I had a hard time watching Thursday’s NFL game, and not just because the Indianapolis Colts won. While their comeback was tough to take for this New England Patriots fan, it was not as difficult as trying to watch the game on a cell phone using Sprint’s NFL Mobile Live application. (Actually, that’s not true: I’d rather watch an NFL game on a cell phone than see a Manning brother win.)
NFL Mobile Live, which was rolled out to Sprint subscribers earlier this fall, allows users of compatible Sprint phones to listen to audio broadcasts of all NFL games and watch video broadcasts of all games that are shown on the NFL Network. It’s free if you have a Sprint data plan (but 3 cents per KB of data if you don’t). And it’s a good thing that it’s free, because the performance of the app is too hit-or-miss to make it worth paying for.
I tested NFL Mobile Live on the Samsung Instinct and LG Lotus. It shows you the same broadcast you’d see as if you were watching the game on TV — NFL Network announcers and all — though the broadcast was delayed by a few seconds. Audio quality was excellent on both phones, plenty loud enough and very clear.
Video playback is another story, though, especially when you consider the size of the playback window. Neither the Instinct nor the Lotus used the full screen for video playback — and when you’re trying to watch a TV on a cell phone screen, every bit counts. The screen on the Lotus measures 2.4 inches diagonally, but the football game was shown in a small window that wasn’t much bigger than a postage stamp. The video was sharp and clear, but hard to see, especially when the camera panned back to show the entire field. My eyes ached when trying to figure out which team had the football during those shots.
While the game itself was hard to see, seeing the graphics almost required a magnifying glass. When I held the phone a few inches from my face, I squinted to read a graphic that seemed to display the score as 80 to 11. My awe was short lived; I soon heard the announcer explain that those were the total rushing yards for each team.
At 3.1 inches, the Instinct’s screen is slightly bigger, yet it displayed the football game in a window that looked to be more than twice the size shown on the Lotus. But it wasn’t a full-screen display and as such the experience was similar to watching a standard definition broadcast on an HDTV, with black bars running down the sides. While the bigger screen should have made the action a bit easier to see, the video quality negated that: It was so pixilated and blocky that I often couldn’t decipher between ads and the game.
NFL Mobile Live will never replace your big-screen TV, but it’s really not meant to. Depending on how it performs on your phone, it could be a good way to watch or listen to a game when you’re on the road. It’s free, so if you have a Sprint phone there’s no reason not to download it. But if you’re considering buying a Sprint phone for the express purpose of watching NFL games on it, I’d recommend giving the handset a test run first.