Radio Review: The NPR One App Experience

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NPR’s new app, NPR One, allows listeners to have a more customized experience with public radio. Personally, I enjoyed exploring it, although I think there is definitely room for improvement.

dead-phone-nathan-borror   To begin, I was excited to download the app, but using it really drained my battery. I went from 25% to 15% in a manner of 20 minutes. Since I anticipate that I’d be most likely to use this app again while on the go, this is a pretty big problem. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t listen to radio segments if it meant that my phone would die on me in the middle of my day.

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In terms of content, the app works by sorting segments into “buckets” (to use the visual metaphor above), which represent larger categories or topics. Users can then personalize the kinds of content that they are exposed to by either tagging a particular piece as “Interesting” or by skipping content they don’t like altogether. I personally had a love-hate relationship with this feature of the app. While I enjoyed getting customized content (for example, I found news about education much more relevant to my interests than music news), I found that tagging pieces as “Interesting” restricted my story choices fairly quickly. After flagging a few health stories, the app gave me an overwhelming amount of health-related content, more than I cared to listen to, frankly. I had a similar problem when I tagged a story about the domestic abuse controversy in the NFL. I found this to be frustrating, especially because it made the “Coming Up” page increasingly repetitive. I wish there were a way to maintain more variety, perhaps by including a “random content” category. I was also disappointed in the small quantity of stories offered in the “Coming Up” page. I would have enjoyed viewing a larger number of story choices at a time, or at least having a refresh feature that loaded new stories when I got to the end of the existing list.

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Overall, I thought the quality of the pieces were great. The sound was very clear and, once the stories loaded they played through seamlessly. One problem I have with streaming is that longer pieces tend to ‘stick’ in one place while downloading, which interrupts the content I’m listening to. I thought it was a big plus that this didn’t happen with NPR One. I suppose the downside of that though was how often I saw this screen. It may have been my data connection, but I felt as though many of the stories took quite some time to download. Had I been trying to squeeze in a few radio segments during spare time in my day, I probably would have run out of time to listen to them by the time they buffered. Building off this point, I would definitely use this app again, but only if I could integrate it into my daily schedule. I think it’s highly unlikely that I would just sit down and listen to the radio segments on NPR One. Instead,  I would most likely use it walking between classes or while waiting for lecture halls to clear out. The shorter length of a lot of the segments makes it a good option for killing time in my daily schedule.

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With this in mind, I wish there had been a “Save for later” feature. One of the stories I was listening to was over 50 minutes in length. Especially if I’m just flipping through content while going about my day, it would be nice if I could archive those longer pieces for when I can devote more time and attention to them.

Overall, I enjoyed using NPR One. I thought that the content was high quality and I enjoyed the customized experience. Most of the segments that appeared were relevant to my interests, though I do wish there was a way to balance that with more variety. I would use this app again, although I’d have to have a phone charger handy, just in case!

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