- Editor's Rating
- Exclusive content
- Offline listening
- Music finding and sharing
- Klutzy media player
- Choppy song transitions
- Clunky playlists
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. With Apple and Pandora probably freaking out right now over the U.S. beta release of Spotify for PCs and Android, it appears that I have a new best friend called Spotify.
It isn’t that I have that big of a beef with iTunes or Pandora (other than the fact I severely dislike using either service). In Spotify, though, I’ve found a streaming music app that doesn’t require me to bow down before Steve Jobs or deal with Pandora’s ridiculous interface. For those things, I grant it my allegiance. Does that mean I think that you’ll find it worth the download bandwidth?
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Spotify can be easily located by aiming your mobile browser at the Android Market or your computer mouse at spotify.com. (For the record, the website URL doesn’t work if you try to access it on your mobile). The download is quick and painless, but there’s one huge catch.
If you want to use the Spotify Android mobile app, you have to spring for a Premium subscription that will run you $9.99 per month. Spotify is also compatible with Apple’s iOS and with Symbian and Windows Mobile phones.
The other two plans, Spotify Free and Spotify Unlimited, can only be used on your desktop computer. Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of how the three different plans stack up:
Spotify Free costs absolutely nothing, as you might guess. There are only three real drawbacks, apart from not being able to use Spotify Free on your mobile device: you’ll have to put up with ads, the audio quality isn’t quite up to snuff with the Premium option, and free users are limited to 20 hours of listening per month.
Spotify Unlimited is named poorly. It’s really quite limited – in the sense that just like with Spotify Free, you can only use this from a desktop computer. However, you’re not limited to 20 hours of listening (hence the “unlimited”). Also for your $4.99 per month you’ll get zero ads which, depending upon your tolerance for distraction, might be well worth the money to you.
Spotify Premium is the membership level that really defines what so many people — yours truly included — are excited about. Sure, it’s $9.99 per month. and that’s not exactly chump change. Yet once you’ve tried it out, you might determine that Spotify Premium is actually underpriced. Keep reading to find out what you’ll get by signing up for Premium access.
Offline listening is one of the coolest Spotify features of all, and it’s something that – of course – is only available to paying Premium members. Since streaming music without the benefit of a Wi-Fi network can cause you to incur some serious 3G bandwidth, Spotify gives you the ability to mark songs and albums of your choice as available for offline listening. You can then take your mobile device on the go and not have to worry about racking up a gargantuan amount of data usage.
Before you assume that you’ll only be limited to a few albums’ worth of songs, check this out: Spotify lets you mark up to 3,333 individual songs for offline listening on up to three separate devices. I’m not all that great at math, but I’m pretty sure that comes close to 10,000 songs. Of course, your smartphone may or may not be able to hold all that memory, but you can always slim down file sizes by opting for a lower bit rate.
The only downside is that syncing your device for offline listening can be a little time consuming. The average 10-track album takes about five minutes to sync for offline listening. That’s certainly more time than it would take to transfer a block of songs from your computer to your mp3 player. Still, it’s not an unacceptable timeframe.
What’s even crazier (as in crazy good) is that Spotify’s interoperability with Windows Media Player lets you import an unlimited number of songs from your personal local files for offline listening, as well.
The best thing of all? No cables are necessary. Everything happens automatically by tapping into the shared Wi-Fi connection. Once you’ve loaded up your Android with a list of songs sufficient to keep your ears abuzz for a mini-eternity, all you need to do is access the application’s settings through the “More” tab, and check the box for “Offline Mode.” Then, away you go.
Other Premium Perks
Here’s some of the other stuff that comes along with your $9.99 monthly subscription.
Higher Sound Quality: While the rest of the unwashed masses are getting their entertainment fix in 96 kbit/s audio quality, you can be the envy of every audiophile in the neighborhood with rates as high as 320 kbit/s.
Exclusive Content: Spotify’s Android app hasn’t been available long enough in the U.S. to be able to determine just how this will play out. Yet I can imagine that as the rollout continues, tweaks are implemented, and more sponsors hop aboard the gravy train, Premium subscribers will get to hear pre-release albums across a far wider selection of music. For the pessimistic in the audience, there goes the last bit of excitement over Spotify Free. But did you really think you’d get a free lunch?
Home Stereo System Compatibility: If you already have a killer speaker set hooked up to your computer, you’re probably not going to find this feature of much interest. Yet those who don’t just might be. Spotify comes compatible with several wireless music systems like Sonos and Squeezebox, as well as the TeliaSonera digital TV. So you don’t need to be restricted to either your computer room or Android OS when you listen.
The broad diversity of music to be found on Spotify is pleasantly surprising. I have a sneaking suspicion that even those of you out there with eclectic music tastes — who don’t care about what everyone else is listening to — will feel the same. Spotify isn’t just about finding the latest Beyonce single or the debut album from whoever just so happens to be the American Idol flavor of the month.
