App Review: Sola Radio (PlayStation Mobile)

Sola Radio PlayStation Mobile

It has to be said that the PS Vita isn’t without it’s faults. Yes, I’ve admitted it – despite being an incredible piece of hardware, the Vita has more than its fair share of shortcomings. Despite some of the ones I have mentioned elsewhere on the site, many users have complained about the pre-installed apps that come with the system or those that Sony have made available freely. Not because of what is available but more because of what isn’t included. However, that has inspired PlayStation Mobile developers to fill in those gaps who have released a series of apps covering an incredibly diverse range of subjects. Mike Oliphant has given the Vita a comic reader by way of Comic Station, there are countless calculators and notepad apps, and to compliment the Vita’s own music player, TuneIn Radio and Music Unlimted comes Sola Radio from Zhang Bo, arguably PSM’s most prolific developer…

The first thing that strikes you with this is that the app – and even the description on the PSN Store itself – shows that the title is somewhat misleading. While the name suggests that Sola Radio is some form of streaming internet radio app, nothing could be further from the truth. What Sola Radio actually does is acts as a portal between the PS Vita and the online free music site Jamendo and while this is actually mentioned in the app description on the PSN Store, it doesn’t quite explain what that means or what exactly Jamendo is.

In essence, Jamendo is a website offering free music. Not any old music but songs that have been made available by their composers for use by anyone visiting the site on a royalty free basis under the Creative Commons licence. As a user you’re able to visit the site to listen to and download as many songs as you like without obligation to make any form of payment whatsoever. The only time any form of transaction might be involved is if you wish to licence some of the music for your own commercial projects but other than that it’s freely available. You won’t find anything from well-known or commercially established artists on there – that’s not the purpose of the site but there is a massive selection of over 400,000 songs from a wide range of performers in almost every music genre you can imagine. As a site it’s worth looking at if you are the sort of person who is keen to try out new music and new bands or just wants to try out something a little different.

So back to Sola Radio and essentially it is a way of accessing Jamendo through the PS Vita. On loading the app you’re presented with a menu screen giving you the option to look at the latest albums uploaded, the most popular for the week, month or all time, or list albums by artist or title. Below these are the tags, allowing albums to be grouped into categories based by music genre allowing you to find music based on your own personal taste and on the right of the screen are the names of the albums found in the group you are searching through and selecting on any of these takes you to the album itself.

Once you choose an album you go to a completely new screen which again is split in two. Half is taken up with the album cover and the other half is the album’s track listing. As you select a track is is downloaded to your Vita rather than streamed (although the tracks download very quickly) and play straight away. Playback quality is quite good but rather than storing songs in the Vita’s song library, they are stored as part of the Sola Radio data itself so they can’t be used by anything other than Sola Radio which seems to have been a rather strange decision to make.

At this point it all seems fairly straightforward and despite the song storage issue, is something that might be of interest to some people until you actually come to use the app properly and you encounter it’s two main problems. The first issue revolves around the album list itself. No matter what option you choose, whether it’s the latest releases, most popular or by category, everything is listed by date in the order that they were uploaded to Jamendo. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that this date starts with the oldest date first so on choosing any category from the menu it displays the same albums no matter what you select. While you can scroll through the list indefinitely to get to the newer albums, with over 400,000 songs available this is going to take some time…

That would be frustrating in itself so to remedy this all you need to do is use the search option if you know the name of the band, album or song you are looking for. Well, that would be fine if there was a search option. Frankly, having access to such a large music library without a search function makes the whole app redundant and it becomes as practical as a paper jug. I can’t see why anyone would want to sit down and spend hours sifting through the thousands of albums on Jamendo hoping to find something of interest when a search function could have made that possible in seconds.

To be honest, as with everything I have encountered so far from Zhang Bo, this is another app that shows promise but fails to deliver when it comes to its execution and points to an extremely rushed released. It’s certainly a good idea and makes up for the lack of an official app from the site itself (which only provides apps at present for iOS, Android and Windows Mobile) but the way Sola Radio is structured makes it almost completely unuseable in its present form. Without a complete rewrite addressing the way songs are displayed, correcting the glaring errors, and including a practical search function you’re really better off sticking to using the site on your PC and then copying any files across to your Vita that you do enjoy listening to. Another disappointing release to be avoided, even at the low price.

Simon Plumbe

Find out more here.

At A Glance

  • Title: Sola Radio
  • Publisher: Zhang Bo
  • System: PlayStation Mobile
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: No
  • Online Multiplayer: No
  • Local Multiplayer: No
  • Memory Card Space Needed: variable

Vita Player Rating - 02

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About Simon Plumbe 841 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian.Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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