App Review: Radio Apps – The End of True “Satellite” Radio?

Last week one of my colleagues, interested in getting his first iPhone, was asking if there was a radio app that would stream music. Being a subscriber to a satellite radio service provider he often enjoys CBC Radio 3. I mentioned that I knew of a CBC Radio app and would dig into it further.

While the CBC Radio app has CBC Radio 1, 2, and 3 to enjoy, I came across HiDef Radio that has way more stations than I would have ever expected from a free app. In fact they claim there are over 30,000 stations from around the world.

When the app first opens you are presented with an Index from which you can search for stations by Top Feeds, Genre, or by a specific name. You can also add your own feed. For $1.99 you can get HiDef Radio Pro, which also gives you the ability to:

– Listen to stations in the background while you use other apps
– Record and share audio
– Listen to stations on your desktop computer
– Choose a different skin or make your own interface

I recently went on a road trip down Highway 401 that took me along relatively flat terrain from Windsor to London, ON. I ran both CBC Radio and HiDef Radio Free for approx. 1 hour each with my iPhone 3G running iOS 4.1.

I have to say that both apps performed admirably. I only experienced a few moments where the sound cut out with HiDef Radio even though I still had a 3G signal. For us local folks, there is a Rogers 3G dead zone between French Line Rd. and Comber Side road. After passing the dead zone the app continued playing without any intervention.

The CBC Radio app used approx. 58 MB of 3G data while HiDef Radio used approx. 65 MB after an hour of play. If you wanted to listen to either app for 1 hour per day, in 1 month you would use almost 2 GB of data (so hurry and get a 6GB plan before they’re no longer offered!). Of course if you’re on a Wi-Fi network you don’t have to worry about 3G data usage.

I use a cassette adapter to get audio from my iPhone to my car radio and one thing I found was that the HiDef Radio app tends to overdrive the audio out of the headphone jack. When switching between iPod and CBC Radio or other audio sources, there was no noticeable difference in audio volume at the given car radio volume setting. However when running the HiDef Radio app (at the same car radio volume setting) I thought I’d blown out my speakers because of the massive increase in volume. Then with the volume turned down I could hear some distortion playing along with the bass.  I tried this using a number of iPod EQ settings and got the same result.

In summary, I would recommend both the CBC Radio and HiDef Radio apps (even though I experienced the volume issue). With XM and Sirius Radio offering apps in the iTunes Store, could this be the end of true “satellite” radio where we get data streams from up above? Has anyone else experienced my volume issue with HiDef Radio? Which radio apps do you use?

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • Andrew

    I use and love TuneIn radio.

  • Zork

    Thanks for that review!

    I was too looking for a radio app with more variety than the CBC app, so I’ll give a try to HiDef Radio. I was a bit disapointed to see that Sirius has an app, but does not offer “internet only” subscriptions. You have to get the whole satellite monthly fee, to which you add 3$ so you can listen to it on your iPhone or computer. I wish they had a special lower fee with internet access only to their feeds.

    Finally, a short comment on CBC Radio 3. Everyone should listen to that station! Here in Qc, not a lot people know it even exists, but really, it’s the best out there. We have a lot of great talent in Canada.

  • DAvid

    I use Reciva radio app.

    I doubt satellite radio is dead, as it is useful for those traveling or wanting a continuous stream of music or information. There’s still huge areas of the continent not covered by quality 3G+, so I still see value in satellite radio. Possibly they will better blend their product with the net as time goes on, and competition increases.

  • BM

    XM (in Canada) offers an online subscription if you only want that option. Subscribers to the traditional satellite feed will get a discount to the online feed if they subscribe, but you can only do online if you prefer.

  • Oscar9

    I haven’t tried this but Tunein Radio is also free and good!

  • BM

    I prefer Satellite radio to these types of apps. These things usually replicate feeds of radio stations from online sources and blogers, or feed you radio stations from popular american cities. They are usually filled with commercials and contain the same musical crap. Satellite offers a wide range of interesting COMMERCIAL FREE music that can appeal to all ages and tastes. One station features unknown Canadian alternative artists, another unsigned bands from around the world, and so on. Satellite also has interesting (and sometimes funny) talk from Opie and Anthony, Ron and Fez, and Jason Ellis. You can also listen to every MLB, NHL, NFL, and many other sports play-by-play and talk broadcast live not matter what market you are in. It is so worth the $13.99 I pay each month. These aps and satellite radio are like comparing analog cable to HD on a plasma. Both are okay to watch, but one is just that much better.

  • steve81

    I use TuneIn radio. Definitely worth the $2, I deleted all my other radio apps after buying it. It has all the stations I want to listen to, including all French stations in Quebec. Search for an artist/song and it will show you stations currently playing that artist/song. You can even pause a stream and resume later (or record), just like a DVR!

  • Anonymous

    +1 love it, being able to listen to BBC 4 is just killer for me. Best radio app by far and I’ve tried a lot of them.

  • Cheng Dang

    I use Rdio. It’s not a radio app but gives you access to almost any artist, any album, any song on demand, like Spotify. It’s the first legitimate service of its kind in Canada. I no longer use iTunes. When I hear a song, artist or album I just add it to my collection on the fly. I don’t worry about backing up, or losing data, or even storage space. It’s unbelievable and it’s the future of music.

  • wf

    they won’t replace satellite radio because with satellite radio you don’t need an internet connection to use it.

    on the topic of radio, if the 3gs and 4g have the ability to send AND receive FM signals, why hasn’t anyone made use of this? i realize that apple hasn’t allowed it for its app store developers, but why not anyone who develops apps for cydia? it would be amazing to stream music from my iphone to radio without any extra hardware.

  • Martinmo1970

    why didnt you mention that this is not free? Unless I missed something.

  • Josh

    +1 on Radio 3. Easily my favourite station. They just need to update the CBC Radio app for iOS 4 multi-tasking!

  • Rell_turner

    too much selection can be a bad thing, and in my opinion that is the matter with this case. Sirius iPhone App is enough for me, I don’t need 30,000 stations to find out which ones play crap, and which ones play less crap.

  • livininvic

    The Zone radio app!!! Best modern rock station in Canada. Has an alarm clock too, and works in the background. It sounds better than the same station through the radio in my car, so sometimes if I hear a great song, I’ll quickly switch to the app to listen to it. It’s a little time delayed so there’s enough time, and it buffers the music, so you can pause and rewind.

    Great FREE app.

  • Anonymous

    Won’t give up my Sirius receiver in my car… they still offer enough content which you can’t get from these apps.

  • Vicseadog

    I try few of those but TuneIn Radio is the best (in my opinion). You can sign up on there web site and manage your favourites as you pleased.

  • Another “must” music streaming app, which I’m surprised was not mentioned here, is ShoutCast.

  • Tuner

    ooTunes radio is awesome! It has every channel from every city from almost every country, every possible genre is also available – wonderful application! Be sure to have a generous 3G Data Plan if you intend on using this app often 🙂

  • Don

    Exactly not to mention lots of cars have contracts and partnerships with satellite radio,. Functions better than looking down at your small iphone screen. Plus vehicles like my own have built in controls on the steering wheel, which just makes things easier. Its good for the portability, but will in no way phase out satellite radio, and yes best of all you don’t need an internet connection, although it doesn’t bother me because I have the 6GB plan but a lot of people don’t as well.

  • Amatijaca

    I really like fstream – free, and it’s also able to play ogg streams…

  • Anonymous

    AccuRadio FTW – free, runs in the background, works in Canada, tons of stations. Can’t go wrong