14
Jul
hi-512-4
Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

No, it's not. At least not for Android - and that's what we're here to talk about today. The merits of Spotify as a music streaming subscription service for your desktop are substantially greater - it's well organized, searching and streaming are quick, powerful, and pretty. There's a lot to love - and at $10 (or free for ad-supported and no Android playback) a month for unlimited streaming, those plusses are hard to argue against.

Unfortunately, if you plan on using Spotify on your Android device, there's a lot less to love, unless your musical needs are very specific. Spotify for Android is good for one thing: finding music. In fact, as an Android music streaming and playback app, Spotify is really pretty terrible, and I'm not being hyperbolic - the app has major issues that I just don't see users glossing over and forgiving. Let's start with the basics.

Finding Your Tunes

Just sign up, launch into the app, and get searching for your favorite tracks. You can add them to playlists individually or just play a track now, and when they start playing, just hit the "i" logo to the right of the player controls to add the whole album to your playlist, see more of the artists' albums, their biography, and top hits according to Spotify.

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Finding music is where Spotify shines. It is by far the best music search application on Android, and is a great way to find tracks and albums individually, or by artist. And you can find most anything - from classical to top 40 hits. This is the only really good thing I have to say about Spotify, and if I was looking for a desktop streaming service (and could afford to pay for one), I'd ditch Pandora for Spotify in a heartbeat - no questions asked.

But we're here to talk about Android.

The App

The app itself is sort of the bastard son of an iPhone layout with Android elements. They've gotten rid of really obvious iPhone-y stuff like a "Back" button in the interface, but the settings menu is displayed inside the app (not as an Android OS menu), and there's the 4 tabs at the bottom of the app for Playlists, Search, What's new, and More. Along with the odd pop-up windows and iPhone-ish buttons, the app just doesn't feel like it quite gels with the Android look and form.

One good (and creative) part of the UI is the intuitive, if odd, pull-up music player - by the looks of it, they took some inspiration from Android 1.6's app drawer. Either way, it works.

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Performance is so-so. When tracks are playing, scrolling and bringing up the "now playing" drawer-thing are noticeably laggier than they should be. So, as an application, Spotify gets a narrow "pass" for basic functionality and adherence to Android design/performance minimums - I've seen apps that are far worse in regard to feeling like "ports" from iOS, and there are many apps that perform worse than Spotify. But what about really using it?

Streaming And Storing

It works. Streaming songs is pretty snappy (snappier than Pandora), too. Spotify has two streaming quality settings - 96Kbps, and 160Kbps. 96Kbps is what Pandora considers "High" quality on its Android app - and songs at this bitrate will drink down your data at a substantial, thought not absurd, rate. For every 10 minutes of music, Spotify will consume 7MB of data - assume you do that an hour a day, multiply by 30 days, and you have around 1.2GB of data usage a month. On the "high" quality setting, that number ends up closer to 2GB.

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But Spotify allows you to sync tracks you've selected and placed in your library to your device locally - eliminating the need for streaming them. Unfortunately, the speed at which it syncs these tracks is abominably slow - a single album (LP length) took me well over 20 minutes. You can also sync directly from your computer to speed up the process (Spotify's desktop app discovers your local music, which you can also then sync to your phone):

sync

Unfortunately, Android syncing can only be accomplished via your local wireless network. If you're on a wired LAN at work, or have no Wi-Fi access, you can't sync - not even by USB. This seems incredibly stupid to me, and prevented me from even testing this feature. At this point, I was unsure of my verdict on Spotify. Then I tried to actually find the music I'd added to my library.

Hierarch-a-what?

Spotify doesn't use hierarchies to sort your music in the app. This includes any local music it detects on your SD card (which is seemingly 100% random in what it finds). This, to me, was the death blow for an app that was "on the fence," so to speak, already. If you go into your "Library" with any amount of songs, you'll find this cluster[redacted]:

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As you can see, Spotify sorts tracks in your Library by name. There are no other sort options. So, imagine with me, if you will, that you have 100 songs. That would be doable to sort through by hand, right? What about 1,000? Sounding a lot less practical? It is. In fact, it is nearly impossible to navigate your library through the Spotify app, and it was at this point that I lost all interest in Spotify. This is just bad app design, and it's laziness on the part of Spotify's developers, and I can't forgive it.

Why did they do it this way? Because Spotify would prefer you use playlists to sort your tunes. Let me say this: playlists are for playing lists of songs. They are not for sorting your 100+ album collection into a giant, unwieldy, scrolling list - if Spotify will even let you load that many playlists. It's here the Spotify goes from being borderline-OK to flat out unacceptable.

Conclusion

Spotify for Android has a long way to go before I'd call it a real streaming solution. A total re-think of the way the app handles sorting and syncing is going to be necessary before I even want to give it a second try. It just isn't worth the very important things I'm losing. Spotify lacks features that even the official Google Music app has (hierarchies, easy sync) - and that's a sad state of affairs.

