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Streaming Music Showdown: App Roundup

Over the past few weeks I have been taking the time to review various music streaming apps for Android (a fairly daunting task given the many options), and now it’s time to report back on my findings. I’m sure if you’ve followed the site you will have probably caught a few of these reviews, but for the benefit of those that missed them and the convenience of comparison I have assembled a roundup of the players I have covered.

The following apps all share similarities in that you can search for artists and songs and in one way or another create a unique playlist. Some accomplish this through intelligent music matching, others allow you to create song-by-song custom lists, and some provide a combination of both. I decided not to cover music apps that were based around shoutcast streams, as this is a slightly different beast altogether.

pandora-logoPandora (read full article): It is hard to deny that Pandora is a great utility for streaming and discovering music, and the app for Android only makes it easier. If you don’t want to be bothered with creating playlists song by song and don’t mind hearing a new artist or two along the way, then Pandora has you covered. If you want more control over what is in your playlist, and the ability to revisit specific artists and songs, you may be left wanting more.

The Pros:

  • Intelligent playlist creation for hours of great music
  • Easy to navigate with synced playlists between app and Pandora website
  • Share, bookmark, and purchase music directly from the app
  • Solid sound quality and reliable streaming

The Cons:

  • For more obscure artists, playlists can be limited
  • No sharing of individual songs or artists
  • Bookmarks not accessible through mobile app
  • Limited daily song skips without upgrading to Pandora One

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app-jwmx.csLast.fm (read full article): 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 Pros:

  • 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

The Cons:

  • 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

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umusiciconUMusic (read full article): 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.

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

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slackericonSlacker Radio (read full article): Slacker Radio is a really good streaming music solution with great song matching and playlist creation abilities. I’ve even managed to find a few new artists I plan to check out further. However, Slacker Radio does not offer the complete package that Slacker Radio Plus does, and for $50 a year I can’t say I’d bite. There are other apps that offer better free alternatives for streaming music, but if you can deal with commercials and want some pretty solid streaming over your Android phone you may enjoy Slacker Radio.

The Pros:

  • Great music selection and strong intelligent playlists
  • Audio quality ranks among the best for streaming music players
  • Notification bar element features album art in addition to song info
  • Plus subscription enables killer features like custom playlists and song caching

The Cons:

  • Commercials interrupt playback and limited song skips with free account
  • App is lacking in unique features without Slacker Radio Plus subscription
  • No ability to purchase music directly via the app
  • Lacking in a few more obscure artists

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groovesharkiconGrooveShark (read full article): Grooveshark is a great app if you want the best of both streaming intelligently-matched playlists and completely custom playlists from a large selection of music. If you are a Grooveshark user who already has saved playlists through the Grooveshark website (which I imagine is where the majority of playlist creation would take place, with playlists synced between the website and app), this app will be just the ticket for you. Users looking for a fresh start on a streaming service might look elsewhere, especially since the Grooveshark app is currently only available for those paying a $3 per month subscription fee.

The Pros:

  • Best-of-both-worlds combination of custom playlists and intelligent playlist streaming
  • Song and playlist caching for offline playback
  • Ability to revisit previously played songs from intelligently-generated playlists
  • Large selection of music

The Cons:

  • Playlists generated were short and contained some questionable matches
  • Lacking in features such as the ability to purchase music or get detailed artist info
  • Sound quality was a bit muddy
  • Limited playback controls (no random or repeat play)

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rhapsodylogoRhapsody (read full article): Rhapsody does a lot of things right. I can’t say it is hands-down better than the other services available, but it does a good job of competing head to head with the best. The problem is that to get something equal to or only marginally better, you will have to pay $9.99 a month, whereas the standard for most other similar services is right around $4 a month. Rhapsody does a great job if you love creating your playlists song by song, but if you are looking for an app that does intelligent playlist streaming based on one artist or song, you will probably want to look elsewhere.

The Pros:

  • Excellent user interface with easy access to Now Playing controls
  • Large selection of music for completely custom playlists or pre-made radio station listening
  • Easy creation and arranging of playlists, including the ability to add entire albums with one press
  • Great sound quality

The Cons:

  • Some artist’s catalogs were outdated/did not include all of their music
  • Available with a subscription only ($9.99/month)
  • No custom artist or song-based intelligent playlists

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So there they are, but don’t leave it up to me to decide which is best. Since music and the way we hear it is so much a matter of personal taste, I invite you to decide for yourself and then vote in the below poll. Missed your favorite player? Sound off in the comments below!




