Spark Radio is a streaming Internet radio tuner that works on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and which aggregates and plays Internet radio stations from all over the world.
Like most every other similar app on the market, Spark Radio offers you several ways to collect and connect to your favorite radio stations. But Handcast Media Labs’ $2 app also offers several features, both fun and functional, for helping you find interesting radio wherever you happen to be.
Spark Radio initially opens to a Stations menu that lists eight station groupings, including Favorites, Recents, Music by Genre, and Local Stations. The Local Stations group uses your GPS and/or Wi-Fi location to figure out where you are and then gives you a selection of stations in your area. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this feature worked, especially when I only had the option of using Wi-Fi on the iPad.
Once you select a station, Spark Radio displays a new window showing you the name of the station you’re listening to, a graphic equalizer, volume control, and a badge displaying the logo of the currently streaming station. Tapping the badge reveals a new screen displaying the station’s profile including info on where it’s located, your personal rating for the station, and how many people are listening to the station at that time. One of Spark Radio’s more interesting features appears just below the Station Profile where the app displays links to similar stations with content like that of the currently playing station. This makes for some interesting channel surfing, especially when it comes to stations playing more eclectic or unusual fare.
Spark Radio offers several fun features, including an iTunes-like visualizer with eight different visualizers. You have the option of enabling or disabling any of these, and the visualizer not only responds to the audio being streamed at the moment, but will also respond to your touch on the screen. You also join the Spark Community, which allows you to see who is using Spark Radio, where they are in the world, and what they’re listening to. While this feature was in beta while I tested the program—and was therefore pretty inconsistent in terms of how well it worked—selecting a someone from the list of current listeners allows you to view their profile or tune in to the same station that they’re listening to at that moment in time. Spark Radio also includes an integrated Web browser so you can still surf the Web while you listen to your favorite stations.
Spark Radio’s limitations are few. Like every other radio app on the iPhone or iPad, you can’t stream audio in the background. Many apps allow you to overcome this limitation by letting you link to browser-based audio streams, but Spark Radio offers no such option. Also—and this is really just a minor complaint on my part—I’d love for the app to have some kind of alarm clock feature like you’ll find in Radio Paradise. Otherwise, Spark Radio sits atop my very short list of favorite radio apps.
[Jeffery Battersby is an IT Consultant, (very) smalltime actor, and regular contributor to Macworld. He writes about Macs and more at his blog.]