In my diligent searches, I found an ample selection of various music styles including trip hop, ambient, classical, and progressive rock – and all of these from some fairly darn obscure artists, to boot (although I’m sure that Beethoven guy is pretty well known). It’s impossible to say with any level of certainty that you’ll find everything that you’re looking for, especially since it appears Spotify failed to secure licensing rights from such major bands as Metallica (shocker, I know), the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and King Crimson, to name a few. But it is safe to say that you’ll find a good bit of what you want to hear.
To search, you just click on the magnifying glass icon and key in your specific query. The search results come back separated into three categories, in three separate tabs: “Tracks,” “Albums,” and “Artists.” Single tapping (or double clicking, if you’re using the desktop version) a track automatically launches play and brings up an image of the album cover art, along with a player interface that lets you star a favorite track, scan forward or backward, or skip to the next song in the search results. You can also add single tracks or entire albums to an established playlist, or create a new one. Then there’s the “share” feature, which deserves its very own section.
Spotify is fully integrated with Facebook, allowing you to see which of your friends is also using it. Anytime you want to share a track or an album with one of these friends, all you need to do is to long-tap the selected track or album and choose “Share to Spotify People.” A link to the track is then delivered to that person’s Spotify inbox. This link can be accessed through both the mobile app and desktop versions.
Spotify is also Twitter-, text-, and email enabled. So you can share your favorite tracks with friends outside of the actual program, and outside of Facebook. The catch here is that they’ll need to sign up for an account in order to listen to the track. That’s fair enough, considering it’s something anyone can do for free. Spotify is also linked up with Last.fm. So you can scrobble — or send your listening history, in plain English — to better inform your preferences the next time you log in there. Sharing is enabled for all versions of Spotify, even for free access.
The “What’s New” tab of the mobile app lets you keep track of the latest albums added to Spotify’s already considerable 15 million-song library. It also serves a social media purpose by publishing the playlists you’ve created for your Spotify-enabled Facebook friends to view, and vice versa.
If you’re a closet BeeGees fan and don’t want that getting out, you can tweak your personal settings to only make your more socially acceptable musical tastes a matter of public record. We all have reps to protect, after all.
Although you don’t have to create a playlist in order to listen to music, doing so lets you bookmark songs and albums for repeat listening without searching for them all over again. My main complaint about Spotify’s playlists is that once created, they’re filed in chronological order as opposed to alphabetical, which would make more sense. You can’t rearrange their order, either.
ISSUES WITH SPOTIFY
Now that I’ve made the case for naming Spotify the greatest music streaming app the world has ever known, I must also say that it’s not flawless — far from it. Its flaws aren’t just limited to the Android OS app. In fact, I’ve actually encountered more issues with the Premium version in desktop mode than I have on mobile, which might say something about the superior design of the Android OS app. Here are just a couple of Spotify’s shortcomings. (If I sound like I’m nitpicking, that’s because I am.)
I’ve only been using Spotify for a few days now and I’ve already found that the music player — both on the desktop version and the mobile app — can act a little buggy. Occasionally, the player will stop and not advance to the next song in the playlist queue. Also, I’ve discovered several tracks that seem to be corrupt at first or entirely missing, but are then listenable later on. Is this a haunted program? Yes.
Also, the media player doesn’t allow for the smooth transition of songs that run together. This might not be a problem for 98 percent of users, but it’s certainly a problem for me and it’s not just because I can’t abide minor hiccups in sound. Believe it or not, there are actually people in this world who listen to entire albums of music (he says, to the dismay of the blasé music listener who was weaned on Jack FM and has what could best be described as schizophrenic listening tastes). Some of those albums even have songs that run seamlessly together from one track to the next. Unfortunately, Spotify isn’t able to produce a smooth transition between songs. You end up hearing a brief, jarring silence as the next track is accessed.
In addition, as I mentioned earlier, playlists can’t be alphabetized or reorganized. This could have some big-time clutter implications for you further down the line, after you’ve created your thousandth or so playlist. Yet I imagine this is something that’ll get fixed, anyway, as more people start screaming about it.
You probably already know what I think. If I’d been around to witness the rollout of sliced bread, I’d probably proclaim Spotify to be the next best thing since way back then.
Still, a small part of me has problems with streaming music services in general. I think that the royalties (or lack thereof) paid to the artists whose music is made available through Spotify and other streaming services is borderline criminal. Perhaps no better example took place in 2009 when Lady Gaga earned a reported $167 in royalties after getting more than a million plays on Spotify.
Meanwhile, where I’m concerned, Spotify is actually going to create some album sales. I’ve already added some of the music I’ve discovered through Spotify to my wish list for albums. It’s possible, though, that I’m an exception in that I still like to buy physical CDs. I feel that by doing so, I’m supporting the artists whose music makes my world go round. If that makes me old, then hand me my ear buds and break out the rocking chair, honey child.