Now, on the desktop, Spotify is brilliant. If you're looking for a Pandora alternative, look no further. For $5/month, you have a solid desktop music streaming experience - minus offline playback, enhanced sound quality options, or any sort of smartphone/accessory playback functionality. But if you want mobile features (read: to be able to use the Spotify app), you'll have to get Spotify Premium, which is $10/month.

Frankly, I'm happier buying my MP3's on Amazon and playing them wherever I want, whenever, forever. Spotify's a good concept (especially compared to Pandora), but its mobile execution leaves a lot to be desired. That's not to say it's unfixable, but I'm not exactly holding my breath on some of the shortcomings being addressed in a timely manner.

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.nathanwong.co.uk Nathan

    Isn't the hierarchy design decision entirely in line with how the desktop app works though?

    The desktop also has a local files view, where you can see which songs you can listen to without abusing your data plan; but the design is centred firmly around making playlists of music that, say, you might want to listen to during your commute or on a jog, and then choosing to sync those to your phone.

    I'm not sure that I agree with moving a structure so firmly away from being Album orientated, but it does feel consistent between app and desktop versions.

    • David Ruddock

      No, the desktop app allows album sorting (it's basically set up like iTunes). I'm using it right now, actually.

  • Vhero

    I been using spotify for a few months now (living in the UK) and the app is great but you cannot arrange your playlists on the go which is the biggest disappointment for me as it adds new songs to the bottom of the list. It's a great service though and I sync everything usually through wifi. I got it free with my contract so I wasn't going to say no. If you need any info before thinking of buying hit me up on twitter @vhero

  • mike

    buddy you can sync via 3g if you have no wireless.....

    • Vhero

      I know you can I just prefer Wifi it's quicker plus you can sync local songs wirelessly through wifi if I add them to the PC version of Spotify which is a neat feature.

  • Joe

    Thanks for the candid review. I have Amazon MP3 and quite happy with the player and service.

    Since I paid for a $5 album I got the 20gb free, and now that they have unleashed unlimited storage (read unlimited if you upload licensed songs or buy licensed songs from them) I literally have 20gb of space even though I have tons of purchased songs in my collection.

    My wife logs into my amazon mp3 from her phone at times to play songs, and I have played songs on my google TV via the web based cloud player from amazon....

    Frankly put, I will be sticking with Amazon MP3 it just rocks.

  • Scott

    Unless I'm missing something, and hey it is possible, I was unable to locate a simple "play now" button, and was instead forced into making everything a playlist instead. If this is just how it is, I can't imagine ever getting used to this functionality, it's just a terrible idea. Also, searching for an artist name, and then zeroing in on the artist you want doesn't show you everything actually available, just a representation of what's available. I searched for a band, narrowed in, and found 3 albums. I was surprised and searched more generally for the band and found a few missing albums. Strange. The streaming was fantastic for me over WiFi and 3G though, no delay and the sound was really quite good and uncompressed sounding.

    • Matt

      For playing simply touch the song and it will play...pretty simple.
      It depends what label the artist was signed to at the time of the album release and whether Spotify have a license agreement with them or the copyright holders.

  • Alex C

    In your local files, you can long-press the Menu button to pop up a filter, from which you can start typing an artist or song. Here's a big problem, though: The phrase you're typing appears as an overlay DIRECTLY OVER your keyboard, rather than being a search bar at the top of the list or something, you know,*reasonable*! I signed up for a month of Premium just to get right in and check out the mobile app, but I'm not sure I can see myself renewing next month. Pretty shoddy player...even worse than Amazon's, which is saying something.

  • jbonics

    It was until I saw it wanted a creditcard musicjunk I love you.

  • Kindis

    I use Spotify about 4 hour/day. Both on the phone and the computer. I have had it for about 2 years now and could not be happier. The Android client is not the best in the world but I do like it and it does many things I like. The best new feature is that if you create a playlist on your computer and connect your phone to the same network as your computer and start Spotify it will sync agains your Soptify on your computer and includning local files! Great if you have many MP3 files!!

  • JJ

    If you can't sync over 3G, thats a limitation from your carriers. Here in Europe we are able to sync over 3G.

    I use the app mostly for my pre-made playlists I've made on my desktop, and for that the apps works just fine, even on my old HTC Hero.

  • ugo

    I disagree with your review. I have been using spotify in spain for about 1 year and have to say the app is pretty good. You can synch over 3g if you really feel the need, however the streaming is so snappy that I do not use any songs in local. You can organize your albums using playlists that are synched in a matter of seconds between the desktop app and the android app. It's definitly woth the 10 euro subscription (yes it is more expensive in europe...)

    • Matt

      This is a very poor and unrealistic review of this application. As noted above, the local files can be sorted by holding down the menu button then typing the letter(s) of the band/album/song you want to hear. There is also very little comment here of the benefits of offline sync feature. To say the app needs a complete redesign of sorting and syncing is a joke!

