Now that summer is here, you're more likely to be out and about than sitting at home watching TV. With the right apps, though, you can keep on top of your favorite sports teams and players from anywhere on your iPhone or iPad, whether you follow baseball, tennis, boxing, soccer, or any other sport. Most general interest news sites and apps offer tons of sports coverage, but you have to drill down to find it. The six sports apps in this roundup, on the other hand, all have one thing in common. They provide the latest scores and other relevant sports news front and center.
As soon as you launch an app, you can see the scores of your favorite teams or news about players, trades, and other goings on. To varying extents, some apps also let you see video highlights (although there appear to be huge legal issues regarding sports video, as explained in the reviews below). A few also encourage you to get off the couch and go out and play (golf and tennis). But for the most part, these apps are for sports fans who just want to get the latest info.
Here are the six apps. Each could stand for some improvements. Yet, if you're an on-the-go sports fan, you'll probably find at least some of them to be well worth the download.
Yahoo! Sportacular is a comparatively simple app intended to provide scores, news, and stats, and that's it. There is no video here, and no pretense of video. Everything in this app consists of text and occasional still photos.
When you first launch Yahoo! Sportacular it asks you for your favorite teams. The Leagues list is extensive: MLB, NFL, NCAAF, NHL, NBA, NCAAB, NCAAWB, PGA, LPGA, PGA Champions, PGA Web.com, PGA European, Premier League Soccer, World Cup, MLS, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Champions League, NASCAR Spring, NASCAR Nationwide, Formula 1, IZOD IndyCar, Men's Tennis, and Women's Tennis.
The main selection screen shows Profile, Favorites, and Trending on top, with Leagues on the bottom. Then when you move within a League, choices along the bottom are for Scores, Teams News, and Players. Yahoo! Sportacular Pro is $1.99. What's the difference? No banner ads appear in the Pro version. Otherwise it's identical.
MLB.com at Bat
Free (see text)
iOS 5.0 or higher
As soon as you launch the "free" MLB.com app, before you see any content whatsoever, you are implored to upgrade to the paid AtBat13 service, which also works on PCs and Macs (with different capabilities). In the iOS version, the free "Lite" version provides scores only, while the paid AtBat13 subscription offers live audio of home and away games with no blackouts, in-game video highlights, live look-ins, access to a condensed games library, and the MLB.TV game of the day. What does all this cost? It's sold in two ways - at a monthly $2.99 fee, or for $19.99 for the 2013 season.
Skip the upsell and tap on the Lite version, and you're asked to pick your favorite MLB teams. Next you can set various notifications for these teams, such as game start, lead change, game end, and news. Then you see the main screen, which shows a scorecard with all of the day's games and current or final scores. You can also view team schedules and standings, as well as player stats and upcoming games (and you can buy tickets directly from the stadium, too).
Other choices here are News (which includes excellent video clips) and voting in the All-Star Game 2013 Ballot. At the top of the main navigation bar on the left of the screen is Buy AtBat, the upgrade never being more than two or three taps away.
For those who love multiple professional sports and are obsessed about having the latest scores and news, CBS Sports is probably the best of the apps reviewed here. It has a nice interface for first selecting the sport and then drilling down. The video content is extremely weak compared with what might be possible in a perfect world, but this is obviously because of the legal issues relating to who owns the rights to the video of the various games. Like ESPN (which is owned by Disney/ABC). CBS does have the rights to some video, but this is spotty.
The Stats section deserves praise. In the baseball section, for example, a friend of mine who thought he knew everything discovered the "OPS" column for the top 15 batters (on-base plus slugging percentage). The News section is extensive and good. The video clips, however, are mostly just talking heads accompanied by still photos.
You can also buy tickets for scheduled games through StubHub. The main navigation scheme uses circular pop-up menus that surround nine main icons for MLB, NFL, NBA, etc., each offering subcategories such as Power Ranking, Scoreboard, Standings, Stats and News. It is accessible from most drill-down screens, making this one of the best sports apps navigationally, too.
iOS 4.3 or higher
Despite this app's name and price, there's no free ride here! ESPN is the single most costly basic cable-TV channel there is (in terms of what the cable system operators must pay for the network "wholesale") and they sure aren't giving it away for free on your phone or tablet!
When your first launch WatchESPN, the app asks if your TV provider is AT&T U-verse, Bright House Networks, Cablevision - Optimum, Charter, Comcast XFINITY, Cox, Midcontinent Communications, Time Warner Cable, or Verizon. If you have an account with one of these cable providers, the app asks you to sign in with your username and password. If you don't have such an account, you're out of luck. WatchESPN is only available to the customers of these cable providers who also go to the trouble of creating online access accounts.
Assuming that you have the necessary login info, you can see ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, or ESPN U. There's also "Buzzer Beater," which features live look-ins and analysis of what ESPN considers the best games. You can see upcoming schedules for what's showing on each of these channels, as well as view these schedules organized by sport (action sports, auto racing, baseball, basketball, boxing, etc.).
Free (from NBC)
This Golf Channel app from NBC is mainly an index to printed items and video clips. When it first launches, with the News section as the default main screen, you see about 20 thumbnails, in categories such as GolfTalkCentral, Opinion & Analysis, News & Original Videos, Instruction Video, Photo Galleries, TV Blogs, Fantasy Central, and Equipment Insider.
The instructional video section from "The Golf Fix" might be of interest to some golfers. There are many dozens of lessons here. Some of the other videos consist of nothing more than ads for programs on The Golf Channel. The best part, though, is that Golf Channel actually has video of pro golf highlights.
The Tennis App
iOS 4.0 or higher
This straightforward app requires no customization or setup. You launch it, and you see the latest Tennis News filling the screen, with a nav bar on the left offering a choice of News, Rankings, Scores, and Shopping. You can also "Download More," a deceptively titled section that leads you to some excellent video tutorials, although the process is quite cumbersome compared with other apps with video content.
First you must tell the app which lesson(s) you want to download. After a moment or two, the app then says the video is "installed," but there appears to be no way to watch it. Then you go back to the main menu and discover that the content you requested is now listed in the menu. After that, you click on the lesson, and you're told that it's still downloading. This process takes a minute or two for each video lesson.
When you finally get to view them, the lessons themselves are kind of like video slide shows, where each element of a specific skill, such as serving, is shown to you repeatedly in slow motion and broken into a dozen or so elements (such as stance, toss, load, acceleration, extension, etc. for serving).
The News section is compiled from a number of sources and displayed in an attractive newspaper format, but it is limited to text and photos, You won't see any video highlights from pro tennis tournaments here.
You'll have to watch TV for that.
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