WQTS 03

Meet Grace.
grace

Grace is a product of Grace Digital and she has a problem.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Grace quite a bit, but she’s plagued by a bug. A particularly annoying one, and one that she shares with a number of her siblings.

Grace Digital no longer makes this particular model of internet radio, but they have several current models with similar internals. They specialize in low end Wi-Fi audio systems–most of their models sell for around half the cost of a Sonos system. They keep costs down by making incremental hardware updates and updating the firmware as little as possible. Once a particular model is out of support, it gets no more firmware updates.

Grace’s model was released in 2009 and received several firmware updates before she went out of support. The very* last release added support for Grace Digital’s iOS and Android apps.

* I’m working from memory here, as the version history is long-gone from the website and I haven’t found it in any archives. Rest assured that if it wasn’t the last release, it was very close.

It’s that last release that introduced the bug.

In pre-app releases, turning Grace off actually turns her off. When she comes back on, either via the power button or an alarm, she has to reconnect to your Wi-Fi network. The delay annoyed some customers and it created a problem for the apps: if the radio wasn’t connected to Wi-Fi, the apps had no way to turn it on. Not very useful for a remote control…

So that final firmware introduced a standby mode in with Grace’s display turns off, but the Wi-Fi radio stays on and connected. Problem solved, right? Music starts almost instantly, and the apps can scan for radios and turn them on. Works great. Except for one itty-bitty problem.

Shortly after the firmware was released, customers started complaining that their radios turned themselves on spontaneously. When you have the radio in your bedroom so you can use it as an alarm clock, having it come on in the middle of the night is annoying, to say the least.

At first Grace Digital had customers send the “defective” units in for testing, but once they isolated the problem, they solved it in a very direct way: customers who complained that their radios turned on spontaneously were advised to disable the standby setting.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Grace was unsupported, so why release a fix? Well, remember what I said about incremental hardware changes between models and minimal firmware changes? Other models of radios put out by Grace Digital that were still supported use very similar hardware and closely-related firmware. Some were even released to the public after the bug was discovered. It’s not fixed in the firmware for those devices either–I have an “Allegro” model that was released late enough for its manual to explain how to turn on the standby feature, and the bug is still present in the last-released firmware for that model as well. I have no direct evidence beyond a few suggestive Internet posts, but I believe the bug is still present in Grace’s current models.

As I said, I like Grace–and her siblings–and I still use mine, just not in the bedroom; I’m not fond of 3 AM wakeups, especially unplanned ones. I have no qualms about recommending Grace Digital’s products to anyone looking for a decent, low-priced media streamer. If you don’t need all of the features of a Sonos player, Grace’s current descendants are an excellent value. I find it surprising that the bug hasn’t been resolved, but I suspect it’s a marketing decision: my suspicion is fixing the bug would break backward compatibility with the apps, requiring Grace Digital to support two versions going forward.

So why is this post a WQTS item? Simply because it’s clear from the sequence of events that Grace Digital was unaware of the bug when they introduced the standby feature. Granted it’s an intermittent problem, but it’s not hard to find, either. Heck, it should have turned up in any test of the long-term stability of the standby mode. The simple test of putting a radio on standby and leaving it overnight should have uncovered the bug. The fact that Grace Digital required radios to be returned for troubleshooting shows that either the bug was not found–indicating inadequate testing–or the bug was not logged–indicating inadequate testers.

2 thoughts on “WQTS 03

  1. I’m a Grace fan, even though my first Wireless Wireless (as your blogger and I call them) completely stroked out after about 3 years of use. I then bought a Solo model, which lists at $129.99, but came up on special under $100, which seems to happen not infrequently. And Solo’s being able to handle some 15K stations, Sirius, Live 365, and Pandora, I doubt I’ll run out of listening matter very soon. While First Grace did take forever to connect to WiFi (and sometimes failed), Solo is instantly on, once the power button is pushed, and seems to have fewer dropouts by far than her predecessor. And I have not yet come up in the morning and found her playing, so I guess the First Grace bug doesn’t apply here.

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    • “Wireless Wireless”: The packaging and documentation prominently label Grace as a “Wireless Internet Radio”, no doubt to distinguish her from all of the wired internet radios out there. Occasional Anglophile that I am, I immediately wondered if the UK boxes said “Wireless Internet Wireless”. From there, calling her a “wireless wireless” was obvious.

      Interesting that the spontaneous wakeup bug hasn’t hit you. I wonder if they finally fixed it, or if there’s an additional factor involved that you haven’t tripped over yet. Are you sure the standby mode is turned on? The manual suggests that the default behaviour is still for it to be turned off.

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