I’m generally opposed to technology that targets a specific demographic. It’s normally little more than a patronising paint job – a smartphone with a pink case that’s “designed for women”, for example. The Silver Server (a name that verges on patronising itself) is genuinely different: a DAB/FM radio that’s equipped with a host of features for the older listener or the visually impaired.
Audible warnings when the room becomes too cold, well-spaced buttons that read aloud their functions, a USB socket for playing back books borrowed from the RNIB’s Talking Books library are among the the thoughtful touches. But despite the grey flecks in my beard and the glasses resting on my nose, I’m only two-thirds of the way to elderly and not seriously visually impaired, so I’ve roped in the RNIB’s product team to help me evaluate the worthiness of The Silver Server.
The Silver Server: features
Let’s start with the unique features that make this radio stand out from the legions of other brands of radios you’ll find on the shelves.
The controls are kept deliberately large and sparse. There are two big dials on either end – one for volume and one for tuning/selecting menu items – and four buttons on the top. An additional bank of eight buttons is concealed under a pop-up flap, but you’re unlikely to need those often.
Every time you press a button or choose a function, a voice prompt tells you what you’re doing. It’s effectively subtitling for the visually impaired, ensuring that they know exactly what they’ve pressed when they hit a button, which seems entirely sensible to me. Even as someone with good vision, I don’t find the audio prompts irritating.
The two-line LCD display is large and uses high-contrast white-on-black text, so there shouldn’t be any problems for those who suffer from colour blindness.
The radio comes with a built-in thermometer that allows it to not only display the current temperature on the LCD display, but deliver an audio warning if the temperature drops below a certain level, telling the listener to switch their heating on. It’s a considerate touch for those who are alone and vulnerable, but one that I think is flawed.
Although you can adjust the temperature at which the warning is issued (18C is the default), there is no way to limit the warnings to between certain hours. So, if the temperature were to drop slightly below the desired level overnight, you’d get an audio warning at 2am, which repeats every 20 minutes or so. The only way to stop the warnings is to flick off the power button on the back of the radio or pull the plug, both of which make the time and temperature LCD readout vanish, obviously.
If you could limit this feature to only work during waking hours, it could be useful. As is stands, I think it’s more likely to irritate and be switched off, but I’d welcome others feedback on comments at the foot of this article.
More valuable, in my opinion, is the feature that allows you to record your own audio alerts, which can be scheduled to play at certain times of day. So, if the listener needs a reminder to take their pills at 9am or feed the cat at 1pm, these warnings can be recorded and scheduled.
Once again, the execution isn’t quite perfect. The warning is played once at the allotted time and then repeated a minute or so later, but if you’re out of the room making a cup of tea or paying a visit to the smallest room, there’s no indication that you’ve missed your reminder. Nothing on the screen, no flashing lights, nothing. Those recorded memos are far too easy to miss.
The last notable usability feature is the USB port on the side of the radio, which manufacturer MagicBox claims is compatible with the RNIB’s Talking Book service. It can also be used to play MP3 files, and it doesn’t hang about either. As soon as you plug in the USB stick, it starts playing the first song it comes across. There’s no way to navigate albums or folders that I can see, so this isn’t a great way to listen to your old iTunes collection.
The Silver Server: what the RNIB say
As promised at the top, I asked the RNIB’s product experts to give us their opinion on the Silver Server and whether its features would be appreciated by the visually impaired user. Here’s what Jennie Mather, Retail Products Manager at RNIB, said:
“Radio devices, like the Silver Server, have an important part to play for older customers who may not yet have adopted the use of smart speakers, which use voice assisted technology and are easily accessible for blind and partially sighted people.
“This radio offers many helpful features, like a large high contrast display and USB port for Talking Books, which is great for blind and partially sighted customers. However, the model requires some useful vision to support operation of its full functionality.”
The Silver Server: audio and build quality
The Silver Server doesn’t have phenomenal sound quality. It’s too lightweight, lacking in the meaty volume and bass tones that give music body and round out the sonorous voices reading the Radio 4 news. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the sound was tinny or unpleasant, it’s just average. It’s not going to delight your ears.
It’s much weaker than the first-gen Amazon Echo speaker that sits on my desk, and that in itself has poorer sound quality than the latest generation of Echo speakers, which are cheaper than the Silver Server.
The sound quality reflects the build quality. It’s an attractive device to look at, with a two-tone silver/grey design. But it’s lightweight, plasticky, and the handle has an irritating – if not dangerous – sharp edge that just yells for a little more attention to detail.
That said, all the buttons and dials are nicely weighted and the audio feedback leaves you in no doubt as to what you’ve just pressed, even if you can’t read the clear LCD display. The rubber flaps over the USB and headphone sockets are a thoughtful touch, not only for keeping dust and detritus out, but for helping visually impaired people find them.
The radio is mains powered, but you can also stock it with four AA batteries to make it truly portable (I’ve not been able to test how long these last). Would a rechargeable battery have been too much to ask in a device with a three-figure price tag? I don’t think so.
The Silver Server: verdict
I have a soft spot for companies that are thoughtful and tailor everyday products for people who might struggle to use regular models. Magicbox has certainly gone out of its way to include features that may be of genuine value to those who have less than perfect vision, right down to a printed paper manual that uses relatively large print and clear language.
However, it feels like the Silver Server is a version 1 model – a product packed with good ideas that just haven’t been refined. The inability to silence the temperature alerts during sleeping hours or to have any visual indicator of audio reminders, for example. Small things, but small things make a big difference to the usability of a product.
I want to love this radio, but it’s not quite there.
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Silver Server review £100
Value for money
Silver Server verdict
A radio with a considerate – if flawed – set of features for the elderly and visually impaired, but it falls short on audio quality
- Voice memos and temperature alerts for those who need them
- Compatible with RNIB’s Talking Books library
- Big, clear LCD screen
- No rechargable battery
- Underwhelming sound quality