Reviews

A First Look at Flytunes

Flytunes offers a way to tune into Internet radio online and offline.
Flytunes offers a way to tune into Internet radio online and offline. This press photo channel menu is slightly different from what I currently see on my iPhone.

One of the criticisms that the iPod and more recently the iPhone have had tossed out against them is the lack of a radio. After all, if you can build Wi-Fi into them, why not at least an FM radio?

Flytunes is attempting a unique and innovative solution to this lack of tuning in with a web based approach. The idea is to let the connected iPod or iPhone stream music from various Internet stations or cache the tunes to be played back later.

Having signed up for an account with the fledgling service, I received an e-mail inviting me to register on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the e-mail was caught by Outlook on my PC and not by the e-mail client on the iPhone, which meant I had to type in the long registration URL on the itsy-bitsy screen keyboard.

After that little ordeal, I registered my e-mail address and a password and was off and running. Before I knew it, I had the 60s & 70s station blasting away from the tiny iPhone speakers. It literally took me back to my childhood in the 60s when I would sit out in my front yard listening to a transistor radio. All I needed was a skin for Flytunes that looked like a transistor radio!

I listened for a while, but had to run meet some friends for lunch. On the way back from lunch, I tried to tune in from my car to check out the caching only to have a message pop up telling me the service was unavailable. I tried a few more times, gave up and decided to wait a while.

A couple of hours later, the “service unavailable” was replaced with a “scheduled maintenance” message and the service was down until Sunday afternoon.

Granted, it’s a new service, but it seemed unfortunate that my new registration e-mail came at the same time they went down.

Flytunes offers a number of different channels divided into genres – Country, Dance, Decades, Eclectic, Jazz, News, Sports, R&B, Rock, Top 40 and World music. Each genre is divided into subcategories. For instance, under the Rock category, you’ve got High Voltage, Live, Classic, Today’s Rock and Alternative Rock. You can also program presets by selecting any genres as a favorite.

According to the press materials, Flytunes will soon offer a premium version that includes more channels and, I’m assuming more cache time. I read in their press information that you can get up to four hours of cached music for plane trips and so forth, but so far I haven’t been able to come close to that, more like a few minutes. The premium version is also supposed to include software that will run on your PC and allow you to time shift and add more personalization to your music experience like building your own channel with your favorite artists. And the goal is for Flytunes to eventually work with other web-connected phones and music players.

So far my experience has been hit or miss. Sometimes it works great and other times not at all. You really need a Wi-Fi connection. The Edge service that comes with the AT&T contract is just too slow. And, there are other bugs to be ironed out. For instance, I was at a local Starbucks and wanted to listen to some cached tunes. Problem was, the darned T-Mobile hotspot kept popping up so that I couldn’t even get to my Flytunes page in the Safari browser. At times, some stations just wouldn’t come up at all and, despite requesting that my e-mail address and password be remembered, I find myself repeatedly typing them in.

I also noticed my battery indicator dropping rapidly as I used the service, which is to be expected, so don’t be surprised if you have to recharge more frequently if you give Flytunes heavy use.

I’m extremely excited about Flytunes. It definitely fills a niche and, in my opinion, is a far better option that trying to cram an FM radio into a phone or music player. Cached music and news can go with you anywhere.

If Flytunes can fix a few glitches, they’ve got a winner.

You might also want to see my related post iPhone Video Review.

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