/ Technology

Should all smartphones come with radio built-in?

Woman using smartphone and headphones

Radio’s been around since the 19th century. It’s a relatively simple technology and yet FM tuners aren’t built into all smartphones. Yes, there are radio apps, but with data caps, should all phones have built-in radio?

One of the joys of a smartphone is that you get lots of functions in one device, but the lack of a built-in FM tuner on many high profile smartphones has been something of a recent revelation to me. I’d taken radio as a given.

I listen to quite a lot of radio. I’d listen daily on my phone’s FM tuner if my commute wasn’t mostly underground. That being the case, I don’t use it often, but it’s handy to have when I want it.

FM on smartphones

My phone’s old by current standards (and something of an embarrassment given what I do for a living), so I felt a certain smugness when my iPhone-toting companions had to rely on my phone’s FM tuner for radio commentary as we took in the action at last week’s Superbikes. It’s times like that I wouldn’t want to be without it.

iPhones and flagship Samsung handsets like the S4 and S5, to name a few, don’t have FM radio built-in. You can download radio apps, but streaming from an app will chip away at your 3G or 4G data allowance and, as my iPhone-owning friend found, they don’t always work.

I’ll admit that built-in FM doesn’t make my phone the complete package. As the 2012 Olympics and Wimbledon proved, sports coverage out and about is also on my wish list. The headphones act as an aerial for FM, but it isn’t long enough to make AM reception a possibility for a phone, so no Radio 5 Live without heading down the internet radio/app route.

What about DAB on smartphones?

The BBC estimates that a 60-minute iPlayer radio stream could use up to 60MB of data. By that estimation, you’d only get around four hours of listening before reaching a monthly 250MB data limit.

But, as I discovered while trying to keep up with Andy Murray’s progress last year, app listening isn’t always a seamless experience. A flakey connection can leave you without audio mid-game and taking minutes to reconnect, which can be more than a little frustrating.

An alternative would be for DAB chips to make an appearance in phones. Some would argue that DAB has reception issues of its own in some areas, but coverage has been fairly good in my experience. The chips aren’t that expensive and they might allow us to listen to all of Andy Murray’s route to Wimbledon victory without maxing out data allowances before he even reaches the third round.

Still, I do wonder whether there’s really a wide call for radio in phones. I don’t use mine often, but it’s definitely something I’ll take into consideration when choosing my next phone. I resent having to carry yet another device just to get coverage. What about you?

Should all smartphones come with radio?

Yes - both FM and DAB radio (34%, 351 Votes)

No - I don't listen to radio on my phone (30%, 318 Votes)

Yes - FM radio (17%, 180 Votes)

Yes - DAB radio (13%, 138 Votes)

No - radio apps are fine for me (6%, 60 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,047

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FM, yes please.
DAB would be OK in addition to FM but not instead of FM.

smike says:
30 April 2014

Hi Katie,


I think you may have made a potentially catastropic error in your comments on use of the BBC iPlayer is your quoted figure of 60mb for 60 minutes is correct. The typical package includes between 250 mb and one gb of data. A 20gb monthly useage would thererfore incur huge excess charges.


Thanks for catching that one smike – you’re absolutely right. I’d intended to use 250MB but went astray. The post has been updated accordingly.

stephen gaccon says:
2 May 2014

Of my Samsung smartphone usage, the FM radio is the one I use most. I used to carry a small portable DAB radio with ehadphones, but the battery life was an issue. I would have to go back to using that again. I really do not understand just why Samsung and others have ditched radio when generally radio use is increasing.
Wifi coverage is never going to be seamless in cities, or of adequate speed and lack of congestion for us to use the net only for radio streaming. Not considering the data limitations.
A bad move by manufacturers. I doubt I will upgrade to the next Samsung phone from my S G3. Its no improvement in my eyes.

Stuart says:
2 May 2014

Lack of FM on my iPhone 5 is a pain, I’ve had to resort to my old iPod so I can listen to the radio on my train journey into London. I’ve tried streaming on my iPhone but out of my 40 minute journey I’m lucky to get 15 minutes connection.

Michael Mason says:
2 May 2014

I was delighted to have FM on my Galaxy S3 and used it constantly. I was dismayed to find that they had dropped it from the S4 and they lost my ‘brand loyalty’ overnight. I recently bought and iMac but wouldn’t consider paying the iPhone premium without radio. DAB sounds one for the future, though I wonder about battery life – DAB portable radios hog batteries compared with FM/AM portables.

anne says:
2 May 2014

You are so right. My old Ericsson was great as I could garden and go for walks listening to anything anywhere and it was great. My current htc, which I was assured had a radio is rubbish if on the move. I’m about to upgrade so your article is very timely. And DAB reception is too intermittent when travelling as I found out when my car was upgraded. I’ve gone back to using FM as it is far more reliable

David B says:
2 May 2014

I am still using a 14 year old Oono MiniDAB 2Plus2 with a knackered battery purchased for £187.

It is still the only piece of small portable equipment I’ve found that gives you 1) DAB radio 2) FM radio 3) ability to record from either plus 4) download from external sources.

In this modern age that seems incredible.

That is why I (still) don’t have a mobile phone – not providing a full enough service.

Roger Hill says: