Streaming music showdown: Which client fits your mobile needs?

Summary:There is a growing number of streaming music clients available for your mobile device and with most all priced at $10 per month you need to see what else differentiates them.

One of the most highly anticipated must streaming services, Spotify, finally launched in the US in mid-July and I bought a month of service to try it out. I then tried it out along with several other streaming music services to see what one worked best for my needs. I tried Spotify, Slacker Radio, Rdio, Pandora, Last.fm, MOG, Napster, Zune Marketplace, and Rhapsody. There are many other apps that play internet radio stations, but I wanted to focus on those apps streaming music from servers and not radio content.

Before we dive into the details of this article, please understand that I am a person with just a couple thousand songs in my own personal collection (rather small collection really) and I prefer to stream music to my devices or download it for offline enjoyment. On my iPad and HTC Flyer I also enjoy music when connected to a WiFi network so streaming music in high quality is my preferred practice. I enjoy music from a large number of genres, including classic rock, christian, jazz, country, and more so streaming subscription services give me the flexibility to enjoy a wide range and also discover new music.


Image Gallery: Check out some screenshots of streaming music apps on an Android devices.
Image Gallery: Streaming clients
Image Gallery: Slacker stations

There is no one best service for everyone and even though I offer a conclusion for the best service, remember that this is for MY NEEDS and you may find another service that your prefer. The great thing is you can try out these services for yourself to make the most informed decision.

In this article I present my experiences with the following and offer a few screenshots in an image gallery captured from my Droid Charge:

  • Spotify
  • Slacker Radio Premium
  • Rdio
  • Last.fm
  • Pandora
  • MOG
  • Napster
  • Zune Marketplace
  • Rhapsody

I used my Samsung Droid Charge to test these services since they are all available on the Android platform. I also include what platforms you can find each service on and include some thoughts on the other clients in my summary thoughts. My iPad is a perfect device for streaming music as I enjoy music while I surf and test out apps in my home that is covered with WiFi.

Spotify

Spotify is the newest music streaming service and generated quite a bit of excitement at launch. I signed up and paid the $9.99/month for the Premium service that is needed to use Spotify on your mobile phone. There are mobile clients for Android, iOS, webOS, the older Windows Mobile, and Symbian. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work on my new Nokia E6 because the high display resolution and small landscape only orientation of the display.

As I stated in the introduction, I like to discover new music and the client in the US is lacking the ability to simply enter a genre and have music fed to you. I understand this "radio" option is available in Europe so we may eventually see it here. Thus, all of your music is played through playlists. Spotify does make it pretty easy to add playlists from your friends through Facebook so it is more about playlist discovery than music discovery.

There are reportedly over 15 million tracks in Spotify's music collection so you shouldn't find anything lacking. You can play music in 160 kbps or 96 kbps, depending on the connection you have available. A reader pointed out that technically it can stream at 320 kbps, but it is listed in the Android app as 160. Unlike most other clients, Spotify can serve as your device music player by including your onboard music too. Offline mode is great so you can cache music on your device to listen to later, such as when you are on an airplane.

Slacker Radio Premium

Slacker Personal Radio has been around for a few years and has evolved into a valuable service that has been one of my favorites because of the large number of mobile clients they support and the performance I have experienced with very few repeat songs. Slacker has a reported collection of over 8 million tracks, but honestly that is way more than I could ever hope to use.

I like that Slacker is all about listening to stations and discovering music. You can also listen to music offline when you don't have a connection. You can share your Slacker experience via Twitter or email and they are one of only a couple that have a full native iPad application. Others with an iPad app include Pandora and Rdio.

Rdio

I have heard a lot about Rdio and finally decided to give it a try as part of this article. One great aspect is that Rdio is available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry so I am covered. There is also an iPad-optimized application that looks great. Rdio has a slight twist on the music discovery process with a dashboard that has quick access to recent activity and heavy rotation tunes. You can also search for your favorite music and create playlists.

You have the ability of adding the tracks you already own to your collection which gives you the ability to listen to them on the Web, with the MAC or PC client, or iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, Sonos, Blackberry or Roku. Offline mode is supported so you can download some music to take with you. Rdio is one of the most social services with the ability to share your music listening session with friends and then choose to listen to friends' music.

Last.fm

Last.fm has been around for quite some time and is what I really started with on my Nokia Symbian devices. Last.fm invented the term scrobbling and other clients actually will use it to share out music. The have a reported 7 million song library. but they are also free so it is tough to complain about that. The app is free, but the radio part is limited to a 50 song trial and after that you need to become a subscriber for all platforms but Windows Phone 7. However, it is cheap at only $3 per month so if you skip a cup of coffee you can purchase and enjoy Last.fm content. Check this link for the breakdown of services.

