Hands on: BBC iPlayer for Android review

Can the Android iPlayer app live up to high expectations?

iplayer for android

You've probably already noticed that the new BBC iPlayer for iPad app impressed us quite a bit when we tested it earlier today. Can the Beeb's Android app deliver the same slick experience?

The issues with comparing iOS apps to their Android equivalent are obvious. The main problem is that while iPhone and iPad apps can be optimised for Apple's very precise hardware configurations, Android apps have to cater for a massive variety of devices with different specs.

The upshot of that is that most iPad apps are slick and smooth, while Android apps can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. And it doesn't help when publishers shoot themselves in the foot by missing out crucial features. The BBC's iPlayer apps tell the whole story.

iplayer for android review

You can guess where we're going with this – while the iPad app glides along smoothly, the new iPlayer for Android app stutters even more prolifically than Colin Firth in The King's Speech. The difference is that watching the King of England stammering over the F word is funny. Watching iPlayer cough and splutter over an episode of Eastenders is not.

The interface itself is actually pretty decent. It's very similar in build to the iPad app in that it's got two main sections, one for TV and one for Radio. The layout is almost identicle other than some cosmetic changes to accomodate smaller displays.

iplayer for android review

Within these sections, a side scroll will take you through the same three sub-sections as in the iPad app – Featured, Most Popular and For You.

Aside from that, you can sort by category and channel, you can run a bespoke search, or you can select Live TV – technically you'll be needing a TV licence if you want to use that feature though.

iplayer for android review

The layout and interface is pretty much the same as the iPad app, but the user experience is not. The videos themselves are Flash, which means you've got to have Flash installed on your Android phone in order to use it. That in itself is enough to twist many Android aficionados in knots.

The videos take a lot longer to load and buffer than the non-Flash iPad app and the picture quality isn't as good either.

You've also got to be hooked up to a Wi-Fi connection – the app will refuse to stream over 3G and there's no offline mode for watching pre-downloaded content, either – just like the iPad app.

iplayer for android review

This all applies to radio streams as well – there's no 3G streaming of 6 Music, oh no.

The lack of 3G streaming on an iPad isn't a massive deal - most iPads out there don't have 3G anyway. But a phone is the very definition of a mobile device - you use it for video and music when you're on the go, not when you're connected up to Wi-Fi at home.

Is this the BBC trying not to annoy the mobile networks in the same way it incurred the wrath of Britain's ISPs? We think it just might have something to do with it.

iplayer for android review

You could forgive these issues if the videos streamed smoothly, but we found that a lot of the time they don't. The streams are often slightly juddery even on a robust wireless connection. Not enough to make the videos unwatchable, but distracting enough to cause severe irritation. Desks will be thumped.

We thought maybe it was just our Galaxy S that was playing up so we booted up an HTC Desire as well. Before long, everyone on the team with an Android phone was trying it out. Same experiences, same problems all round with varying degrees of severity.

Certainly, lower end Android phones are not going to like this app at all.

iplayer for android review

Clearly, there are some technical issues at work here and the BBC can't be blamed for all of them. But it's important to remember that there have been several unofficial iPlayer apps for Android kicking around and they all seemed to do a better job than this.

If watching iPlayer on your Android phone sounds appealing, you should definitely check this app out. You never know, if might run a treat on your device. Just don't expect it to love you or snuggle up to you on the train home.

What do you think of the new Android app? Let us know in the comments...

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