Review: MLB.com At Bat for iPhone

As baseball’s pennant races heat up—for those of us not living in the San Francisco Bay Area, anyway—this is the time for Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s $5 iPhone app, At Bat, to shine. And shine it does, albeit with some omissions that limit its effectiveness for the most die-hard baseball fan.

MLB.com At Bat provides a list of games and a more detailed view of one particular game.

MLB.com At Bat allows baseball fans to get live scores, including a line score and current game status information, and watch video highlights just a few minutes after the events occur, while the game’s going on. The app’s primary interface is a list of today’s games, including the current score and inning. Tap on a game and its line score appears below, displaying scores by inning, total runs, hits, and errors, and either the current batter, pitcher, location of baserunners, and ball-strike count (for live games); the winning and losing pitchers and the pitcher who saved the game, if any (for completed games); or the team records and expected starters (for games that haven’t begun yet). Set your favorite team in the program’s settings window and it will always appear at the top with a star next to it.

MLB.com At Bat’s Video window shows you a list of highlights you can view directly on your phone.

At Bat’s best feature, and the only one that makes it worth $5, is access to video highlights of both completed and in-progress games. Within 15 minutes of an eventful moment in a game, the highlight appears in a menu that appears when you tap on the small video camera icon next to the game’s score. If you’re on a Wi-Fi network, the video quality is excellent; the slimmed-down version that downloads over a 3G network is of noticeably poorer quality.

The most frustrating limitation of At Bat is that it doesn’t allow you to get a more detailed view of what’s happening (and what’s already happened) in a particular game. For an in-game boxscore or more information about what pitches are being thrown, you’ll need to use Safari to view MLB’s mobile-phone Web site (there's a small web-link icon next to each game), because that information doesn’t appear anywhere in MLB.com At Bat. Ideally you should be able to drill down on a single game and follow it more intensely, including play-by-play and a boxscore. And there’s nothing more frustrating than waiting a minute or more to get a data update when the count is 3-2 and the bases are loaded with two men out. For a more detailed view of what's happening, check out free scoreboard apps such as SportsTap (free with ads, shows boxscores, play-by-play, and current status), ScoreMobile (free and ad-free with boxscores but no play-by-play), and LiveSportz (free and ad-free, with play by play data but no boxscore).

Given the fact that the iPhone can move large amounts of data over Wi-Fi and 3G networks, it’s also a little disappointing that MLB hasn’t integrated Gameday Audio into At Bat. As a Gameday Audio subscriber, I have access on my Mac to the radio broadcasts of every game. It would be great if I could tap on a game and tune it in.

On a Wi-Fi network, MLB.com At Bat’s video looks very good.

Still, I haven’t regretted spending $5 for At Bat, and find myself using it all the time. However, it’s important to note that the $5 price covers the entire 2008 season (all the way through the playoffs and the World Series), according to MLB. In all likelihood you’ll need to buy a new version of the app for next season, just as MLB charges on a seasonal basis for its other Internet audio and video products.

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