August 6, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka
Whether searching for a radio app to play random songs or an on-demand app to play only your favorites, Android has plenty of music apps.
So after the popularity of our recent reviews of several music apps, we decided to highlight the best streaming music apps. Regional availability complicates comparing some services, but here’s a breakdown of the virtues and flaws of nine great music streaming apps.
Install app - US only
Pandora is anemic when it comes to features, but it excels where it matters most – knowing what people want to hear. I love listening to Pandora at times because it captures the mood artfully and usually delivers a strong playlist. Sadly, the comparatively smaller library provides less opportunity for diversity and songs you want. For instance, Drake is one of the biggest stars in hip-hop but is played less than Lil’ Wayne on my Drake station.
Best for: People who don’t want any features other than the ability to listen to good music and mark songs for purchase.
Install app – US, Canada only
Slacker Radio is always on. It can stream music from a 3 million-song library or cache songs for offline playback (Slacker Plus only). That’s a great compliment to custom or “expertly-programmed” stations. My only problem with Slacker is it occasionally plays a song from left field. A 20-minute segment of soulful songs on my Sade station can suddenly give way to a high-energy, synthy Billy Ocean song just because they are technically of the same genre and era. This is by design to replicate the traditional diversity of radio, but it can be a strange transition at times.
Best for: Commuters who want an offline mode, large library, and diverse playlist
Install app - Germany, U.K., U.S. FREE; elsewhere €3
Last.fm has the most streaming options from any app highlighted in this review. Aside from offering playback based on profile data, Last.fm plays similar artists, recommendations, most played, and neighborhood (likeminded Last.fm users). It also has the best options for sharing as the entire point of using this service is telling others what you’re listening to and discover great recommendations. Last.fm supports playlists, but it requires a premium account.
Best for: People who love artist discovery and social sharing options.
Grooveshark has the most bang for your buck. The service requires $3 a month, but users get a sizeable library that is diverse and very customizable. Upload their own music, listen to playlists, to get a radio mode that’s pretty good at mixing independent artists in with today’s megastars. Grooveshark has an annoying tendency to prevent certain songs from playing unless the phone is using Wi-Fi. Despite this shortcoming, Grooveshark remains one of the most unique music apps.
Best for: Fans of independent music and those who want more control over their music
Install app - U.S. only
Rhapsody can play artist or genre-based radio station options, and create searchable personal libraries of it’s more than 9 million available songs. Rhapsody is the best option for streaming full-albums, but the radio portion surprisingly doesn’t take advantage of its large library. While the mood accuracy ranks highly, it plays too many songs from the artist rather than highlighting some likeminded acts.
Best for: People who care mostly about on-demand streaming.
Install app – Finland, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom
Spotify is not available in my country, so I turned to a few of Androinica’s readers to find out what they think of the Android app. The final consensus: it’s incredible. Spotify is the best on-demand option for users in select European countries. The app taps into Spotify’s massive music library, which is absent a few big name artists, but still swelling with quality music. Those songs can be incorporated into on-the-fly custom playlists or can sync up to 3,333 songs for offline playback.
Best for: Anyone who lives in a country where it’s available
* Thank you to oletras, therealriley, and everyone who else who provided great feedback for this post
Install app – US, Canada
Rdio is the plucky upstart that’s rapidly improving. Within weeks of release, it is constantly adding new features and new licensing deals to grow the song library. The app has most of the features you need, including on-demand songs, offline playback, and social functions to discover what’s hot among others. The radio mode is weak, sadly. When testing radio for Eminem, it stuck with a firm group of artists playing the same songs, and suddenly played some random (Turkish?) folk music because the artist was also named Eminem. This is a major fail that happened with other artists tested.
Best for: People who care only about on-demand listening
Install app – US only
Thumbplay is one of the lesser-known music stream services, but it’s no slouch. Thumbplay has 8 million songs to choose from, and you’ll get unlimited playback of songs, albums, and playlists after signing up. It even includes a “Playlist Genie” that acts as a radio mode to play music from similar artist and song types. Thumbplay can also mark songs for favorites and import iTunes playlists into the library (through the desktop). You may sometimes get a message saying “Not available” and songs will be unable to play.
Best for: People who love on-demand playback from large libraries
MOG is all about on-demand listening, and it shows in the “radio” mode, which is essentially the “play all from this artist” mode. It’s disappointing that MOG lacks the similar artist/playback mode, but then again, this service isn’t geared towards people searching for that. Those seeking a 100% playlist, album experience will enjoy this service because it has almost every song you can think of. MOG deserves praise for its huge library and it delivers good quality, downloads for offline playback, and charts to help discover what to play.
Best for: On-demand lovers displeased they can’t find certain songs elsewhere
As previously stated, the “best” all depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re in the U.S. and only care about on-demand streaming, I’d give my vote to Rhapsody. If you’re in a country where Spotify is available, that’s your best bet. People who simply love radio should consider Pandora or Last.fm, but there are plenty of options to test to discover the best music streaming Android app for you.
* Radio diversity reflects the varying options for playback and the ability to mix things up to prevent repetitive playback.
* Mood accuracy reflects the ability of each service to group songs or artists that have reasonable similarities
* Stream quality is not included as a measure in the comparison chart because it can vary on each company and all services mostly deliver acceptable sound quality.