  • Matt

    What about spotify? Personally that’s the only Streaming service which manages to beat Last.fm at all (lastfm for stats, Spotify for amazing ease of use and great catalog)

  • Deroy

    I voted for Slacker because of the sound quality. It’s awesome listening to when you connect it to your car stereo. Checkout the bass. Best bass in the streaming biz.

  • Vlad

    Where’s tuneswiki? The biggest services listed above work only in US.

  • Denny

    How about doing the same review process with apps that offer streaming terrestrial radio stations & internet stations?

  • Memitim

    Just to clarify, subscribing to Pandora One DOES NOT allow you to bypass the hourly six skip limit, only the daily limit of 12 skips. Awesome service, otherwise.

  • Nick Feden

    I’ve been using Rhapsody for years. I can’t imagine using anything else. Sure it has a monthly cost, but for that price you get great access to the exact song you want to hear. That to me makes it absolutely peerless. Everything else is fine for radio plus listening experience, Rhapsody is something completely different. I also love the fact that the day a new CD is released I get access to it.

  • kwest12

    Kevin, thanks for the great job on this project, I really enjoyed your reviews and the roundup is definitely a nice touch. I’m gonna have to re-read everything before voting :)
    .
    Now on to begging: pu pu puuuulease do this same showdown with the available browsers! The browser is definitely one of the most important parts of a smartphone and I think a loooot of people would love to see a comparison like this. Again, thanks for the streaming music showdown.

  • Lorin

    Great article. But besides last.fm, none of those apps can be used outside of the US or UK.

  • gltovar

    One annoyance I have with rhapsody (as a subscribed user) is that purchased music doesn’t contain album art!!!

  • Brett

    I’ve been sold on Rhapsody for a long time. I’ve always wondered why it doesn’t get more attention since, in my opinion, it’s the best music service out there. It does what the streaming radio services do plus a lot more and has been doing it since before they existed.

  • leegseegs

    I’m waiting for Flash to work on my N1 so I can use Lala. Then it’s game over.

  • HNL

    Pandora wins! Compared to Slacker, Pandora streams a higher bit rate on both the mobile and PC platforms. And yes, it is very noticable. I was a Slacker user for 6 months then switched to Pandora after hearing the difference.

  • http://www.aseaofdeals.com Shawn

    @leegseegs I hate that apple bought lala. They were making an android app. It would have been awesome.

  • John

    I use XiiaLive (formerly Droidlive) … can choose from thousands of streaming stations… I like the 181.fm stations… good stuff!

  • Morten

    Matt: Spotify is Europe only. It is indeed great though. I wonder when they will release for the US.

    The mobile app for android, iphone and symbian is very good.
    Over 9 million songs. You can also put your own mp3s in hte playlists and sync them with your phone.

  • Anonymous

    +1 on the mobile browser showdown, but wait until Fennec and Opera Mobile are released.

  • Chris

    You should mention that Last.FM has an option to up the sound quality. And its amazing.

  • http://www.flycast.fm Roy Smith

    How did you miss FlyCast? Different from Pandora/Last/Slacker because it streams radio stations from the top 50 markets in the US, as well as weather, talk radio, sports, etc. FlyCast has supported Android since the G1 came out in 2008!

  • itshak

    What about deezer I think it’s available in US, I use it everyday in israel with my french account and it have a lot of pros…

  • Nik

    Now that Google Docs can take any type of file, why can’t someone write an app that streams your own music from Google Docs and stores a local buffer of most frequently played tracks?

    Anyone?

  • DroidMaster

    Rhapsody is hands down the best pay service. I ask people all day to name an obscure band or song, and it’s always on there!

  • http://www.pandora.com marcus

    Add bookmarks to my cell

  • Marcio

    Rhapsody will freeze your phone.. you pay $10/Month to get constant freezing and crashing problems, it runs like shit on my EVO 4G. The good news is Grooveshark, another service that allows you to have your own library, its just as bad so you just have to live with it… as for me – going back to the good old ipod. ps: they used to sux on my iphone too maybe worse.