Your Android phone has all those gigabytes of storage; surely some of it is dedicated to music? These days, users are increasingly moving from a traditional MP3 buying model, to streaming service. A phone with a 3G data connection is a perfect way to enjoy streaming tunes. There are several top-tier services looking to get you into a subscription, but which one is best for Android users?
All these services have roughly the same catalog and service is similarly priced. We’ve taken four of the best streaming services for a spin on Android, so stick with us to find out which one suits your needs.
User Interface: We quite like the overall look of Rdio. It has a clean feel, but has all the features you really need. The only area that feels a little unfinished is the basic Android tabbed interface on the main screen. Here you can choose between featured content, your saved collection, and saved playlists.
As you move through the UI, there is a bar at the bottom with the currently playing track. Tap that to head right to the player interface. We really wish this bar had playback controls instead of just opening the player, though. The player has big, high-resolution album art and slick controls. Scrubbing, repeat, and shuffle controls are there. To actually find music, just hit the search button at any time, or use Menu > Search.
At times, it’s not entirely clear that most of the options you need are behind a long-press, but once you know that, Rdio is easy to use.
Streaming and playback: When you have found a song to play, taping on it loads up the player. Over 3G, the delay is roughly 3 seconds to get things going. Over Wi-Fi it’s under a second to cache the beginning of the song. Scrubbing through the song is fast, but the seek bar is a little small. Audio quality is good with both connection types.
The playlist button in the upper right corner is easy to find in the clean UI. Here you can scroll through all your queued tunes and skip around. The phone will give you a little vibe when you press one of the playback controls, which might not be necessary, but some users might like the feedback. There is a home screen widget, but it’s just a clone of the stock Android music widget.
Downloading: If you want to save any tracks for offline listening, you have two options. First, long-press on any album or song and choose Sync to Mobile in the context menu that comes up. Alternatively, tap the small grey arrow to the right of each song and album when viewing a track list.
All the items in your download queue will be kept up to date on a schedule you can control in the settings. The default sync time is 2 hours, but that can be altered in the settings. Finding a way to force the sync is a little awkward. If you to to Menu > Sync, there will be a button at the top to manually sync what you have in the queue.
User Interface: Oh, Spotify. They really need to do something about the way this app looks on Android. It’s cluttered, laggy, and uses space poorly. The main interface in Spotify is one giant list of all your playlists, local music, and favorite tracks. If you have a lot of playlists, it can get to be a real mess. You’ve also got tabs across the bottom of the UI that link to Playlists (the main screen), Search, What’s New, and Settings. We like the What’s New screen; it should be easier to find, though.
The overall responsiveness of the app is also not so good. It feels a little like a web app in the way it hesitates and stutters. Perhaps the saving grace of the app is the slide-up playback window. It has large album art, and well-spaced easy to use buttons.
Spotify also uses long-press menus to hide options, but its very inconsistent what you will actually find in it. Sometimes the long-press functions that you get in some places are a single-tap action in others. The home screen widget is also fairly unattractive. Without Spotify’s other strong points, it would be awfully grim.
Streaming and playback: When you find a track you want to play, oh boy does it ever get played. Over 3G any track will start playing in about 1 second. Over Wi-Fi, it feels just like playing locally with no wait at all. It’s the same story with scrubbing, which happens like butter. Often, Spotify has cached the entire track before you even think about skipping around, even with high quality streaming on. If your connection stinks, you can set it to stream in lower quality.
One part of the playback experience that Spotify didn’t get right is the way they have stuffed options in the Menu. If you want to get to the play queue, you have to open the menu. This is also where repeat controls are, strangely. Using the home screen widget doesn’t make up for its looks. If you have had music paused for too long, it won’t start playback directly. Instead it opens the app and logs you back in.
Downloading: Once you know where the downloading option is, this system is really easy. Just long-press on anything in your playlists, and pick Available Offline. The tracks will sync when you’re on Wi-Fi by default, but you can allow 3G as well. Like with the streaming playback, you can go into the settings and choose the bitrate you want to download. Sadly, it tops out at 160kbps. Your endless playlist screen will indicate which playlists are stored locally with a green arrow.
User Interface: Wow, MOG is one handsome app. It opens on a gorgeous minimalist screen with big Search and Browse options at the top. Below that are Charts, New Releases, Favorites, and My Downloads. Down at the very bottom of the UI are persistent playback controls done up with the same minimalist vibe. It’s easy to miss it, but there is a useful play queue link in the upper right corner.
