Thursday, March 24, 2011

A comparison of music apps for Android

The stock music player app is...well....not quite on the level to the iPhone when it comes to playing. So I set out to try to find a good alternative. Here are a few quick notes before I begin:
  • I only looked at apps supported on my device (LG Optimus V).
  • I only looked at apps that were free or had a trial. I'm all for supporting the developer. But you gotta throw me a bone, even if it's just a 7 day trial.
  • I skipped some apps that looked absolutely terrible or for a specific purpose. Examples are 2Player, Mixzing, 3, KISS, nk, TuneWiki, and SimplyMusic.
  • This only goes for apps ATTOTP. If there are new apps or an app listed gains a feature, then obviously it will change the listing.
  • There are six basic areas that I looked at when it comes to apps.
    • Info: The App's size, filetype support, cost, etc.
    • Widget: What controls does the Widget have? Does it offer complete control? How many different types/sizes does the app have?
    • Library Interface: How is the Library laid out? Is it easy to navigate? Does it look good?
    • Lock Screen: Does it have a lockscreen? If so, does it allow complete control? Is it brought up fast? Can it replace the other system lock (when playing)?
    • Now Playing Screen: How is the Now Playing screen laid out? Does it show a good amount of information? Is it easy to get to? Is it response?
    • Extra Features: Mostly features like wireless sync, compatibility with a desktop app, etc.

And with that out of the way, here we go.
+ is good = 2
• is meh = 1
- is bad = 0
X is way bad = -2

The number if parenthesis is the sum

8. Music [stock] (-1)

  1.    INFO: Version 2.2.1; Free; 12KB(?); AAC, MP3, OGG
  2. - WIDGET: The widget is really disappointing; all it has is Next, Pause, and the Track Title and Artist. That may be enough for some people, but not for me. Plus, there's only one type: 4x1.
  3. LIBRARY: The library interface is alright. I don't think it really utilizes the space that well, since RockIt has the same info but uses less space. It also does not allow for browsing via Folders. I do like, however, that when browsing Albums, it has a darkened cover of the album as the background.
  4. X LOCK SCREEN: From what I can tell, there is no way to get a lock screen for the stock music app. So that sucks.
  5. - NOW PLAYING: The thing I dislike most about the Now Playing screen is the fact that they put the artist on top in bold instead of the song. Also, it -again- really doesn't make the best use of the screen space. Overall, it's just not very pleasant to look at. It shows everything and works well, just not in a pretty manner.
  6.    EXTRA: The most appealing thing about this app is that it is most likely to be compatible with other tweaks and features from other apps. Other than that, it doesn't have alot to offer.
SUMMARY: Alright as a fallback, but I think there could be better.

    7. Meridian (-1)

    1.    INFO: Version 1.5.0; Free/$2.99; 2.48MB; AAC, MP3, OGG
    2. - WIDGET: The widget for Meridian is just as disappointing as the stock. The 2x4 widget isn't too bad, as you get full controls, but it does look pretty ugly, in addition to wasting a ton of unnecessary space.
    3. - LIBRARY: Meridian's library interface is awful. Browsing through albums actually isn't half bad; there's actually a tiny album art beside each entry. Artists is this empty looking, centered list that is just difficult to read. (Left aligning would help alot.) Songs is the opposite: crammed with info. (Taking the Album out would probably help.) But the worst part by far is the home screen. You've got these disgusting, huge icons and this weird blue box that has your now playing logo....ugh. Some people might actually like this, but not me.
    4. X LOCK SCREEN: As far as I can tell, there is no lockscreen option for Meridian.
    5. NOW PLAYING: The now playing is definitely not my taste. You can change the look of the buttons, but the only alternative to the default is absolutely hideous. The buttons are alright, I just don't really care for the colored glows they have. I guess I just don't like all the color in this app. But in addition to that, the font for the title, artist, and album is too small for my taste, the ratings is tucked away almost out of sight, and the blinking time when you pause is hella annoying. ALSO, the biggest deal I have: when you set it to shuffle and then pick a song, it won't display "1/1628", it will display "199/1628," for some weird reason. That's really annoying.
      Overall, the Now Playing screen is functional, but hideous.
    6.    EXTRA: It can play videos, has ratings, gesture control, and the pro version has more widgets, audibook support, and can sync with MediaMonkey.
    SUMMARY: I've heard alot of people praise Meridian, but it's just not my taste. Alot of the features are there, but the UI is just unappealing.

