DLS Faceoff: Grooveshark is a solid music streaming and recommendation app for Android
This post is the second part of the DLS Faceoff that reviews two of the major audio streaming offerings currently available for Android. Erez has walked you through Rdio in the previous post, and this post will focus on Grooveshark. Make sure you read both and decide for yourself which app better suits your needs.
Grooveshark is an online audio streaming service at heart, and it works on your computer just by going to its website. Erez reviewed its newest version not long ago.
Like Rdio, Grooveshark has also expanded into the mobile space, and it now has an Android app (alongside apps for Symbian, Palm, and BlackBerry). The app comes with a free trial that's limited to 14 days and 50 songs played, after which a subscription to Grooveshark VIP is required. This will set you back US$3/month or $30/year. Among the benefits of a VIP subscription are a desktop (Adobe AIR) application, last.fm scrobbling, and ad-free listening.
Let's get on with the review, then.
This is the screen you see when you launch Grooveshark. You can get back to this view at any time by hitting Menu > Home.
Searching for music
The search box has the obvious use case. Note some Grooveshark-specific oddities when searching, though: above, you can see that the same song is found twice. This is something that happens a lot, and it may become a tad annoying if you become addicted to Grooveshark. The other oddity is that not all songs are properly tagged.
Searching can be done by song title, artist, album, or playlist. Filtering by either of these is accomplished by pressing the corresponding icon under the search box. While searching by song, artist, or album is pretty much self-explanatory, searching by playlist reveals playlists (made by other users) that are related to the keyword(s) you entered.
As you'd expect, tapping a song title makes Grooveshark immediately start playing it. Tapping and holding a particular song title brings up a contextual menu (shown above) that allows you to do all sorts of nifty things, like add a song to a playlist, favorite it, share it (via Android's built-in sharing mechanism), or make it available offline. This contextual menu comes up when you tap and hold a song title in pretty much any list inside of Grooveshark; this includes playlists.
Now Playing & Radio
So, you found a song that you like, you tapped it, and you've been taken to the Now Playing screen.
Strangely, not all songs feature album art. And even when there is album art, the gigantic Pause button that's superimposed over it really doesn't help with readability. The album art is also quite small compared to Rdio's half-a-screen affair.
From here, you can favorite the song that you're listening to, add it to a playlist (new or existing), and (again) share it. You can also "like" or "dislike" a song -- a feature that helps Grooveshark recommend new tracks to you via the Radio feature. You can always start the Radio from the Now Playing screen. When you do, Grooveshark will present you with a radio-like infinite playlist that's based on both what's playing now and on your past likes and dislikes.
This is a very interesting system, and one that, if you take the time to train it well, may just prove to be a killer feature. You can "like" or "dislike" a song as it's playing regardless of whether you're in Radio mode or not.
Pictured above is the screen that you arrive at when you tap on a specific playlist's name. Below is the view that shows you the songs inside of a playlist.
Note that there's no indication of the fact that a song that's in a playlist is currently being played. In this case, "Who Wants to Be Alone" was playing, but the red heart indicates the fact that it's favorited, not that it's playing.
If you tap the Edit button above the song list, you can re-order the songs inside the playlist and quickly remove individual songs.
You can favorite any song, and it will show up in the dedicated Favorites section (which can hold up to 5,000 songs). This does seem like it overlaps with Playlist functionality a little, but it might still be useful to some.
A list of all the songs that you've made available offline is accessible via the Offline section. To make a song available offline, simply tap and hold the song's title in any list and choose the relevant option. It's as simple as that, and it just works.
This is a section that lists songs that are popular with Grooveshark users. You can order this list by popularity (obviously), but you can also order it by artist name and song title.
Settings & Quality
Inside Grooveshark's Settings lie two very important, well, ... settings. The Song Cache option lets you choose how much space to dedicate for song caching (if at all).
And if you go to Advanced inside of Settings, you'll find the single most important setting that impacts audio quality: Prefer low-bitrate files. This is checked by default. So, if you're having audio quality issues, make sure this is unchecked. Sadly, the quality setting is global, so you can't tell Grooveshark to use low-bitrate files over 3G and use highest-quality files over Wi-Fi, for example.
Playback over Wi-Fi starts almost instantly, but playback over my HSDPA mobile connection took a bit longer to start (about two seconds). It never stuttered or stopped for buffering, though. In my experience, the audio quality is at least on par with 128 Kbps-encoded MP3s, if not better.
While Grooveshark is on, you'll see its icon on the status bar, and if you slide down to reveal the notification area, you'll see details about the currently playing song. Tapping the name of the song takes you directly to the Now Playing view.
Unlike Rdio, Grooveshark works globally. The Android app isn't as filled with eye-candy as Rdio's, and it does have some unique quirks, but in the end, Grooveshark is a decent app that relies on a solid service backend and delivers instant audio streaming of millions of songs, with offline support.
For many people outside of North America or Western Europe, this may be the only choice when it comes to audio streaming on Android. And it's not a pain to use by any stretch of the imagination. Its oddities may take a short while to get used to, but after that, you'll find that this app does its job just fine. If you take the time to "train" its recommendation engine by liking or disliking as many songs as possible, Grooveshark will almost certainly only recommend songs that you'll appreciate. That's really great for discovering new music that fits your tastes.