Nap-inducing informational radio at the tap of a button, but is it enough to keep you engaged?
NPR, the gold standard of public radio, has a new web service called NPR One, which launched with a web service and apps for iOS and Android. The service ties in with your local NPR station to help keep you connected with local and national stories. However, in a crowded market with internet radio apps such as TuneIn and iHeartRadio, does NPR maintain its shine? Or is it just another app muttering in the background of the Play Store?
NPR's layout is simple, somewhat plain, and with a slight air of sophistication. White screens, light blue playback controls, and relatively simple interface. You can swipe back and forth to go between your history, current story, and the upcoming stories. You can tap to mark a story interesting, but I haven't seen the suggestions change much during my use.
Seeking is simple but deliberate, and it's very easy to get to exactly the time you're looking for. And that came in quite handy a few times, because sometimes if I paused the app and left, I would find myself at the beginning when I came back in.
This app is where you need to crank it up to 11...
NPR's characteristic quiet is here, and that's bad news to anyone who shifts between media apps frequently. I consistently found myself turning it up over the course of my listen, and then having to rip off my headphones and turn them down when I switched back to Play Music.
There is no widget, so thank god the expandable notification for this app is well done. You have the same three controls you have in the app: rewind 15 seconds, play/pause, and next story. The first time I used the app the notification didn't show up, and it's happened a few times since then. And that's slightly important, seeing as Bluetooth controls are equally hit or miss with NPR One. Half the time it played, half the time it started up Google Play Music instead. Both times, NPR was the last thing that had played, and the notification was still in the shade.
This app could be great… if there was more content.
Control situation notwithstanding, there's not much here to actually control because there's not much to listen to. As it stands, you're likely going to run through the current stuff and get into random archives and go listen to something else in about a quarter-hour. Apart from the times I listened to full-length programs like 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me', I consistently found myself getting bored after about 20-25 minutes. You can see only five stories ahead (which is five more than their web player), and if none of them interest you, you still have to click through at least one in order to move the playlist forward.
If I went from the default news stream into suggestions - which was almost entirely populated with podcasts, I found myself stuck there until I switched stations and switched back. This was the only way to get back to the traditional stream and current content. Also, content does not vary much between stations, switching between Dallas, Waco, and Austin's NPR stations, but at least if you set your local station you can donate whenever that 'viewers like you' ad comes up. It's not an IAP to donate, if you hit the button they'll send you emails with donation details.
Suggestions do not change much, in part because you can't specify any preferences beyond the 'interesting' light bulb on each post, and more importantly, you can't state any disinterests. So I can't say that I don't care about milk prices or foreign money markets. The search function isn't that helpful either, as it's something of a roulette wheel what older stories will actually show up. It didn't bring up anything for me using several different search terms.
And I hope the headline of your segment is descriptive, because that is pretty much all you're getting. No summaries, no bullet points. Just a headline that may or may not tell you what the whole story/show is. There is no pinning content for offline playback, either, so for those wanting their public radio on a train or plane are out of luck.
NPR One is like that scone you see behind the counter at Starbucks. It looks beautiful, but leaves you feeling empty and longing for something else to fill the void. A beautiful app cannot mask a lack of content, and while NPR One does a good many things right (seriously I wish Google Play Music did seeking this well), there is far more that it does wrong or doesn't do at all. Until there's more to listen to and more control over that, I suggest you head elsewhere for your monotone talk radio.