      6. MusicMod (+3)
      MusicMod is basically a few modifications to the stock music app so almost all of its downsides are inherent from that.

      1.    INFO: Version 1.8; Free; 1.36MB; AAC, MP3, OGG
      2. + WIDGET: The widget is actually a big step up from stock. It adds on album art and a Previous button. It does seem a little cramped when trying to press the Play button, and long song titles (more than 12 characters) get cut off and don't scroll, but it still gives you more control and a nice album picture.
      3. LIBRARY: The exact same as Music.
      4. X LOCK SCREEN: As far as I can tell, there is no lockscreen option for MusicMod.
      5. + NOW PLAYING: MusicMod's play screen is probably one of my favorites. It's very simple, but still elegant. My favorite part is that the album art is put inside a CD case. The only two things I have to say I would change are shrinking and moving the title down near the album and artist (so it would have more space), and stopping the blinking time when a track is paused. Other than that, it's great, especially since it lets you see your beautiful little background!
      6.    EXTRA: Gesture control, more widgets, #NowPlaying support, and other tiny tweaks that aren't available in Music.
      SUMMARY: It's definitely a few steps in the right direction, but I still think there might be better candidates. With all the benefits MusicMod offers, thought, I can see no reason anyone running Froyo would stick with the stock app.

      5. Songbird (+4)

      1.    INFO: Version 1.0; Free; 1.65MB; AAC, MP3, OGG
      2. + WIDGET: The widget is very awesome; controls, track info, and album art. Plus, it looks good. Purple, but good. It sucks that they don't have more sizes though.
      3. + LIBRARY: It's very good! Very easy to navigate and very well laid out. The only thing I would change is the ability to choose what buttons you want on top. Also, it seems to be a little slower than other apps, but I assume that will improve.
      4. X LOCK SCREEN: Unfortunately, Songbird doesn't seem to have a lockscreen just yet.
      5. + NOW PLAYING: Songbird is different in that instead of a "screen", it's just got a vertical tab that you can pull up at any time. This makes it very nice since you never have to leave your now playing to browse your library, and you can always get back to it in half a second. Songbird's tab has enough info, options like Shuffle and Repeat, and even some extras like Flikr and Facebook. The only thing that I don't like is that you can't disable the said Flikr and Facebook icons, so they are always there, and the Facebook is there even when the tab is down. Social integration is great, but don't stick it too far in the open!
      6.    EXTRA: Scrobbling is about it. I would really, really like to see a good sync capability with desktop Songbird, like with playlists, ratings and playcounts, but POTI don't seem to think alike.
      SUMMARY: Probably my favorite of all in terms of appearance (which is weird because I never really liked the purple on the desktop app). It's disappointing that it lacks features like a Lockscreen, more widgets, and tight support with its mother desktop app, all of which are covered by apps I'll discuss shortly. If it had those, it would definitely hold its own, but until it gets those, it really tends to fall in the background when it comes to being feature filled. Nonetheless, it is a good music player app.