MOG is really fast, and we love that there are a lot of lists and recommendations to poke through. The search UI is grouped into Artist, Album, Songs, and Public Playlists. Just pick the one that you want and your query will pull up results. We are also quite smitten with the the public playlists. These are essentially mixes that have the artist or song you searched for in them. You get some interesting variety this way.
There is a home button down by the playback controls that will always get you to that main screen. Getting to the playback interface is weird, though. You can of course control the songs from the persistent controls, but if you want to see the album art, or adjust things like repeat mode, you have to hit the queue button up top, then tap the Now Playing button.
The only part of the interface that looks off to us is the stock Android slider that pops up when you need to seek through a song. You just tap on the album art to make this happen, although the resulting slider isn’t terribly responsive anyway.
Streaming and playback: The wait for a track to start playing in MOG is a little longer than we’d like. Over Wi-Fi it might take 3 seconds, and a little more with 3G. We've also notices a strange bug where a track hangs while buffering for 5-10 seconds. It only happens occasionally, but it's still annoying. In the settings you can choose to stream high or low quality tunes, with high being 320kbps, and low 128kbps.
One thing that MOG has that other services lack on Android is a slick radio feature. Just tap the infinity symbol in the lower right corner and activate MOG Radio. The slider can be used to determine how closely you want MOG to match your current track. All the way to the left will stick to the artist only, and the further to the right you go, the more the automatic selections will branch out.
The widget for MOG is by far our favorite. It looks great, like almost everything about MOG, but it’s also functional. It has a really nice “segmented” look with a button for opening the app, play/pause, and skip controls.
Downloading: MOG does not make use of extensive long-press menus to get things done. You can access the necessary options to save your songs but tapping the small arrow next to each album and song. Hit download, and it’s done. There are no restrictions on connection type to download, it just does it when you say so.
All the downloaded tracks are accessible through the My Downloads section on the main page. Here you can drill down and see what is stored on your device by artist, album, etc. We’re struck with how many orders of magnitude better than Spotify this implementation is.
User Interface: Well, Rhapsody has been around for along time, and it shows. The look and feel of Rhapsody is straight out of Android’s old days. The opening page is a white background with a list of options including Search, Music Guide, Radio, Playlists, and Library. The search works fairly well, but it’s clunky with drop down menus and overly-large font.
The app has persistent control at the bottom of the screen, but when you’re in the player, the buttons move to the top for some reason. It's very inconvenient for one-handed use. You can show/hide the Now Playing screen with the arrow on the right of the controls. We do appreciate the home button on the opposite end.
Finding tracks is doable, but Rhapsody has both a library, and playlists. The difference isn’t made clear up front, but there is an important distinction we’ll go into later. All these options are under the long-press menu, but it can get very esoteric in there. Also, why is Rhapsody selling tracks in the app? Aren’t we already paying them for streaming music?
The seek bar in the player is too small and not very responsive. There’s also a huge amount of wasted space around the album art and in the queue (that gigantic font again). We really don’t like that as you get more items in the queue, the entire player interface becomes a scrolling page. To see the queue you have to scroll down and watch the album art slide off the top of the page. Rhapsody is just in need of a huge visual and interface overhaul.
Streaming and playback: If we were a little disappointed with MOG’s performance, Rhapsody made us feel better about it. Rhapsody takes about 5 seconds to buffer a song over Wi-Fi, and about 7 seconds over 3G. Sometimes a lot longer, but we're not sure why. The highest quality streaming possible is 192kbps, and you have to turn that on in the settings.
When you are checking out an artist you searched for or found through the Music Guide, there is an option to listen to a radio station for that artist. It seems fairly accurate to us, but the load times are far too long. All you need to know about the widget is that it’s not terribly good looking, and does the same non-responsive thing that Spotify does.
Downloading: So remember how this app has an option to add things to your Library or a Playlist? Well, you can only download things that are in playlists. Go to the My Playlists section, then to the download tab, and check the playlists you want to save. There is no track-by-track selection, and no other place in the interface to start the download.
This is by far the worst implementation of what we would consider a vital feature. With all that junk in the long-press menu, Rhapsody couldn’t toss a ‘download’ option in? The downloads are also capped at 192kbps, unfortunately.
And the winner is...
For an Android user that wants the best mobile music experience, we can safely toss Rhapsody out immediately. Spotify too is gone because of the sluggish performance, and poor interface. To be clear, Spotify streams well enough, but the only reason to go with it is if you're plugged into the Spotify ecosystem elsewhere. Between MOG and Rdio it’s a close call. Both have good interfaces, and playback is good. We think that MOG is a little better-looking, has better playback controls, and the 320kbps downloads are nice. It’s MOG by a nose, despite the occasional playback glitch. Do you use a subscription music streaming service on Android? Let us know which one.