/ 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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Comments
Profile photo of banjo
Member

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

Member
smike says:
30 April 2014

Hi Katie,

Oops.

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.

Profile photo of Katie Waller
Member

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.

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
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

Member
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.

Member
Roger Hill says:
2 May 2014

Lack of FM radio on smartphones is one reason I am so reluctant to replace my 6 year old Nokia 6303i. It still connects to the internet, lets me read and reply to emails + has a good FM radio, camera and MP3 – where’s the progress?

Member
anne says:
2 May 2014

Can anyone recommend any phone that has an FM radio that works whilst walking?

Member
Rich says:
5 May 2014

Hi, I have recently bought a ZTE blade Q mini that has FM radio and headphones included .It has good reception and is great to use when walking .It is a 3G smart phone and also has a good camera built in . It is available at Argos for £50 and on offer in virgin stores as well at £49.95 although on virgin’s website it is £69.95 .The only downside is that it is locked to Virgin however I was already using this network .

My friends I phone 5 does not have a radio and that cost £530 . The ZTE Q mini has similar features for a fraction of the price .

If you don’t need a smartphone there a few phones available with FM radio under £20 at carphone warehouse where you can choose the network provider and therefore put your existing sim straight in .

Hope this helps .

Member
L Hone says:
5 May 2014

Yes, Nokia phones are excellent for moving about while listening to FM radio. A phone without a FM radio function would be a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned because wifi/internet connection is still patchy in some rural areas.

Member
Ome Kees says:
17 June 2015

I use a 4 year old Samsung smartphone that has FM built in.
It is the Galaxy Note GT-N7000.
Replaced the battery recently for the second time.
FM radio is of good quality but it has some interference with wifi, so when I am outside running, walking or riding my bike, I switch of wifi. Then the FM sound is perfect.

My problem is that all the newer smartphones do not have FM built in anymore.
I am still looking for a successor to my old Galaxy Note with built in FM or DAB(+) or both.
Somebody has an idea?

OmeKees
the Netherlands

Member
paul says:
7 July 2015

“My problem is that all the newer smartphones do not have FM built in anymore.
I am still looking for a successor to my old Galaxy Note with built in FM or DAB(+) or both.
Somebody has an idea?

OmeKees
the Netherlands ”

Dag Kees 🙂

I understand the LG G4 and the HTC m9 both have fm radio, I was initially considering the new galaxy s6, might go for the lg g4 instead

more phones w/ fm here

http://www.phonearena.com/phones/Multimedia/FM+Radio

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Thanks for the comments guys – keep them coming! I’ve just added a poll for you – please vote

Profile photo of nbagain
Member

I listen to a lot of radio by my phone but it is through the internet which is why I chose my present contact which gives me unlimited 3g. I had a DAB radio in my last car but now play my phone through car sound system this is not perfect but it is better than listening Radio 5 at night on A.M. or Radio 4 L.M plus I can tune it to radio stations world wide, given the choice I would not go back to F.M. on my phone it is a backward step.

Profile photo of Angus
Member

I have a Sony Xperia X10 Mini, which is a very small smartphone, quite a few years old now, but
the FM radio is probably the most used feature on it.

Every time I am in the house on my own, the headphones come out, phone in my pocket, and I can get on with the housework, DIY, washing the car, or whatever else I want to do, with the radio to keep me company. It works perfectly, great reception, you can save your favourites, and it is a major plus point for the phone. So much so that even though I have since upgraded to a larger newer smartphone, I still keep the X10 as a backup and of course for the radio! All phones should have them.

Member
Steve says:
2 May 2014

Get a Motorola moto g – comes with F
M radio as standard at a fraction of the price of most smart phones.

Member
dhedwards says:
2 May 2014

I have a Samsung Galaxy S3, but the later LTE (4G) version, annoyingly without radio.
However, I listen to it via a Sony Ericsson MW600 Bluetooth/FM Radio headset which is very small and neat. Unfortunately no longer made, but you can still find them.

