By Gary Eng Walk
Updated May 14, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

It’s been cooking in the iPhone app oven for what seemed like an eternity, but SlingPlayer Mobile is finally available for download on iTunes. You can use it to connect to a Slingbox — the handy gadget that gives you remote access to video devices like DVRs connected in your home. Like many TV addicts, watching my TiVo through Slingbox on an iPhone is a huge deal. But I’m finding this highly-anticipated app to be a huge letdown.

First, SlingPlayer Mobile only works if the iPhone is connected to a Wi-Fi network. It won’t work on AT&T’s 3G cellular network, which is what most Sli-phone fans have been salivating over. This means that unless you happen to be at a coffee shop, park, or other public area with an accessible Wi-Fi cloud, SlingPlayer Mobile is useless. Several years ago, I used a similar app from Sling Media that ran on a Windows Mobile device. Running on Sprint’s network, not Wi-Fi, it enabled me to watch TV at a baseball game, in a car, and on a subway platform. I can’t do any of these things with the iPhone version of the Slingbox player. For what it’s worth, Sling Media, the company behind the Slingbox, isn’t to blame for their app’s Wi-Fi shackles: The app would work just fine over the 3G airwaves, but AT&T put the kibosh on this feature because it’s afraid the extra bandwidth load would create havoc on the entire wireless network.

Also adding to the disappointment with the release of this app is the price tag. At $30, it’s significantly pricier than most of the apps for purchase on Apple’s sprawling application bazaar. The actual experience of using the app is hard to swallow, too. While the concept of watching my Slingbox-connected Tivo from far-away places on my iPhone is undeniably cool, the video quality is average (it gets progressively worse with slower Wi-Fi networks), the controls were sluggish and counterintuitive, and the audio was often out of sync. Because of the less-than-optimal video quality, the text on my TiVo’s on-screen guide was almost too blurry to read. In its current state, it’s hard to imagine many scenarios when I’ll be using the Slingbox app on my iPhone, especially when I’m carrying my laptop computer, which can run a vastly-superior (and free) version of the Slingbox software on the same Wi-Fi networks.

What about you, PopWatchers? Are there any satisfied Sli-phone users out there?