      • Randall

        Big difference between searching and sorting.

        Many times you want to be able to alphabetically sort your entire library by artist name... or sort by album title. No problem with the desktop version, but not possible with the mobile version. And yes, this is a big deal!

  • Matt W

    I get the impression the reviewer is trying to do things with the Android app that I don't do. It's the Spotify app, so I just use mine for Spotify-sourced tracks, mostly in playlists marked as offline-accessible and synced while on my home wifi (not from the desktop client, from Spotify's servers). I don't use Spotify for local music at all, either on the desktop or on the phone. I have an MP3 player for that. It doesn't really surprise me that it's not as good for that though - why would it be? Local media support is a relatively recent addition, and the core of Spotify is the streaming service. That's what you're paying for, anyway.

    I've also never seen the while-playing performance hit on my Desire running CyanogenMod.

    Yes it would be nice if it was a bit more of an Android-native app, but it's been taking steps further in that direction over time. The first Android version was much more iPhone-ish, so I hope they continue along those lines. There are certain practicalities supporting a multiplatform app of course, but Android's market share continues to rise so there's incentive for good Android integration to be a development focus.

    I really like Spotify, and I'm glad they were able to expand into the USA - even though there are actual competitors there. Over in Europe we don't really have any other choices, so there's always the risk of stagnation. Competing with the services in the US should help keep them on their toes.

  • Duffin

    I have tried Spotify for a couple days now on Android. I'm a current Rhapsody subscriber and I agree with the review: It doesn't cut it. It's impossible to add songs to your library from the app unless you do some weird procedure where you star a song and then unstar it (I also have no clue what the different between the Star, the Library, and the Playlist is on the app). Like the reviewer, I believe playlists are meant to be a list of songs, such as "Workout Music" or "Car Songs" for times when you don't want to risk "My Heart Will Go On" coming on while you're trying to lift weights.

    I will admit that the streaming quality is 100 times better than Rhapsody and I haven't had any skipped songs yet. Searching is also wonderfully better than Rhapsody. But, the rest of the app is not good, so I think I'll give Spotify a pass until they make a major overhaul to the app.

  • Avalon

    Apart from the issues address in the review, a few issues I'd like to add are:

    1. Scorbbling whilst in offline mode

    Playing songs in offline mode, therefore eliminating using up your data limit is great, but Spotify doesn't hold any cache file for scrobbling to your Last.FM account. In other words, playing in offline means that your Last.FM will never know what you played. On top of that, Spotify isn't compatible with any other scrobble apps either.

    2. Play song played last

    The Spotify app doesn't know what the last song you played was. So every time you load the app, you're pointed towards the first song in your playlist, even though you were half way down. Listening to 10 seconds of a song, then switching off the app, for whatever reason and then switching it back on again, causes the app to forget what the song was you played just a minute ago.

  • http://stevemv.com Steve

    Awful review. He only has one single valid complaint, and its a minor one. I fail to see how the app is as worthless as he describes. I dont think he even bothered to look in the options. You can sync via wifi or 3g. It works fine.

    • David Ruddock

      I don't think I was clear about what I meant by syncing, and that's my fault. By syncing, I mean tracks locally stored on your computer - not Spotify tracks.

      Otherwise, I evaluated it based on the theory that it would be someone's primary music app, and on that benchmark, Spotify fails. I'm not sure how my ccomplaints are invalid - they're all very clearly rooted in the app's functionality and limitations.

  • OFI

    I always thought the addition of local tracks to Spotify was an awful idea anyway. I never wanted to mix the two.

    As it's original intended purpose, streaming, I love it :)

  • Mike

    Definitely agree with your post here, David. I am a premium subscriber to Spotify; love the service but am increasingly frustrated with the Android app on my Droid X. In addition to the problems you named above, the app likes to kick me back to the main menu if I pause a song, leave the Spotify menu to do something else and go back into the app after a short time (10 minutes or more). Therefore I lose the playlist I was listening to and where I'd paused the song.

    Wish they'd fix these issues...grr.

  • Jay H

    I definitely agree about the issue with not being able to sort my mobile library by album. My mp3 collection is a ton of Amazon-bought songs plus about 15 years of CDs, and throwing them all at me without letting me sort them is pretty bad.

    Much as I like Spotify on the desktop it's really awful on a mobile device for me. I have enough mp3s that I'm considering just spending $200 to buy the handful of albums and mp3s that I actually want and doing it all with local files (and I could still try out things with free Spotify on the desktop while shopping around).

    That and there seem to be a lot of things "not available offline" intermittently which drives me up the wall, and there are a lot of them. I can deal with some missing content on the regular Spotify--I understand some musicians don't want to be one it--but it's even worse on mobile by a lot. And it's very inconsistent which makes it even worse.

    8/10 for the desktop/laptop
    1.5/10 for andriod mobile