'Duk note: We usually don't do very many tech reviews on the Stew, mostly because I have no idea how to review bells and whistles. However, when my techie friend Michael Coyle offered to share his first experiences with MLB's much-hyped offering for the iPhone I jumped at the chance. His review is below:
Heading to Mexico for my 25th wedding anniversary last week presented a major problem for this South Side fan: How would I be able to listen to the White Sox Opening Day game while out of the country?
Luckily, the solution was provided a week before the season started with the release of "MLB At Bat 2009" for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
The 2009 version costs $9.99, but it includes Gameday Audio, which is normally $14.95 for your computer. Gameday Audio effectively turns your iPhone into an AM radio capable of receiving the home or away audio for any game. Play-by-play streams over Wifi, 3G and even the EDGE network, although EDGE has suffered from some buffering dropouts.
In addition to audio feeds, there are tabs along the bottom of the screen for additional features and info:
• The "Gameday" tab allows you watch each pitch in relation to the strike zone just like on the MLB website. The timing sync between the visuals and Gameday Audio is great. With a little imagination, it's almost like watching live video.
• Each game also features the "Field" tab which shows the dimensions of each park, the defensive men on the field, the current batter, who's on deck and even who's in the hole.
• If you have to take a call on your iPhone and miss a few minutes of the game, the "Summary" tab provides a running narrative of the action, including any coaching trips to the mound or on-field substitutions! On the downside, receiving a call quits the MLB app, so you'll have to manually relaunch and reconnect to your audio.
• As expected, the "Box Score" tab is self explanatory. It tracks the overall game stats and each players performance in realtime.
• If there was a great play, keep an eye on the "Videos" tab for the Highlight to appear. Selecting a Highlight video pauses the audio feed until the video is complete upon which time it resumes.
In Mexico, I listened poolside to two games over the TELCEL 3G network. The audio stream sounded terrible on Opening Day, but the application was updated that evening and all the games since have sounded great with fewer application crashes.
In downtown Chicago, the high-rise buildings block AM radio signals so listening at work was out of the question unless I bought the package through the computer. Now, with At Bat I can get all the info on any game, listen to live audio from any game, and then pack it up and take it with me for the train ride home.
As for battery life, the app does hit it hard. But not so hard that I couldn't get through both the Cubs and Sox games the other day. That had to be six hours of streaming audio.
Generally, I'm not a fan of MLBs pay-per-view options (Blackouts on MLB.tv, for example), but with "MLB At Bat 2009" for the iPhone, I really think they've finally — pardon the cliche, please — hit a long home run.