/ 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.

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:
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?

anne says:
2 May 2014

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

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 .

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.

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?

the Netherlands

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?

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


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

roland says:
6 May 2014

My Samsung s4 mini has FM radio which works well.

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.

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!