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Review: a long way to go for Blackberry live radio apps

After reading my colleague Paul Riismandel’s review of Public Radio Player 2.0 for the iPhone, I’ve been meaning to survey the possibilities for live radio listening on my Blackberry Curve 8330—that is to say, to tune into terrestrial stations on the device. Alas, so far I haven’t found very many. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely a bunch of free apps. The problem is that they don’t work very well, at least not on my Curve. Here are three and how they’ve panned out so far.

Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio, Grade: C-

iheartradioTo be fair to Clear Channel, this is the free Beta version I’m writing about (Beta “v. 1.0.0.0” it says). Still, we’re talking about a very unstable application here, at least as far as I’m concerned. iHeartRadio purportedly allows you to listen to Clear Channel signals across the United States, but uploads slowly, and maneuvering around the app takes way too long.

For example, if you want to find Clear Channel stations in your area (I was looking for Clear Channels’ Green 960 in San Francisco), you might think you’d click the “Local stations,” tab. But that directed me to stations in Austin, Texas! So I thumbed my way to the “All Cities” page. But it was really unclear what to do next. There are a long list of markets topped by what looks like a “find” field box. But I couldn’t type anything into that white bar. Finally the page unfroze and let me scroll down to San Francisco and click my way to Green. It buffered for at least a minute, and then started streaming.

As I’m writing this, the sound is quite good. I’ve got the Blackberry connected to my speakers, and the volume control tabs on the right side of my Curve work very well. But yesterday I had much less luck when clicking my way to Houston’s 94.5, FM, “The Buzz.” The station took forever to load up and froze my whole Blackberry. I had to turn the thing on and off to get functionality again. So far, iHeartRadio is a crap shoot, at least in my experience so far.

Flycast 2.0, Grade: D

Like iHeartRadio, Flycast 2.0 is slow. It’s not as slow as iHeart to load up, but getting from one part of the app to another takes a while. There is a scroll down “cities” guide and it does get you to various markets. Once there, you’ve got a small choice of stations to pick from. For example, Flycast offers you three stations from New York City, the biggest radio market in the United States. It offers you five from Los Angeles, the second biggest.

I clicked into “LA Talk Radio 1” and it took 25 seconds to start streaming. The sound was good, but the stream was very unstable. Finally I gave up and made my way back to “cities,” but it took some time again. I logged into WABC all news in New York, got a somewhat better quality of stream. That may not reflect on Flycast, of course, but on the station in question’s setup.

Flycast has a feature called “On Now,” which you get to from “Guide.” “On Now” offers news and sports. News consisted of two options the first time I tuned in: “BBC Newshour” and “CNN Hourly Updates.” But oddly, BBC Newshour turned out to be National Public Radio in Boston. The second time I tried to tune in it wouldn’t connect. CNN endless buffered, but produced no sound. The last time I gave it a try it offered KQED in San Francisco. When I tried to get to that station, my whole Blackberry shut down. I had to remove the battery and reboot the system. I think I’m not going to mess around with Flycast any more.

Nobex Radio Companion, Grade: C+

Nobex Radio CompanionNobex Radio Companion (v. 2.1.0.197) is the best of this bunch, but that’s not saying very much. It’s the only one of these three apps that didn’t become so non-functional that I just had to give up using it. But a lot of the stations I tried to access didn’t stream. Instead, they produced a “fail to play” message that displayed some java programming language io.exception error code.

If you want to find out which stations are available on Nobex, use the menu key to get to “add stations.” Then it will give you a “waiting for locations” prompt that took about 20 second to get to the possibilities. Here’s a big plus for Nobex: You can use your keyboard to narrow the range of cities. So type “n e w” and it will give you everything from New Bedford, MA through Newport News, Virginia. Here’s a minus: you’ve got to use your menu option to either click “play” or “select and play” to stream a station. This isn’t intuitive and took me a little while to figure out.

I opened up New Orleans and got news/talk 870 WWL, AM and 1350 WWWL-AM. I menued “select and play” and got a pretty decent stream. And like iHeart, the volume control functionality is very good. But after a while I got a “failed to play” message, as I did when I tried to open up a number of public radio stations in my area. At least the app didn’t knock out my Blackberry.

Obviously, these results aren’t very promising, and I do have an 8GB SD card in my device, so a memory issue isn’t at play. Basically, if you really, absolutely need access to a wide range of live radio stations on your Blackberry, these apps will do (NB: make sure you have an unlimited data plan!). But my experience is that they’re all far more trouble than their worth, and much less functional than streaming radio sites like Pandora and Slacker. Blackberry accessed live terrestrial radio still has a long way to go, as far as I can tell.


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3 Responses to Review: a long way to go for Blackberry live radio apps

  1. YankeeSam August 31, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    Matt – where on earth do you live – sounds like you have the world’s worst data reception? I’ve tried all those apps and they all work fine on my Curve. In another post you mentioned it took 15 minutes to download Slacker! 15 MINUTES? Should take 30 to 60 seconds for it or any of the apps here.

    No streaming app will work well with poor data reception. Speaking of which, you completely missed the opportunity to comment on FlyCast’s and Slacker’s caching features. Slacker let’s you cache stations over USB and FlyCast let’s you do it wirelessly (3G or WiFi). Having stations cached to your device is heaven – no reception issues and much longer battery life. I personally love FlyCast’s wireless caching because (along with Google Calendar and Contact sync) I’m now completely free from syncing with my desktop.

    Basically, all these reviews aren’t very meaningful because you don’t have reasonable data connectivity. Blame Sprint, the bricks in your walls, or a flaky chip – but it doesn’t seem these apps makers deserved the bad review when literally millions of people are streaming audio happily on their smartphones everyday now.

  2. rychwithers August 31, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    RadioBee seems to be on par with the other applications. I found it often freezes the stream and will reconnect each attempt to the server as a different IP address, confusing the server and not getting any audio. Also wants to display a web page/ad which if you alllow it to do so, it will stop the stream. I have T-Mobile which often uses the EDGE network , which is not the fastest data bolt on for cell phones.
    Adding and searching for stations doesn’t seem too bad, but thebuffering and losing streams loses my vote.

  3. Matthew Lasar September 9, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    Yankee Sam seems to know a lot about my wireless setup, including which service I’m using and my living situation. But he’s wrong on all counts. I’m a Verizon data plan customer, not Sprint. And, no, I don’t reside in the Black Hole of Calcutta. I live in San Francisco, California in something wireless technology experts refer to as a “house.”

    Having said that, I have noticed that the reception I get on those apps is better downtown than it is in my neighborhood. But I hope Sam’s not of the school of thought that says that if a wireless device doesn’t work in your neck of the woods, it’s your fault—just quit complaining and move someplace where the feature will do better. And apparently Sam missed the update to my Slacker story, which I very conspicuously linked to the first piece. As I reported, Slacker runs great with an 8GB SD card inserted into my Curve. And Pandora has always run well on my Blackberry, even here in my dark, mysterious, 3G proof dungeon, where miraculously, Verizon voice comes in loud and clear.

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