        4. Winamp (+6)

        1.    INFO: Version 1.0.2; Free; 2.48MB; AAC, MP3, OGG
        2. WIDGET: The widget is for Winamp is alot like Songbird's, except it drops album art for Shuffle and Repeat. The only real thing I don't like much about it is that they put "Winamp" where they should have put the track title. Instead, it's pushed off to one side and shrunken, more like an afterthought than anything else. But in terms of control, it does not disappoint. (Besides, Nullsoft, isn't the iconic lightning bolt enough? Songbird doesn't mind putting "Songbird" there until a track is playing and then taking it away.)
        3. + LIBRARY: The library interface is very good. The main screen is similar to Meridians except it's black and white...which is a good thing. Not much more to say than that: at no point do I think info is missing or unnecessary, and everything loads fast. It's awesome.
        4. + LOCK SCREEN: The lockscreen provides a good amount of control and looks very decent as well. The only real complaint I have against it is the lag. It takes a second or so for it to pop up, which is just a little bit too long for me.
          Another thing is that music has to be playing, which is kind of annoying, but I'm not quite sure if that is something that goes for all music players or just Winamp.
        5. NOW PLAYING: Winamp shares the Now Playing "tab" instead of a screen, which is great for all the reasons I listed above. The only gripe I have is that the song info is "tucked away" in the bar that you pull up and you only see the album it's on when you change to it initially. I guess the folks at Winamp just have different priorities when it comes to importance of the music info.
        6.    EXTRA: Wireless sync with desktop Winamp (over Wifi), ratings, Shoutcast, Scrobbling, Gesture support, included in Android Search, and ability to get additional artist info from other apps and web services.
        SUMMARY: Definitely awesome! It's most certainly got every feature I could want, and more. The only things I find "bad" about it are nitpicky little things, but considering the extra bonuses you get, like sync and wireless at that, I'd say it's definitely one of my favs.

        3. doubleTwist (+6)

        1.    INFO: Version 1.3.4; Free (w/ $4.99 addon); 8.43MB; AAC, MP3, OGG
        2. WIDGET: Really good, except missing a Previous button. The album art seems a little fuzzier than other widgets side by side for the same track.
        3. + LIBRARY: Very very simplistic. The main screen is much like Winamp's except the buttons are way big, taking up the entire screen.. The library browsing itself is simple and elegant, very reminiscent of an iPod. It and Winamp are very comparable, but it does take it's own spin on things, again, on the side of the iPod/iPhone. But overall, they both are extremely similar and it will probably just end out coming down to preference in terms of which one you like.
        4. + LOCK SCREEN: The lockscreen is extremely simplistic: Artist, scrolling Title, Previous, Next, Play, and a "Press to Unlock" button. It's this simplicity that is nice since many times I'm using the lock screen is in my car, where the big buttons will come in handy.
          Also, I've noticed it pop up rather quickly.
        5. NOW PLAYING: Basically the same thing as the lockscreen: very simple. It almost makes you think it's too simple, but it does get the job done very well and is -surprise surprise- very much like the iPhone. The only thing that's missing is the album....seriously? Why is that not on there?
        6.    EXTRA: Videos, radio, podcasts, ratings, playcounts, Scrobbling, sync with desktop doubleTwist, and wireless sync w/ purchase of AirSync for $4.99.
         SUMMARY: I was very skeptical of doubleTwist when I heard of it, but I am impressed. The only thing is that doubleTwist really shines when you use the desktop application, and I'd like to move away from iTunes, not toward it. But as a standalone app, it's very good.The only reason I would put it above apps like Winamp is because it tends to be a bit snappier. But other than that, they are extremely comparible.

        2. PowerAMP (+7)

        1.    INFO: Version 1.1-build-326; $4.99; 4.66MB; AAC, MP3, OGG, WMA, WAV, APE, FLAC
        2. + WIDGET: Awesome! Everything you could want in a widget. Well, me anyway.
        3. LIBRARY: The library layout is a tad confusing, but once you get the gist of it, it's very useful. It allows you to not only browse, but simultaneous Enqueue, Add to a Playlist, look at song Info, and Delete all, it's definitely a power user's app.
          The main thing I don't like about PowerAMP is that you have to click the Menu button to go back to your library from the Now Playing screen. That, and it's a tad slower, as it often takes a second or two to open the artist or album you pressed.
        4. + LOCK SCREEN: The lockscreen is a little unorthodox; it's pretty much a widget. It's good because it allows for your clock to still be there, but it's bad because it means the controls and everything will be smaller, even on the 4x4+ option. Nonetheless, it's very fast in coming up, has all the song info and controls, and can replace the system lock (when playing), so I have to give it a thumbs up.
        5. + NOW PLAYING: The Now Playing screen really has all you could ask for. The only real query I have with it is small Previous and Next buttons. It looks like it moves forward a folder or artist or album...I guess it makes more sense if you use Folders, whereas I prefer Library. In any case, it's perfect....except for the @#$! blinking text when the track is paused!
        6.    EXTRA: Sleep timer, themes, Scrobbling, Equalizer, Gesture support, fullscreen, downloads missing artwork, etc.
         SUMMARY: Many sites call PowerAMP the best music app, and I can see why. It is not short on features, and although comes at a little hefty of a price tag, certainly delivers on all accounts. The only real reason I don't put it at the top of this list is because of the lack of a "Library" button on the Now Playing screen and because the library is a tad slow. Otherwise, it is perfection.

