Swell Radio (for iPhone) review

Swell Radio is a streaming audio service that dares to be different by focusing on news and talk radio, and it's quite impressive.
Photo of Swell Radio (for iPhone)

The recently released Swell Radio is unofficially billed as “Pandora for radio,” and after using it for several hours, I understand why. The free iPhone app lets users stream news, comedy, sports, and business content to their Apple iPhones—content that adapts to your listening habits to create a customized experience. Fans of news, podcasts, and talk radio should consider giving Swell Radio a download.

Tuning In
Unlike Stitcher Radio (an app that provides a similar service), Swell Radio doesn’t require you to create an account—you can jump right in. Swell Radio sports a simple but elegant interface that’s remarkably clutter-free. Swell Radio utilizes “audio cards,” rectangular panels that contain important information such as the show/station/podcast’s name, runtime, and the broadcast date. There are also two icons that let you rewind a track in 10-second intervals or fast-forward in 30-second intervals. Tapping the small information icon flips the audio card where you can find a show synopsis and a link to the show’s homepage.

NPR, Comedy Central Stand Up, and BBC Documentaries are just a handful of the many stations available. The audio streamed to my Sony MDR headphones was crisp and clear; in fact, Swell Radio sounded better than many terrestrial radio stations, as there were no pops or hisses. If you dig into the settings, you can find an option to for “high-quality streaming” that’s designed to improve audio (when a show offers it).

Listening In
Brining a finger to the Swell logo opens a genre listing that includes technology, business, arts, TV& film, culture, music, comedy, and other categories. Selecting music took me from the informative Freakonomics show to a program that featured several indie artists. Switching categories causes Swell Radio to play a handful of the new genre tracks, before reverting to the normal mixed-content stream. Unlike Stitcher Radio you cannot ban or favorite shows.

Note: Swell Radio doesn’t let you continuously listen to one topic or genre, as some other music streaming apps do. For example, if I fired up Slacker Radio’s ’80s station, I’d be fed nothing but tunes from the decade of decadence. Swell Radio, on the other hand, streams a variety of topics that are constantly tweaked based on several criteria. Swell Radio also doesn’t offer live radio, which is SiriusXM Radio’s bread and butter. Instead, it has timely recorded programming; I listed to Grantland’s Jalen Rose Report podcast just hours just a few hours after it went live.

Like Slacker Radio and many other audio streaming services, Swell Radio constantly tweaks the listening experience based on your actions—it’s not a traditional podcast. The app knows what you like based on how long you listened to a particular genre, when you skipped a program, the “wisdom of the Swell community,” data from your Twitter stream (if you follow lots of sports teams, Swell Radio serves up more sports content), time of day, and the time since last fired up the app. You can also share content via Facebook, Twitter, and email. Swiping up on an audio card bookmarks a track, so that you can return to it at a later time.

Radio Days
There is a sea of iPhone apps designed to stream music, but very few have a laser-beam focus on news and talk. Swell Radio is impressive, but not strictly because of the novel idea; it’s an app that iPhone users should download if they dig non-music radio and podcasts. Should developer Concept.io allow users to continuously stream their genres of choice (a feature that Stitcher Radio offers), this already impressive app will be that much better.

Specifications
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
Swell Radio is a streaming audio service that dares to be different by focusing on news and talk radio, and it's quite impressive.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc