that sounds good.
Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct at September 2018.
Not found the product for you? Browse all our digital radio reviews.
And here are three to avoid
Don't be fooled into thinking that a very basic radio must be easy to use. We've seen some radios go through our testing that not only sound awful but defy logic in being far too complex to do even the most basic of tasks, from storing presets to barely readable screens - even for those with good eyesight.
They’re a chore to use and it doesn't matter how many features they have if it's not easy to access them. We’ve seen radios with impossibly small buttons, portable radios that burn through batteries in a matter of hours, and labelling on buttons that's virtually unreadable - if it's there at all. Avoid a costly mistake by staying clear of the radios in the table below if you see them on the high street or online.
Worst radios to use
This radio from a big, popular brand shows that even going for very standard-looking radios can be a serious problem. Don't be fooled into thinking a good-looking display guarantees an easy-to-use radio. Not only does it sound very poor, but it has tiny buttons and minute labels mishmashed together in a skewed grid on the top of the unit. They’re almost all the same size, so you’ll probably still have to look intently at the labels even after months of use.
This model shows the need to take care when choosing highly stylised radios. Entering your wi-fi password with the tiny joystick is frustrating even for those without limited dexterity. Even worse, the minute buttons and their microscopic text labels mean you might even need glasses solely for the job of operating this radio.
Besides the underwhelming sound that doesn't match the high price, it's the experience of using it that really lets down this radio. The terrible display is almost unreadable - even for those with good eyesight - and you have a fiddly task on your hands to get the battery connected when you first get it out of the box. It's so unpleasant to use that it's a Don't Buy.
Digital radio features to choose for ease of use
Knobs and dials
Radios with physical knobs and dials are generally much easier to use, as changing volume or switching stations doesn't involve fiddly buttons. The chunkier the dials, the easier they are to grip. It’s also handy if they are a contrasting colour to the body of the radio.
Good radios generally have large displays that are bright and clear enough to be seen from various angles and in different light conditions. Some also automatically adjust their brightness so that, when it's time for bed, you're not bathed in a disruptive glow as you try to get to sleep.
Digital radios tune in automatically to all of the available stations when you first turn them on. You can scroll through the names of the stations and store your favourites as presets. Beware, though, as some radios can have a large number of presets but a fiddly journey to access them. Dedicated direct-access preset buttons – one for each of your top few favourite radio stations – are much easier to use, as they can be accessed instantly with the push of a button.
The best radios have multiple independent alarms so you can set two different wake-up times if required. They will also have separate settings for weekdays and weekends, so you don’t have to be constantly reprogramming the alarm every week. Some also have alarms that function as kitchen timers, which is handy when cooking.
Some radios come with a remote control, so you can have your radio on a high shelf and still operate it with ease. Many brands including Pure, Roberts and VQ, also allow their radios to be controlled with free apps that you can download onto your smartphone to effectively turn it into a remote control.
Some radios have incredibly complex menus that are tricky to navigate. Before buying, try to visit a retailer that stocks it and have a demonstration so you can check you’re happy with how it operates.
If you plan to move your radio around, opt for one with an adequate carrying handle. On some Pure radios, the carrying handle is touch-sensitive and doubles as the snooze button, which makes it very easy to hit snooze so you don’t disturb your partner with the alarm.
Volume and tone presets
If you’re particular in terms of your sound requirements, many radios have tone presets with optimised settings for different musical genres and spoken word. Some also have bass and treble controls, so you can get it sounding how you want it. Reducing the bass and increasing the treble and middle frequencies can make it easier to understand speech in radio without having to turn up the volume as much.