Smartphones, tablets, and iPods all helped take our love for music mobile. Physical storage space is an issue of music’s past as we can fit massive collections of our favorite jams in our pocket, however downloading, organizing, and transferring our collections onto our mobile devices is a daunting task that simply takes too much of our precious time. To help, a growing number of companies are jumping into the crowd and creating music streaming services/apps. Many companies are competing for your ears and dollars, and each try to offer something unique. To help you get right into an intense jam session let’s take a look at the most popular and well established music streaming services.
Heads up all of the apps mentioned are available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. There are other great apps that I don’t mention because they’re not on all three platforms yet, and I believe in music equality for all. These apps including Xbox Music, MixRadio, Google Play Music All Access, iTunes Radio, and newcomer Amazon Prime. All of the apps mentioned where reviewed using the Windows Phone 8 app versions, results may vary.
Pandora Radio – iOS / Android / Windows Phone
Pandora Radio is arguably the most popular offering mentioned, which is expected being that they’ve pioneered the music recommendation industry. The founders of Pandora also created the Music Genome Project, basically this is a complex algorithm that allows music to be organized. In turn this makes Pandora the best at picking music based on your tastes. Music selection is at about 800,000 tracks, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as much as some of Pandora’s biggest competitors. The app has a nice layout broken up into 3 screens that you can swipe through. “Recent Stations” is the opening screen with six stations displayed in a tiled look. The “Currently Playing” screen has the largest tile displaying song time, as well as artist and track name. From this screen you can select one of the recent station or shuffle to begin jamming, this is a nice touch to separate all of your stations because if you’re like me you have a lot and it gets too cluttered. Swipe and you can explore stations by genre, and swipe again and you have suggested stations. The explorer bar is always present except when in the “Currently Playing” screen.
While in the “Currently Playing” screen you can view previously played tracks by swiping through the artwork. You can also like, dislike, pause, or fast forward a track. Advanced options are accessed using the three dots on the lower right corner. These options include sharing the station, starting a new station based off of the current artist, buy the track, add variety, bookmark, and an option called “I’m tired of this track”, which allows you to stop a track from playing for a predetermined period of time. Pandora offers a premium service called Pandora One for $4.99 a month that gets you ad-free listening, higher quality audio, and a higher skip limit. Our own Garett used to have Pandora One and said “it’s worth it if you like music curated for you”. Pandora is a great application and one of my favorites.
Slacker Radio – iOS / Android / Windows Phone
Slacker Radio is a great alternative to Pandora because it offers its own unique features and boasts a song library of about 13 million songs. The Slacker Radio stations are professionally curated by DJs and fine-tuned by you! Meaning, if you’re a paid subscriber, not only are the best songs chosen for a given station but you can fine tune that station to include more or less favorites, more or less popular songs, newer or older songs, and even an option for more artist discovery. Slacker’s intuitive design is a welcome addition to such a great service. The tiled layout is becoming a mainstay because the amount of information you can fit into such a small area, yet keep it clean and uncluttered. The first tab is a music guide, it shows the top stuff on Slacker, as well as recommended stations. The next slide over is where you can find all your favorites and bookmarks, as well as recently played. Unfortunately this only shows recent stations and not individual songs. Next are the Slacker Radio stations I mentioned earlier, they are basically grouped by genre. Finally on a tab all to its self is the search bar, which is a great way for Slacker to keep everything uncluttered. Slacker Radio is a great service with a great selection of music spread out upon many genres.
The free version is passable, but they should offer more in it especially seeing how obtrusive the advertisements are. To get the most standout features from the app you have to have a subscription, which will get you features such as fine-tuning and creating stations for just a specific artist. The subscriptions are affordable however coming in two tiers; $3.99 a month (Slacker Radio Plus) gets you ad free, unlimited skips, as well as song lyrics and the ability to download stations for offline listening while $9.99 a month (Slacker Premium) also adds the ability to pick the songs you want to listen to and create a custom playlist based off that. The way I see it is the Slacker Premium option is wondering off Pandora’s territory, and treading more onto Spotify’s turf.