        1. RockIt (+8)

        1.    INFO: Version 1.3.3; $2.05; 1.70MB; AAC, MP3, OGG
        2. + WIDGET: Wicked! The same as PowerAMP!
        3. + LIBRARY: Browsing the library is much like the stock app, only with improvements. Artists fold out into albums but they take up less vertical space. Albums, however, are completely different in that they are displayed as the album cover, which is very interesting. (Part of me wishes this could be an option you could toggle. You can browse folders, which is awesome, and everything is decently fast, especially after clicking on a tab once.
          The only thing I would change (and might actually be a dealbreaker for me) is that -like the stock app- you can't view all tracks of an artist; when you click on an artist, it just folds out to that artist's albums. You can shuffle through all songs by an artist by pressing and holding on an artist, but you can't view all the songs by an artist and then pick one to start out with. I don't see the reasoning behind it and many of the other apps have that functionality.
        4. + LOCK SCREEN: The lockscreen is awesome: it's essentially a miniarized version  of the Now Playing screen. (why it's miniaturized, I dunno). So you have all the controls and an "Unlock" button. Furthermore, it can be set to replace the system's unlock, and it can be set to appear when music is paused as well. Awesome.
        5. + NOW PLAYING: The Now Playing is probably my favorite, maybe just because I like black. But I honestly just cannot think of a better layout
          UNFORTUNATELY, RockIt seems to be very slow when it comes to Playing, Pausing, Next, and Previous. I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that there's something wrong with my phone currently, but I really hope a great app is not ruined over something so trivial.
        6.    EXTRA: Scrobbling, Twitter, Facebook, fullscreen, ratings, downloads missing artwork, split screen (for tablets).
         SUMMARY: It's very close to PowerAMP; RockIt is more simplistic and PowerAMP is more for the power user who uses Folders. I lean toward Rockit, mostly because it has an easy way to switch back and forth between the library and the Now Playing screen. But in the end, either one rocks.

        The thing that surprised me most about all of these apps is that almost all of them had one thing in common: when a track was paused and you tab Next, it goes to next track and starts playing. I hate that! Seriously! Why would anyone want that? For those of us that are sometimes in a picky music mood, it goes alot faster if the song stays paused (at least on the iPhone), and uses less battery (I believe). In addition, it's stupid. The only app listed above that doesn't include this dumb feature is PowerAMP, though I wrote the maker of RockIt and hope to see that feature added.

        In summary:
        If you want one that is very basic, choose
        MusicMod or the stock app, if you are a masochist or just like depriving yourself of good features

        If you want one with the pull-up style Now Playing, choose
        Songbird or Winamp.

        If you want one with a good desktop app, choose
        Winamp or doubleTwist.

        If you want one that is just a solid, standalone app, choose
        PowerAMP or RockIt.

        If you just want one that is free,

        Stop. Developers need to eat.
        If you're going to use this app every day, toss a few bucks to the developer who spent his time and effort making the app, even if they are offering it for free. Find a way to donate.

        Hope this helps someone in some way. It took about 2 weeks or so of using the apps on and off to get this kind of understanding of each one. I apologize to any app developers reading this that might think I judged their app unfairly; if you do, please see me as a human with faults and kindly e-mail me with what you think I said that was wrong. I am not too proud to edit this post and admit my mistakes.

        I myself still have not settled down on one yet.


        PS -  I just went through and found a ton more I should at least try out; the ones I've already done were mostly the most popular ones that are mentioned everywhere on forums.
        More I need to check out: Music PlayerPro Trial, jukefox, Coco, Vanilla, Astro, MP3 Player, Astro Player Nova, Awesome Media Player.


        1. Thank you for a comparison! I haven’t even heard of PowerAMP and RockIt before — definitely going to try them out!

        2. Superb comparison Dude!