There are Last.fm clients for Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7, and players like Xbox LIVE and SONOS. Last.fm does a good job with song discovery and the ability to share your music experience, but there is no offline music to take it with you. I do like the user interface and music selection though.

Last.fm is handy for finding local music events and is supportive of the local economy.

Let's check out five more services »

Pandora

Pandora seemed to be the standard on iOS over a year ago, but in my experiences they repeat songs too often for me to enjoy using the service. You will find clients for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, webOS, and the older Windows Mobile so there are plenty of choices to enjoy the music on the go.

You can buy music through Amazon that you head on Pandora and there is an iPad optimized version too. Pandora is free, but be aware that gives you a 40 hour wee of music listening so if you are a heavy user you may want to consider the $36 yearly fee for Pandora One.

MOG

The music service with a funny name, MOG, was a service I didn't try until I started putting this article together. It seems like a decent service with clients for iOS and Android. There is a basic main page that lets you quickly navigate around and find music to enjoy on your device. The app is pretty simply, but also streams music at up to 320 kbps so if you are an audiophile you may like this service. MOG also supports offline mode so this is a client you should consider if you have a supported device.

Napster

Napster was really one of the first to get people hooked on digital music and is now a Best Buy company that legally streams music to devices and computers. Napster has a reported library of over 13 million songs. They have just a few clients, for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry so can improve on their mobile clients.

I do like their user interface and found it easy to discover and enjoy music with Napster.

Zune Marketplace

Windows Phone 7 is a platform that I really enjoy using and the Zune Marketplace is great for streaming music and enjoying it offline. For $15 a month you get to keep 10 tracks and stream as much as you want. The service is only available on Windows Phone 7 devices, but I think as more people get these devices in hand they will understand the benefits of the Zune Marketplace music experience. It is essentially only $5 per month to stream music since you are "buying" 10 other tracks each month.

The Zune HD and Windows Phone 7 devices have high quality audio through the headset and the songs help with 320 kbps tracks.

Rhapsody

Rhapsody is available for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices and on my Droid Charge it is actually billed through Verizon, unless you setup an account online instead of through the device. You can sign-up for a 14-day free trial and then after that it is priced at $9.99/month just like most of the rest. With iOS and Android devices you get access to over 12 million songs and the ability to download an unlimited amount of music for offline enjoyment as long as you keep your subscription updated. There is a Premier Plus membership level if you want to use Rhapsody on more than 1 device, up to three are included.

Rhapsody has a great discovery model with "radio stations", playlists, charts, staff picks, and more and a slick user interface.

Summary table and recommendation for best service »

Comparison Table

A simple table will not answer all of your questions, but I hope it gives you a quick comparison of some of the most important features. Keep in mind the price shown in the table is for the mobile client/support. There may be cheaper options available if you only stream it on a computer, but I am a mobile guy and that is what I really care about.
Spotify Slacker Radio Premium Rdio Last.fm Pandora MOG Napster Zune Marketplace Rhapsody
Discovery No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Own music Yes No Yes No No No No No No
Offline mode Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Share Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No
Price/month $9.99 $9.99 $9.99 $3 Free for 40 hours $9.99 $10 $15, but keep 10 forever $9.99
Library size 15 mill 8 mill 10 mill 7 mill Less than 1 mill 11 mill 13 mill 14 mill 12 mill

What service do I personally prefer?

There are other services available, such as Grooveshark, Qriocity, and more, but I stuck with the most popular and the ones that I was personally interested in trying out. There are other comparisons online so please Google for other articles too if you like. Google Music and Amazon MP3 are great free services, but they are focused entirely on the music you feed into the server with no current means to discover or try other new music on a subscription basis.

I am pretty much all in on T-Mobile with Windows Phone 7 and thus I find the Zune Marketplace to be an exceptional value for me. I purchased the one-year subscription that gives me even better pricing on a per month basis. For my iPad, Android, and at times even on my WP7 device I use Slacker Radio because of the discoverability, user interface, and non-repeating songs I experience. Rhapsody, Last.fm, MOG, and Napster are also solid choices and it seems like you really can't go wrong with any of them.

Spotify and Rdio integrate your own personal music collection so if you have music you like already then you should consider one of these services for your needs.

All of these services have some redeeming qualities and as you look at pricing it is about $10 each to have each of these on your mobile device so it comes down to the library size and what interface you prefer.

[poll id="33"]

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Topics: Mobility, Android, Google

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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