Member
Keith Miller says:
3 May 2014

For radio over in-ear headphones, there is seldom any reason for using a data stream greater than 64kbps, which requires little over 20MB per hour. The reason the BBC iPlayer now eats 60MB seems to be that they have removed the option of using a “low quality” stream and insist on sending 192kbps if your connection will support it.

Most Nokia Lumia phones have built-in FM but in my experience, while OK, it’s not as sensitive as it was on earlier phones like the X6.

Member
Barbara says:
3 May 2014

When smartphones are supposed to be getting smarter it seems ludicrous that not only do they not have dab radio but don’t have fm radio and mp3 as standard. Surely the idea of newer smartphones is more choice not less.

Member
nigel garvey says:
4 May 2014

I’ve got a Galaxy S3 mini and use the FM radio regularly.It also has a record facility which I use to record my favourite programmes. An FM radio was one of the reasons I got it but the record facility was an added,unexpected bonus.

Member
roland says:
6 May 2014

My Samsung s4 mini has FM radio which works well.

Profile photo of kermit
Member

I have a Nokia Lumia 520, a very basic smartphone but it still comes with an FM radio. All the mobiles I’ve owned including the most basic have had a built-in FM radio – it was always a deal breaker for me.

I’m amazed to hear that any smartphones come without a built-in radio. As a paygo user data streaming isn’t an option for me so FM is essential.

Member
APV says:
7 May 2014

I recently upgraded from a Samsung S2 to S4. Whilst the new phone is undoubtly better in many ways (quicker, longer battery life) I really miss the opportunity to listen to the radio when out walking. I haven’t tried streaming – really mindful of data usage and limits. An FM/DAB radio would be brilliant – my next phone choice will be made on that basis!

Member
Peter M says:
22 July 2014

The best two phones I’ve had with FM radio were from Nokia. The first, the 8300, is now about 15 years old (and while I used to have 3 or 4, I “lost” them (thrown out by my sister, I suspect) when I moved. Second was the Nokia Xpress Radio (which needed no headphones to work).

As for modern mobiles, I ALWAYS use an Android App called TuneIn Pro (cheap, and they offer a free version for people to try them out).

Unlimited data on Three means I can stream audio all day with no worries. Unlimited tethering allows laptops and other things to connect to the net via my phone.

As for FM/DAB radio, one problem would be the power consumption for DAB, because it’s a digitial stream that needs decoding with extra processing compared to FM, and on portables, was reputed to chew up batteries, at least the earliest models.

I’m not in favour of the “switchover” to digital from FM, but if it goes ahead, all the major stations would be moved off FM, leaving it (for a while) for “community” stations, so the need for FM might eventually disappear for listening to BBC R1, 2, 3, 4.

Rather than having FM broadcasts, or even DAB, it would really make sense for the most popular 10-15 stations to be broadcast as a signal by all the cell towers, which your mobile already spends its time “listening to” (waiting for a call, text, or checking if your phone needs to switch to another cell mast as you move from area to area). This would just be a broadcast, with no silly “data charges” or using this from your monthly allowance (and the cell masts are transmitting nearly all the time anyway, whether to people on calls, or just checking any registered users are still in their coverage area.

If the cell towers were broadcasting in “multicast” mode, any phone could receive the signals and decode to give you the main national services (including BBC R 5 for sport/news) and the phones would not need to transmit for this to work – it would be like the FM signal, 1 transmit and as many listeners as possible. Clearly there’d be some need to debate which stations could be included, and people wanting others would need radio apps unless their phone could handle FM / DAB.

Member

FM RADIO a must to have feature . A recording scheduler a bonus. Cjd

Member

When my last phone died, having an excellent FM radio, I spent a lot of time looking for a replacement. Like other commentators, my main use of my phone is listening to the radio. Many phones were advertised as having FM. Nokia was awful, I tried 3 models, as were others I cannot remember. I ended up with an xperia u, a temperamental phone but excellent FM.in don’t know what I’ll do when this one dies.