Spotify – iOS / Android / Windows Phone
Just like Slackers premium offering, Spotify costs $9.99 a month. Although a [relatively] newer contender in the US, Spotify has been around for a while overseas. Coming over the pond just verified how big of a juggernaut Spotify can be, and boasting over 20 million songs to choose from it’s easy to see why. The app is well-designed and opens up to very simple homepage. Here you have a search bar, some popular playlist, as well as a small now playing bar on the bottom. From the drop down menu you can change setting, which includes basics such as music quality and sync settings. There is also an option to change social setting if you’re connected via Facebook, which is a deep integration if you choose to apply it.
The app even has its own “Friends” page that connects to your Facebook friends and shows you which ones use Spotify. You can also view what they’re currently listening, follow them, and view their playlists. This is a cool little social media option built right in that makes music social again. The “Playlist” page starts off looking simple but the features get deep, allowing you to fully edit playlists, make individual playlists available offline, share them, there’s even an option to let people collaborate on a playlist, which means your friends can add to it. The “Radio” page takes the work out of finding music to listen to, it’s a pretty standard affair like Pandora and Slacker Radio. Genre stations, artist stations, or stations based off of your playlists. The last tab is your profile where you can see your playlists, your followers, and who you follow. Nothing amazing here, works similar to other social media apps. Not much to complain about Spotify because it’s truly a great service, one thing is the lack of being able to follow or unfollow people from the app but that’s negligible. Spotify sets standards that makes it hard for newcomers like Beats Music to gain traction.
Beats Music – iOS / Android / Windows Phone
Beats Music is a cool spin on the music streaming app, even signing up and configuring the app on my phone was particularly entertaining. Upon signing up you’re asked to pick your favorite genres, but instead of doing the same old checkmark list, Beats throws bubbles at you. They’re bouncing around and your looking around for the genres you love. If you like the genre click once and the bubble gets bigger, two clicks means you love it and the bubble takes up even more space. Hold your finger on a specific genre however and it’s deleted from your preference. Once you select all of the genres you like or love, it’s onto the artist picked from the genres you’ve chosen. Using the same motion pick a few artists and into the app you go. It’s a cool interactive way to get into the app and a great first impression. Having a similar music library as Spotify of about 20 million songs means there’s no lack there. The design of the app is a bit cluttered though.
On the welcome screen are the usual suggestions, which the way Beats does it is suggest a playlist, then two albums, then a playlist, and another two albums, and so on. This makes it confusing to find things and hard on the eyes. Scroll over and your introduced to Beats unique way to discover music called “The Sentence”. Basically you make a sentence using a location, mood, who with, and a genre and Beats Music makes a station based on the variables you’ve entered. It’s a neat new way to create stations! There’s also a “Highlights” tab which is Beats’ top lists and finally a way to browse their catalog. You can browse by genre, activity, or curator. It’s hard to browse using this method, and finding new music is a pain unless you’re in a premade playlist. If you know what you want to listen to it’s easy to search and adding things to your library or playlist is a breeze. With a redesign, Beats could easily be a great alternative or even addition to Spotify. Playing around inside the Beats Music app has me confused.
Songza – iOS / Android / Windows Phone
Songza is one of my favorite apps for music discovery, offering its unique features even for their free users – Songza is onto something. It’s a newer service that has passed through a few hands since its creation, now belonging to Google I can’t see music selection being an issue. Songza is very barebones, but having a limited feature set this makes for a very beautiful app that just works. You open up the app into Songza’s idea of finding music to jam to, relax to, or go crazy to. They give you a selection of situations based off the time of day, such as “hosting a sexy pool party”. Then you get a small list of categories to choose from, I choose “hotel rooftop pool party”. Choose a playlist based on those choices and you’re partying. You can like or dislike a song, favorite a playlist, or even share it. Next you can view your recently played playlist. You can browse by playlists, by genre, mood, activity, or decade. Though you can only search by playlist or artist and even choosing an artist only takes you to a list of playlists they’re in.
There may not be a ton of features in Songza but it works really well for discovery, and the playlists all have songs that go together and fit the description. Being a fun and new way to discover music, I think you will really enjoy using Songza and after some more developing I believe it can become one of the biggest names in streaming music. Songza is proof that newcomers are welcome, and improvements can always be made!
Music always will be part of our lifestyle and ways to listen to and discover music will always continue to evolve. So whether you prefer creating your own playlist or want a station to continuously play music based off of your mood and preferences, there is a service made for you. From Pandora to Songza there are many similarities, yet so many differences. Tell us what your favorite music streaming service below!