Last.fm was created with a simple concept: get listeners the music they want to hear when they want to hear it. With their mobile app for Android, they are bringing control over the music you hear to more places than ever before. Drawing from the already huge Last.fm user base, streaming stations are created based on the music you like, the music Last.fm thinks you would like, and the music other people are suggesting. It really works quite well, though the playlist interface is at times hard to navigate and the shear amount of recommended music at times feels overly forced.
Creating a station involves entering either an artist, tag, or Last.fm user to find any existing stations that may be related. For instance, you could search for “Paul Simon,” “sixties folk,” or “PaulSimonRulz46″ to locate stations based around, similar to, or created by fans of Paul Simon. The method of creating a playlist from this criteria is all based around user input and tagging. On the “Now Playing” pane, users have the ability to enter new tags for the songs they are hearing to help better match this music with other similar artists.
This huge social input creates fairly diverse music streams that could play for hours without a repeated song or artist, but at times it may result in more skipped tracks than not. Because not everyone hears music the same way, certain songs appearing on your favorite artist’s station may have no interest to you, as was the case when I checked out “Paul Simon Radio.” However, when searching by tag rather than artist I was quite pleased by the result. My search for music tagged as “western african” resulted in two hours of very entertaining world music. I did have trouble locating some specific artists; a search for The Very Best turned up nothing.
A unique and innovative tool built into the Last.fm app is the ability to “scrobble.” From what I can gather, scrobbling is the act of analyzing the music you listen to in order to help create recommendations and music matches. While scrobbling the music you listen to through the app isn’t that impressive of a feature, you can also allow Last.fm to scrobble when you listen to the music stored in the media library on your phone. This will create instant recommendations in Last.fm based on the music you already have.
But this is where my biggest problem with the Last.fm app rests. From the “Radio” tab on the app home page, it seems easier to locate the music Last.fm wants you to listen to rather than the music you want to listen to. As you listen to tracks you can add individual songs to playlists, and these playlists are synced between the mobile app and the Last.fm website. This is a great feature, but it is difficult to access these individual playlists on your phone once you have created them. You can simply play a catchall “Your Library” which will pull music from all of your playlists. Too little music on a playlist? Last.fm won’t even play it due to “insufficient content.” In fact, a playlist must contain at least 45 tracks by 15 different artists before it can be streamed. Last.fm does, however, offer a great deal of recommended content that is easily accessible from the home screen.
Aside from playlists being difficult to manage and recommendations that are sometimes way out of left field, there is actually a lot to like about the app. Individual tracks can be shared via text message, Facebook, e-mail, or with others on your Last.fm freind’s list, you can purchase music directly through the app using the Amazon Mp3 store, and on the now playing screen a red “On Tour” badge in the upper right corner will let you know if the artist streaming is currently touring. Clicking the badge takes you to a list of upcoming shows. One cool thing they could do with this in the future is enable location awareness to only alert you if the artist is playing within a certain proximity to where you are.
Sound quality left a little to be desired. You can’t adjust it much more than enabling high-quality audio when streaming over a cell network. This leads me to believe that when operating over wifi high-quality streaming is always enabled. Other options allow for toggling scrobbling on and off and adjusting its parameters, and setting what items will sync between the app and website. A notification allows you to see when music is playing and also to check song and artist info from the notifications drop down. The app does seem a bit buggy at times, frequently logging me out of my Last.fm account and sometimes requiring a restart to get music to start streaming properly.
- Huge selection of music with diverse playlists created through social tagging
- Ability to share individual tracks with friends via messaging and social networking
- “On Tour” notifications
- Can create playlists synced across your Last.fm account and add specific tracks
- Recommended music can feel forced and may result in more skips than plays
- Playlists require many songs and artists before they can be streamed
- Audio quality could be better
- App provides so much information and recommendations it may be overwhelming to navigate for some
The Bottom Line: Last.fm on Android is a pretty good streaming app considering everything you get without any type of subscription fee. A large selection of music coupled with user-generated stations and playlists are sure to provide hours of listening. However, it seems to lack matches for a few artists and due to personal tastes, some of the recommended music will lead to skips and possible frustration compared to similar apps that provide intelligent playlists. In trying to do too much the app misses the mark in a few places, but the ability to share individual tracks or save them to playlists make Last.fm worth checking out. The QR code is below.
This article is part of a series on music streaming apps for Android. Each day I will be reviewing a different streaming app to help separate the must-have music players from the rest.
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