UK Exclusive: First full hands-on with Spotify on iPhone
30th Jul 2009 | 18:20
Screenshots, details and early verdict on the killer iPhone app
Spotify on iPhone: Overview
UPDATE: Read TechRadar's full Spotify for iPhone review
Spotify has developed an app for iPhone. That fact has been widely tweeted and blogged this week.
But so few people have actually seen the app that there's been frustratingly little written on what it's actually like to use.
TechRadar wanted to go deeper, so we wangled a few hours to play with it. We've held it in our very own hands. And we love it.
Going mobile has been a massive push for the music-streaming service, as exclusively revealed to TechRadar earlier this year, while a US launch isn't that far off. It's not being outrageous to suggest that taking Spotify onto mobile is make or break for the company and as such Spotify says it has been careful to follow Apple's app submission guidelines.
First of all, a heads-up. This app has only just been submitted to Apple, so this isn't a final review, just a full hands-on, first impressions piece. The app is in beta and so isn't finished - we've heard that Spotify may further improve the graphics, as well as speed up playlist synching (not that it seems particularly slow).
This is a really interesting time to see the Spotify iPhone app, especially as there has been much speculation over whether Apple will accept it into the App Store. Is it too close to stepping on the toes of iTunes? Or will Apple simply view it in the same way as Last.fm, which it waved through without issue?
The headline feature of Spotify for iPhone is the ability to save playlists for offline playback, and it's this which might cause Apple most concern (though as you'll hear, this needs Wi-Fi). It will, however, assuage the concerns of those who continue to disparage the network coverage of O2, AT&T and others.
You'll need a Spotify Premium account to use the iPhone app, which may seem draconian, but someone needs to pay for all this stuff.
Like the Last.fm app, Spotify for iPhone also means you can listen to music over-the-air via Wi-Fi or 3G but naturally Spotify's ability to search and stream any track in its library is absolutely key. The Radio function isn't present in the Spotify iPhone app like it is on the desktop, while there's also no Play Queue or way to save previous searches.
Unlike the iPod app that can run in the background, Spotify on iPhone suffers the same problem that Last.fm has - it's only single-tasking and so when you're listening to tunes, the rest of your iPhone is dead to you.
Despite the early stage of the software, the Spotify app is fast and responsive and, like the desktop software, streams tracks within seconds. Early software on the iPhone has a habit of crashing, and indeed this did once.
So let's get on with it. Spotify on iPhone. As soon as we logged into the app, we were presented with a list of playlists – there are three main tabs, Playlists, Search and More and we'll separate our hands-on into those three areas.
Spotify on iPhone: Playlists
Adding a new playlist to Spotify on the PC almost instantly added it to our iPhone list, too. Completely dynamic and very responsive.
The updating was similarly superb for adding new tracks to the playlists. All are kept in sync rather nicely.
Clicking Offline playlists at the top of the screen takes you through to this screen, enabling you to select which playlist to take offline (note the warning message saying they need Wi-Fi to download, so you can't download a batch of tracks over 3G).
Then going back to the main playlist screen, you can see them queuing to download.
After enabling Wi-Fi, the tracks start to download automatically. We'd be very, very interested to know in what format the tracks are downloaded and stored, while the number of tracks you can download may be limited we guess – perhaps even by Apple.
Clicking on the specific playlist takes you to this screen, where you can shuffle or play a specific track, as well as edit the list.
Switching on Airplane Mode turns the app blue, with non-synched playlists greyed out and synched ones available to play.
Here's Bruce playing offline. Oh, and if you quit the app when it's playing (probably because you want to do something else temporarily) it will start playing from where you left off.
Spotify on iPhone: Search
Taking things back online, let's search for a track. Wi-Fi off, though, so we could see it working over a typically poor O2 data connection. Songs were pretty slow to load over Edge, and we had to give them time to load as they lurched and paused quite badly.
However, when on 3G, there was no problem and very little inter-track latency. Sound quality is also excellent.
The Search is self-explanatory, while you can flick through the Tracks and Albums tabs when you have typed in your search term. Once you've found your album, you can add it to a playlist, shuffle it or play your choice of track.
This is what the tracks bit looks like. In our mind there should be a third tab here, for artist – not sure why it isn't included already, but hey. As with the desktop app, navigating around can be a little tricky if you want to search by artist and browse through their albums. Spotify's search is track-orientated rather than artist-orientated. This was a little frustrating for us, but probably not so much for others.
Here's the main play screen and, below it, the information screen, enabling you to browse the album (useful if you'd just searched for a specific track) and add it to your playlist.
Presumably this would be where any buy links would be – that must be a plan for Spotify, but since it has a deal with 7Digital, we're not sure how that would (or, most likely, wouldn't) work out with Apple.
Oh and by the way, unlike the desktop version of Spotify, the iPhone app doesn't sync details of your played tracks to Last.fm.
Spotify on iPhone: The More tab and our verdict
Then there's the More tab. Not a lot to say about this one, but there are options for help, as well as to sign out and force the offline mode to switch on. As you can see, our view is slightly broken.
Spotify for iPhone is fast over 3G and great to use. We're sure it'll be a winner especially for the offline playlists - providing it gets past the Apple police. We would like an artist search tab though, and better buffering over Edge would be a huge bonus.
Remember that while the app will be free, you'll need a Premium Spotify account to use it. And that'll cost you £10 per month or £120 a year.
£10 a month doesn't seem too bad, but most of us already pay a lot of cash for entertainment each month. £50 for Sky, £35 for your mobile, DVD sub and more. Is the extra cost justifiable when we all already have libraries full of music anyway?
it'll be interesting to see if Spotify does offer some kind of access for those without Premium accounts. Certainly, the app enabled us to log in with a free account and was fine with it, though this is one of the things that will almost certainly change by the time the app hits the App Store.
The Spotify iPhone app certainly has have the potential to be a game changer, even if our gut feeling is that the usual Apple restriction - no multitasking - does restrict it so much that it's simply not convienient for many situations when you want to listen to music while doing something else with your iPhone.
Spotify is also developing other mobile versions, and it has also already previewed a version for Android.
Liked this? Then check out 10 tips to turn you into a Spotify ninja
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