Sports fanatics, fantasy aficionados, and on-the-go bookies will thrill to Mobile ESPN, the new MVNO
from the all-sports cable network. Armed with the ability to pull down alerts and real-time scores for most major sporting events, along with dozens of daily videos, hundreds of news stories, and stats for literally thousands of major- and college-league teams and players, Mobile ESPN will delight die-hard sports fiends, although the clunky MVP handset--the only phone in ESPN's lineup so far--is the service's Achilles' heel (at least until new handsets arrive later in 2006). At $200, the bulky MVP is priced about the same as other MVNO multimedia phones, while monthly 3G service prices are par for the course, although a bit stingy with text messages. The flip-open handset is based on Sanyo's ugly duckling, the MM-9000
, which is bigger and clunkier than a cutting-edge 2006 phone should be. While it boasts an impressive 262,000-color internal LCD, a 1.1-inch external LCD, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and a Mini SD slot, it lacks such high-end niceties as Bluetooth and an IrDA port. Mobile ESPN reps said that new handsets should be available by mid-2006.
The Sanyo MVP, despite its nice screen and ESPN gloss, is somehwat of a bore. From the outside, it's a bit 1990s.
Once you flip open the MVP and click the menu button, you'll find a grid of colorful, animated icons, some of which lead to typical functions (Web, Call History, Shop, and Settings), while the Mobile ESPN icon takes you directly to, well, mobile sports heaven. The Java-powered application takes several seconds to launch; indeed, the phone tries to entertain you with sports trivia and swirling "please wait"-type animations during the roughly 15-second delay. But once the app is up and running, you have access to the latest headlines with a lead photo; a thin, scrolling menu column (a.k.a. the sideline) that slides out from the left side of the screen; and the familiar but nonhyperlinked ESPN info ticker along the bottom. The sideline column lets you access all the sports goodness with ease. We found the general design to be a notch above the typical text-based content we've seen on other mobile apps; the copy is custom formatted and easy to read, with the ESPN-themed color schemes adding a layer of gloss.
ESPN Mobile is packed with features, and most are pretty easily accessible, thanks to the sideline.
Since Mobile ESPN is a 3G service, we jumped right to the videos. The clips are divided into a three-tab interface, with game highlights under the Highlights tab, breaking news under ESPNews, and analysis filed under The Take. All told, there are about 15 clips available at any given moment (about 40 to 50 clips are produced daily and pushed live at different times of the day, according to ESPN), each of which are thumbnailed into an image that's accompanied by a brief caption. We like that you can select multiple clips to download at the same time; they line up in a downloading queue, and you can watch one video while others are still downloading. Since sports fans obviously follow different teams, the service can automatically tailor your game highlights according to your favorites.
Can't get enough ESPN? No problem.
We liked having convenient access to ESPN's news and analysis videos (including snippets of Pardon the Interruption and SportsCenter), but they felt truncated, at only about a minute or so, and there's no hourly or even daily digest of top stories, the way there is with CNN To Go. Another gripe is that the player doesn't remember your preferred screen size; each time we watched a clip, we had to reselect the full-screen setting.
Ready for game time? Mobile ESPN does a great job of tracking your favorite teams and players on the field or the court. The phone lets you track past, in-progress, and upcoming NBA, college hoops, MLB, NHL, NFL, golf, soccer, and NCAAF games; you can just select a sport, navigate to a day, and choose a game. Then you can read a game summary in the case of already played games, check out a preview of an upcoming game, or--our favorite--track scores and stats in real time. You can check up-to-the-minute shot charts and scoring drives; box scores; and player stats (scores and stats in this window refresh at intervals of 30 seconds to 2 minutes).