I very reluctantly just retired my Palm Pre smartphone due to abysmal battery life and a series of hardware issues. In its place is now a HTC EVO, which sports faster 4G connectivity on Sprint and the Android OS instead of Palm’s WebOS. So far I like WebOS better, though there are more apps for Android. But I’m writing today not to review the smartphone but to discuss a feature I didn’t know about before receiving it: an FM radio.
As any reader might guess, I’m in favor of having an FM radio integrated in my smartphone. At the same time, it’s not a make-or-break feature for me. Having it might cause me to pick amongst two otherwise equal smartphones, but other features–like connection speed, operating system, camera or video–are more likely to tip the balance for me. That said, I’m perfectly happy to get an FM radio as a bonus with the EVO.
The FM radio app on the EVO is pretty bare bones. The first time you start it the app scans the dial and stores every station it finds as a preset. The app did a pretty good job of finding most stations in my area, even ones that were relatively weak. Then you can tune stations by preset, by scanning, or manually by moving up and down the dial. There’s no direct entry — you can’t type in the frequency.
When you’ve got a station tuned there is a display on either side of the frequency that shows how strong the signal is by a count of seven vertical bars. This is similar to the display one might find on some receivers with digital tuning.
In my apartment on the far north side of Chicago the EVO found twenty stations and all were listenable. This number of stations is comparable to most radios in my house that aren’t connected to external antennas or otherwise high-performance receivers. Like any small headphone radio reception was affected by positioning, but I could easily improve it by repositioning the phone.
Also like a typical headphone radio, the headphone cord functions as the radio’s antenna. I understand that many EVO users have difficulty with radio reception depending on the headphones they use. The EVO doesn’t come with headphones, so your mileage may vary, and it may require some trial and error to find a pair that works well. My Koss isolating earbuds seemed to do the trick.
The sound quality of the EVO’s radio is decidedly mediocre. The app seems to favor reducing static over fidelity, so I rarely hear a full stereo signal. The compromise is that a mono or a mono signal mixed with stereo is less noisy than a full stereo signal on weaker stations. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of high end either, with what sounds like a pretty strong roll-off at about 10 KHz. By comparison, full fidelity FM is capable of high frequencies up to 17 KHz. At the same time, the EVO’s radio is pleasant sounding, with good bass and mid-range response.
Nevertheless, many streaming internet stations actually have better fidelity, with full stereo separation and more high frequency extension. This, of course, varies by station.
Besides presets the radio app has no other features, there isn’t even an indicator for when it tunes in a stereo signal. On the plus side the radio app will run in the background while using other apps like email or the web browser. However, don’t even think about trying to record the radio with the voice recorder app; the radio switches off as soon as you hit record. Also missing is any sort of “live-pause” feature as seen on the iPod Nano, which lets you pause and replay up to 15 minutes of live radio.
Frankly, there’s nothing in the EVO’s radio app that you can’t get from a $25 pocket headphone radio. All it does is save you the hassle of having to carry another device, although it does suck less battery than listening to a streaming internet station on 3G or 4G.
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