Offering free access to national, local and BBC World Service radio programming, as well as podcasts and a catch-up service, the iPlayer Radio app is a must for all iPhone-toting BBC radio fans. It's a good-looking iPhone and iPod touch app with a built-in EPG and some useful additional features such as alarms and alerts. Download: iPlayer Radio.
iPlayer Radio: data useage
As with all media-streaming applications, however, there is a price to pay: used over cellular connectivity the iPlayer Radio app will chew through your data allowance. (Indeed, dear old Auntie Beeb recommends limiting prolonged use to Wi-Fi.)
To test this we closed down all other apps and streamed various radio stations over 3G for 20 minutes each. Each session of 20 minutes used around 11MB of data, so prolonged streaming will soon eat up your allowance. This is a shame, as one of the principal benefits of iPlayer Radio is it builds in BBC radio to your extremely portable smartphone, and the nature of radio is that we tend to listen to it for hours at a time. It's not the fault of the app, however, and it offers a less data-hungry alter - and that will *save* data. Don't worry if you didn't understand a word of that sentence.)
iPlayer Radio: interface
This is undeniably a good-looking app. It opens to a splash screen that features an old-school-iPod-esque clickwheel offering access to all the BBC's national stations, the World Service and a single icon for local stations. This is the 'Stations' screen, and there are tabs across the bottom offering access to Search, Podcasts, Alarm and More. We found the search function a little hit and miss, on occasion failing to find programmes or podcasts even when we searched for them by name.
The Local Radio option in the clickwheel works in a slightly counter-intuitive way, too. It uses location data to find the BBC service that is geographically closest to you, which makes sense. But this excludes you from being able to listen to local radio from your home town if you are on the road. We couldn't find local stations via the Search function either, although they are listed under 'All Local Stations'. It's a minor thing, but one of the benefits of mobile technology is being able to take home comforts with you wherever you travel.
But that's to be a little churlish. The navigation of the iPlayer Radio app is generally intuitive and efficient. And it looks great, simple and shiny with the familiar black and pink iPlayer stylings.
iPlayer Radio: in use
With a decent Wi-Fi or indeed 3G connection iPlayer Radio is great to use. We found ourselves listening to the radio via our iPhone 5 pretty much all day. Occasionally there was a brief pause in playback, but generally speaking the streamed content was indistinguishable from our digital radio.
And it's difficult to overstate the subtle benefits of using your smartphone as your radio. Throughout a lazy Saturday afternoon that incorporated doing a spot of gardening, taking a shower, lazing around on the couch, and cooking in the kitchen, the radio never left our side without us once having to retune or unplug. And when listening live you can keep up to speed with what has been played, watch live via webcam, interact with shows as they happen and share content via social networks. (Which is nice, although not critical.)
The alarm function lets you wake up to your favourite show, and you can set reminders for your favourite programmes, too.
iPlayer Radio: limitations
iPlayer Radio is really only for UK-based iPhone and iPod touch users. You can listen to some programmes when abroad, but the complicated nature of broadcasting rights for both music and sporting events means the content is always likely to cut out. For similar reasons lots of content is available only live or as a podcast, and not via the catch up service. I suspect that it is also this issue of rights, rather than any technical issues, that means you can't record programmes to listen to them later, via the app.
And although an Android app version of iPlayer Radio was developed at the same time as the iPhone app, it has been shelved due to the same Adobe Flash issue that caused the BBC to have to introduce its own media player for Android smartphones and Android tablets. The BBC says "the Android version of the iPlayer Radio app will be delayed by a few months". (I guess the BBC could launch an iPlayer Radio app for Android that requires the BBC Media Player app, but I can see why they'd rather wait and provide a more elegant solution.)