Streaming Music Showdown: UMusic

Back in my days as an undergrad we used to use YouTube to DJ a party every now and then. Someone would sit on the computer all night with two browser windows open and go back and forth queuing up songs. This is pretty much what UMusic is, only automated and minus the video. And after using UMusic I sort of wish we had it back in the day. But only sort of.

The concept of UMusic is simple. Enter a song and/or artist and UMusic finds the best match on YouTube, strips out the video, and streams the audio to your phone. Once you get past the limited English speaking ability of the app’s programmer, it is pretty simple to use. Search for a track, add it to an “album” (though I think they really meant to call these playlists), and play your lists back. Each track you search for is added to the song history for quick access to previous selections or to move them around between playlists. Playback from a list can be randomized, and you can choose to repeat a whole playlist or an individual track.

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Finding music and building a playlist isn’t hard, but you are limited to whatever may be on YouTube. Also, you are not presented with any options to choose from when you search for a song, so you are stuck with the track that UMusic pulls for you. In most cases I got the song I was looking for, but when searching for Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” I got something completely different, and I have streamed that exact song on YouTube before so I know it is there. Even when you get a track that isn’t quite what you are looking for, UMusic doesn’t pull any data from YouTube to help you identify the song’s title or artist. Each song you find is only listed by the search terms you used to locate it.

Audio quality varies as it is all based on the YouTube video it is pulled from, so this can range from just plain horrible to barely passable, and at the end of the day it’s nothing to write home about. Music will play in the background as you use your phone for other things, but there is no sort of indicator in the notification bar giving quick access to the app.

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UMusic is plagued by a number of small problems that add up to a frustrating user experience. A minor issue is that the app will not function in landscape mode, so using the hardware keyboard on my Droid was pointless because the forms would not orient along with the display. Searching for a new song will begin playing the new track immediately, ending your current selection. This makes creating playlists on the fly difficult. Imagine you are at a party and have a decent playlist put together through UMusic and your friend would like to add a few more songs onto the end. As soon as they begin entering new songs it will cut out the currently playing track and begin playing the new music search result. Major party foul!

It should go without saying that there is no sort of intelligent playlist creation in UMusic, and though I haven’t experienced this issue yet, if a song gets pulled from YouTube it is gone from your playlist as well.

The Pros:

  • Access to any song on YouTube
  • Choose the exact songs you want and create custom playlists
  • Several options for playlist playback, including random play mode.

The Cons:

  • Sound quality is dependent on the particular YouTube stream
  • Searches do not provide multiple results to choose from, automatically begin playing and end current track
  • No song or artist info provided for tracks
  • Playlists must be created manually / no intelligent playlists

The Bottom Line: For the price of $1.99 in the Android Market, I wouldn’t say UMusic is a complete rip-off. It is the sort of app that could be useful when you and your friends are trying to locate a specific song quickly, and would get its most use in this type of situation. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch recently called it his favorite music app for Android, but I will have to respectfully disagree. UMusic suffers from too many minor issues that add up to an app that has limited use as a complete music streaming solution.

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Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of Slacker Radio where I will announce the winners to the Slacker Radio Plus contest!

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.

Other articles in this series: Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker Radio, Grooveshark

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  • http://joshuadobbs.com Josh

    it’s a cool idea but everytime i search youtube for a specific song the sound quality is just awful.

  • YankeeDudeL

    It’s kinda funny that back in the day means using YouTube to DJ parties. Back in the day, we would use Napster. I’m sure there’s more than a few on here that “back in the day” would be 8-tracks.

  • James

    Dr. Cox would not be pleased…

  • treefq

    back in “MY” day we had these black vinyl discs with grooves.

  • ME

    back in the day is no different then it is for me today.
    Having a party? Break out the turn tables.
    Since when has youtube been associated with “back in the days”?
    Back in the days, there was no youtube. Back in the day, there was no internet…..

  • JMQ

    Grooveshark is the way to go for streaming music. Just $3 a month to join for the mobile service but everything desktop-wise is free. Streams an song in their library for free, lets you build playlists, save favorites, and caches music to be played when you don’t have a connection.

  • kwest12

    Thanks for the nice review. I gotta say JMQ is spot on though. Grooveshark beats all: please be sure to include it in your music streaming showdown. :)

  • tscheck

    I use i Music Tao, yes, it is subscription as well, but, you have multiple choices, for quality, and unlimited download. It does streaming as well, per song you choose tho.

    I wish Sirius would create a player for their service. I would be all set.

  • Kevin Krause

    Ah I see quite a few of you missed out on the irony of the first sentence, intended for humorous effect. Of course YouTube isn’t back in the day, but it sure is funny as hell to think of it that way.

  • Bigwillie

    Fuck JZ, the boy has no talent!!

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