BBC iPlayer Android app review

It was announced a few days ago and launched this morning. But is it any good? Judging by the brutal comments that have been appearing on the Android Market listing throughout today, you’d think the BBC’s Android iPlayer app is one of the worst apps of all time.

But is it really? Or are people just being unrealistic? Let’s take lots of screenshots and find out. We’re using an O2 HTC Desire that’s running Android 2.2. Not boasting or anything, just giving you the facts.

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Visually, the BBC iPlayer app has loads in common with the existing web interface. It’s mostly purple and black. It lets you add shows to a Favourites page. You’re able to browse by channel and day and switch between TV and radio feeds via the top menu bar. It’s a simple, light, easy way to navigate and find TV shows and radio broadcasts.

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Android functionality features in the Sharing menu, which lets you ping text links to site listings via your usual social tools. Sending it to Dropbox doesn’t download the show, it just tries (and fails) to send a text URL.

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The interface looks clean and is easy to navigate. But pressing the Back button results in weird behaviour. Pressing Back usually takes you “back” to the previous screen – unless you’re looking at the Favourites page, in which case it quits the entire app. We presume and hope that’s a bug not a design decision.

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While the radio audio playback is good, there’s one absolutely baffling hitch – the radio stops when you turn the screen off. The app keeps the screen awake so you can listen uninterrupted if you want (and that’s kind of the point) – but it’ll obviously kill your battery in the process.

That makes literally zero sense. We can only assume the TV playback settings have been carried over to the radio area.

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Press the screen lock button to manually turn the backlight off and the audio cuts out, plus the app won’t run in the background. Press Home and it always quits entirely.

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Even pressing Back to browse other stations and channels within the app results in the live stream you’re listening to stopping. It’s therefore a much worse solution than the many audio and radio players out there.

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Also, the app doesn’t seem to remember when you add live channels to the Favourites menu. Again, maybe that’s just a bug or a really weird decision.

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So yes, while we expect certain limitations when using the iPlayer in a browser, the lack of multi-tasking support for audio playback in an app is a bewildering omission. It’s just what you expect, especially when listening to the radio.

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As for video playback, it’s nice to have a choice of data streams so you can tailor video to your wi-fi connection speed and phone’s processor power. Live TV channels are supported as well – one thing the mobile browser app doesn’t offer.

Overall, we found video playback to be solid. It seems to take a minute or so for the stream to “settle down” and stop glitching, but on our Desire the 800kbps stream was stable. Sadly there’s no download option, which is another baffling choice.

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This screen looks pretty, but scrolling through it is painful. It jerks all over the place and struggles to keep up. Not what you expect of an official app on the HTC Desire.

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And so on to the BURNING ISSUE that’s causing more anger than anything – the lack of 3G support. We can understand the lack of support for video…

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…but not even the option to listen to a low-res archive radio stream through 3G? Not even a weak, crackly, mono radio feed? Surely even the creaking UK mobile infrastructure could handle streaming and buffering a recorded radio show to a telephone in the year 2011?

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We totally understand the lack of 3G streaming capabilities for video to limit accidental enormous data bills and triggering misguided consumer outrage, but surely the ability to download shows to SD card while on wi-fi for watching while commuting isn’t too hard to implement? Otherwise we’re all better off simply hitting up Bittorrent.

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We hate to join in with the crazy bashing going on in the Android Market comments, but this app really is one rather large missed opportunity. It’s got quite a few bugs and interface issues, offers little extra functionality over the web app and still only works on Android 2.2 phones capable of running Flash Player 10.1 – so won’t even bring any new users onboard.

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The only real enhancements over the browser app are the chance to specify video bit rate and have access to live channels. And if you’re running a powerful phone, have a reliable web connection and a trustworthy router, the picture quality at the highest setting is great.

You can see the detail on that lady’s ill-advised tattoo. It succeeds on this level, at least. And that is the most important level of a TV app.

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Apart from that it’s really quite pointless – especially when the bar was set so high by the fantastic iPlayer mobile browser site. An update with multi-tasking for the radio player and download options is needed pretty damn quickly, else this will have to go down as a classic Waste Of License Payer’s Money.

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But it’s nice to have. We suspect we’ll end up using it regularly, regardless of its quirks. It’s live telly on your telephone, for God’s sake. Julia Bradbury in the palm of your hand at 800kbps. How cool is that? How can we possibly complain about that?

14 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Sparky

     /  February 10, 2011

    It crashes on my esire just like the webpage did.
    If you try skipping forwards by sliding the timeline it freezes and gives up , eben on wifi.
    A proper iplayer app would allow you to dowload and save programmes like I used to on my old Nokia ( RIP).

    I’m not keen on apps that are just a skin for a browser.

    • Gary C

       /  February 10, 2011

      That’s a bit odd. I never had a crash, or this BBC web site glitch some people experienced on my Desire.

  2. chris

     /  February 10, 2011

    You have just done a review for myplayer near enough. This is a shocking attempt at an app. It looks and feels the same as myplayer only myplayer is better,much better.

  3. Not available for original Droid….stink.

  4. David

     /  February 11, 2011

    Yeah, it’s alright. But what we really wanted was to be able to download and watch on the train to work. Or watch without downloading at all. Like I used to be able to do on Mplayer (before I effed up and updated in error.)

    So in summary, to use an internet cliche. fail.

  5. Gary

     /  February 11, 2011

    My frustration with it of not being able to watch anything, even sitting at home witha speedy wifi connection.
    It just keeps telling me that its only available in the UK, us where I am, and where I live, and where my phone was bought and registered!@!

  6. Sparky

     /  February 11, 2011

    So it only works via wifi and not mobile networks…..

    At least I’ce got other apps that let me listen to BBC Radio via 3G.

  7. John

     /  February 13, 2011

    The iplayer mobile website works perfectly OK over 3G on Android 2.2; somewhat bizarre that they have blocked this on the ‘app’.

  8. Piers

     /  May 9, 2011

    Useless overseas as it has the UK only block. BBC 3 on the desktop I can use flash so can listen to streamed music.

  9. BBC iplayer has the latest features and effective themes.It provides radio programs and news channels.BBC programs are also awesome but the main requirement for bbc iplayer is wi-fi so its needed to be connected to some internet connection.

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