Member
FM radio says:
2 October 2014

I use an old Sony Erricsson with excellent FM radio.
Nokia C5 really disappointed with the FM radio.
New Blackberry 9720, FANTASTIC FM radio.

Member
Insomniac says:
21 October 2014

Useful stuff thanks. Now it is time to change from my Galaxy Ace (not a favourite) I have realised my main use of the phone is the fm radio both in UK and when (often) away on the continent. As I use the phone a lot at night, for music or local language, obviously I don’t want to pay for data to listen for hours. I would love to know how to get the BBC World Service abroad as well. I thought it was meant to be a ‘World Service but can’t get it even on my old hardly portable ‘steam radio ‘. Any advice?

Profile photo of kermit
Member

If you have wifi on your phone and can find a hotspot you can pick up virtually all the world’s radio stations (including BBC World) on digital using an app like TuneIn.

Member
neverlate says:
22 October 2014

Yup I can see Tunein would be great but most places I stay have no, or still very expensive, or poor wifi, and at home mine doesn’t reach down the garden.

Member
Steve Summerhead says:
29 December 2014

It is a pity that there is still no mobile phone available having a DAB+ chip. Would be something for a manufacturer to stand-out.

Member

There is one way to get FM on an iphone. iFM by Allputer

see: http://allputer.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=2086

Member
Keith says:
22 April 2015

The assumption is that smartphones lack an FM radio chip.

Android smartphones have an FM radio chip. The problem is, the chip is disabled.

What we need is an Android app that enables the chip.

I have looked at Google Play, but what are claimed to be FM tuners are not, they are apps that stream over the net FM stations.

What I need is a an FM tuner app, that does what it says, tunes across the FM radio spectrum.

Any suggestions?

Member
JamesSmith says:
8 June 2015

The chip is not disabled in all Android phones but some manufacturers choose not to enable it (allegedly under pressure from the networks). Samsung are guilty of this in their more recent high end models and have not enabled it, hence why I haven’t bought a high end Samsung. You can root some phones and enable the chip but that’s not a user friendly thing to do and will doubtless void your warranty. Either we stop buying phones that don’t have the chip enabled (unlikely in the case of the iPhone) and persuade manufacturers through our wallets. Or persuade manufacturers by campaigning/law change – Which have you considered a campaign? to include one.
See also http://freeradioonmyphone.org/

Profile photo of Andrew Collins
Member

Thanks for your comment James. We haven’t considered a campaign about this matter, however, I’ll certainly pass the feedback on. 🙂

Member
mike edwards says:
27 May 2015

I cant ubderstand them scrapping fm. Internet conection radio is rarely smooth and regularly cutting out. The big manufacturers are loosing a lot of customers because of this. On a possitive note the latest nokia lumia 930 has fm radio

Member
JamesSmith says:
8 June 2015

The inclusion of DAB on a smartphone would require the use of more battery power and you’d need a far bigger battery to get the same amount of use out of your phone. Very simply DAB is broadcast in Multiplexes and all the radio stations on the multiplex are sent out as one channel. Your DAB radio has to receive and decode the entire multiplex before finding the channel you want to listen to. FM radio is much simpler and there is one station per channel which in turn uses less power to listen to.

Everything that DAB can do except the inclusion of extra (niche) stations can be done with an FM radio, especially on a smart phone. For example current track, show, station information can all be done by RDS. Recording and playback will depend on the software on your phone but is again possible. DAB is also useless if traveling with your phone/radio in the USA as they don’t use DAB and have another system.

Member
Bill Rose says:
3 September 2016

Certainly FM & DAB radio should be standard, along with retention of the standard 3.5mm headphone socket. I’d also like a return to batteries you can replace as opposed to the hard wired types and wouldn’t mind a new phone being slightly thicker to accomodate those with a little more power.