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LG Adds FM Radio Support in Current, Future Phones

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The phone industry may officially have many players, but in the United States its nearly a duopoly between Samsung and Apple. Worldwide, those two companies extract virtually all the profit from the phone market, but that’s a different topic. It can be difficult for other companies to stand out in the US, but LG may have hit on an interesting way to do so, by offering free FM radio on its phones.

Outside the United States, this is actually a fairly common feature, but US phones don’t typically offer it. That said, there’s no reason they can’t, and since phone vendors tend to offer the same device in multiple markets, many Android devices actually have a built-in FM chip that’s simply left deactivated. LG is partnering with NextRadio to offer FM service on its upcoming phones (some current devices are already supported), most likely including the V30, which launches on August 31.

Here’s how NextRadio works: There are two ways to access the service, via Streaming Mode (which works on any device with a cellular or Wi-Fi connection) or in Radio Mode. All devices in the United States, from all manufacturers (including Apple) support Streaming Mode. FM Mode is only available on Android devices, as Apple doesn’t include FM chips in its phones, and not all phones support it. A list of devices that support FM Mode is available at NextRadio’s website.

NextRadio1

If you have a phone that supports FM mode and has an active Internet connection via cellular or Wi-Fi, NextRadio will download ‘enhanced’ content (album covers, newsfeed items, etc). If you don’t have Internet access, FM mode still works, provided there are any FM stations in range of your location. This allows you to listen to music, news, or emergency bulletins without needing to have a cellular plan. NextRadio states that any station your car antenna can pick up should also be capable of receiving the same station on your phone.

Of course, radio quality isn’t going to be as good as the streaming options you can get, but according to LG, streaming eats 3x more battery and 20x more data than listening to the same station in FM Mode. Toss in the fact that FM radio reaches places that cellular and Wi-Fi radios don’t, and you’ve got a unique proposition and possibly a way for LG to highlight the value of its own products.

LG said it will preinstall the NextRadio app on its devices to ensure customers can listen when they purchase a phone. There’s one tricky thing to be aware of, however, as described in the image above. In order to use FM Mode, the NextRadio service uses a headphone wire as an antenna. If you don’t have a pair of headphones plugged in, the service won’t function. There’s no word on what happens if you plug an actual antenna into the 3.5mm jack, or whether a pair of circumaural headphones with a thick coiled cable performs better than a pair of earbuds with a thin, short wire. If they do, who knows? You might be able to plug an extendable 30-foot antenna into your 3.5mm jack and wire it up at your house to pick up stations from all over the region. (This is, to be clear, mostly a joke. Mostly.)

NextRadio also segments its supported device list by carrier, implying that if you don’t have service with the right company FM Mode may not be supported. There’s nothing in the FAQ that clarifies why an FM Radio would work with one service, but not another.

Now read: 10 best Android apps for power users

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