Best streaming music services for 2013
Google’s All Access – 4/6 stars
If you own an Android phone, you’ve probably downloaded an app or bought some music through Google Play. Now, Google’s thrown its own Spotify-killer into the mix, called Google Play Music All Access.
Google offers a 30-day free trial and a discounted subscription of £7.99 a month if you sign up before 15 September. Any time after that, you’ll have to pay the standard £9.99. There’s no free or cut-price version for web-only listening, however.
The Android app is cleanly designed and ticks the boxes on basic features such as offline playlists, radio and recommendations. Its catalogue is smaller than Spotify’s at 18 million songs, though beyond the usual streaming holdouts, we didn’t notice more gaps than usual.
The app will also eat space and data if you’re not careful, as it caches music for offline playback, which you’ll have to clear manually or switch off. Sound quality is variable, as if you haven’t ticked high-quality streaming, Google will adjust the bitrate to match your bandwidth, with a maximum of 320Kbits/sec.
All Access is simple to use and navigate, but if you’re after anything sophisticated like third-party apps or support for devices like Sonos, then you’re better off forking out the extra £2 for Spotify.
Bloom.FM – 4/6 stars
Bloom.fm is a radio app with a twist: it lets you “borrow” songs to play whenever you want. For a fee of £1 per month, you can add 20 songs to your library; for £5, you get 200 tracks; for £10, you can have an unlimited library.
If you tire of a track, simply remove it and add another. While you can play as many songs as you wish via the radio system, the only songs available on demand are the ones in your library.
All “borrowed” songs are downloaded to your handset for offline listening, and songs already on your smartphone are pulled in, too. The radio service, which has more than 150 channels, is free, as is the simple recommendation tool: click the Discover icon to place the artist you’re listening to at the centre of a flower-shaped diagram, with related artists floating on “petals”; click a petal to move that artist to the centre, with new artists added around it.
This free app is worth having for the radio and recommendation tool alone, while the £1-per-month option is handy for mobile music on a budget. There’s two downsides: it’s only on iOS, and it’s limited to 160Kbits/sec.
Don’t panic, though: London-based Bloom.fm is set to flower on Android and as a web app soon, with 320Kbits/sec bit rates also on the way.
Deezer – 5/6 stars
Deezer is a true rival to Spotify, but it doesn’t give you much reason to switch. It has a similarly wide catalogue, the same prices, and comparable features, including the same 320Kbits/sec bit rate. It only has a web app, but it’s easy to use, and brighter and slicker than its Swedish rival.
Deezer highlights new and popular songs via its charts, and offers a wide variety of channels. Its playlists have a collaboration tool, so you can let others add songs to your collection. It also has a small selection of third-party apps, but most require you to log in using Facebook credentials.
The tiny 2MB mobile app lets you download song by song, so if you have a huge playlist but not much space on your handset, at least you’ll get a few tracks for offline listening.
Deezer claims a catalogue of 20 million songs, but it was missing a few we searched for. However, you can pull in your own MP3s to fill any gaps.
Grooveshark – 2/6 stars
Grooveshark is the black sheep of music-streaming services: all the tracks have been uploaded by other users. While that means it has a solid library, it’s being sued by the major labels.
It offers radio and streaming services for free via its website or a web app designed for mobile devices; using its variety of native mobile apps requires a $9-per-month account. You’ll have to jailbreak your device to use Grooveshark on iOS; on Android, you’ll have to sideload it.
The native apps cache recently played songs and album art to make playback easier, but it grabs 250MB of space on your handset. This is adjustable, though. You can pick songs to download for offline access and set to play high-quality songs only when you’re on Wi-Fi.
One interesting feature is Broadcast, which lets you make a radio station others can listen to.
It’s an intriguing system, but the legal woes make Grooveshark a questionable choice.