DLS Faceoff: Rdio is an incredible music streaming service for Android
If you have a smartphone with a fast network connection and an unlimited data plan, do you really need to have a ton of music stored locally? Wouldn't it make more sense to just stream it from the cloud on demand?
I think it would make a lot of sense, and luckily for me, I'm not the only one. There are at least two major audio streaming offerings for Android at the moment: Grooveshark and Rdio.
We've decided to have a little Download Squad Faceoff: I will discuss Rdio in this post, while Vlad will cover Grooveshark in the next. You get to read both, and decide for yourself which one is the better solution.
Ready? Here we go!
There's a big difference between sitting at your computer and listening to some music from the cloud, and listening while you're on the go. The interface has to look different, the rules of streaming are different (not everyone has an unlimited data plan), and of course, the device is not as powerful as a PC.
Let's go over Rdio's offerings, screenshot by screenshot, and see how they rise to the challenge of providing streaming radio for Android.
This is the Now playing screen for Faith No More's Album of the Year. The album art is huge and beautiful, and in general, the interface feels slick. As I looked at this interface, I found myself thinking that if this attention to detail carries through the whole app, I may be forced to call it "gorgeous."
Since we started from the Now playing view, it would make sense to take one step back and look at an album listing. This is the same album by Faith No More. I love the color scheme. Track 4 is colored because it's currently playing. Note the tiny arrows on the right side -- these let you download music for offline listening. This didn't work on my demo account, though.
Song context menu
When you press and hold a song in the song list, you get a nice context menu that lets you add the track to playlists and "collections." You can also create a new playlist or collection via this context menu.
This is what a playlist looks like. The most noteworthy thing here is that I couldn't figure out how to change the order of the songs. I tried dragging them around, but it didn't work. Pressing and holding a song popped up a context menu that also didn't have any such option. It's probably just an oversight of mine, but since the app's UI is so polished, it stuck out as one of the few things that I couldn't get to work right.
Speaking of the UI, here's the only other visual flaw that I came across when testing Rdio. Note how the text in this screenshot is cut off -- that's what it looks like in the actual application.
This is the message that I got when I shut off Wi-Fi in mid-playback just to see what would happen. The current song finished buffering before I disconnected Wi-Fi, so playback continued uninterrupted. By the time the song ended, my 3G connection had kicked in, and there was no interruption in service at all. It was very, very nice.
This is the first screen you see when you launch Rdio. I love it. It looks even better in portrait mode, but you can see how cool it is. You get nice big thumbnails of what's currently hot on Rdio. Note the little down arrow next to Heavy Rotation. Let's see what it does...
When you press that button, you get several possible views of your Rdio activity. It's all quite self explanatory. Let's see what the History view looks like:
Ahh, The Black Keys. That's actually one of the albums in heavy rotation, and there's good reason for that. Other than that, as you can see, the History view is straightforward. I can't tell you how far back it extends, since Rdio's trial period is so exceedingly short (three days); I don't have much of a playback history to speak of.
Browsing during playback
This is what the interface looked like when I browsed The Black Keys' album while playing Faith No More in the background. There was no noticeable performance hit, and the bar at the bottom let me get back to the Now playing screen very easily.
Okay, wait for it... Gorgeous!
There, I said it. I guess that maybe iPhone users are used to this level of interface design, but not all Android apps are created equally in this respect (you can look at my Guitar Hero review to see what the other side of the spectrum looks like).
After looking at the most important setting (your connection state), we can scroll down a bit and see what other settings Rdio offers:
I can enable syncing on Wi-Fi only, or on both 3G and Wi-Fi. It's the same with "high quality streams" -- I can tell Rdio to stream lower bitrates when I'm on 3G if I use a metered plan.
Outside of Rdio
To conclude the tour, this is what Rdio looks like "from the outside." When a song is playing and you go to another application, Rdio leaves a running Now playing notification that lets you easily get back to the application.
Rdio is, after all, a music application. So, screenshots aside, what does the music sound like? Unlike previously reviewed MixZing, Rdio does not feature an equalizer. Still, sound quality was very good. I did not feel like I was listening to some lame low-bitrate streamed music. I'm no audiophile, and I used a pair of simple Koss earbuds, but I don't think that I could tell a streamed Rdio song from a locally played MP3. There were no gaps or skipping, playback started quickly, and buffering was always well in advance of the current position. Maybe I got lucky with a good connection, but performance was top-notch all the way.
If the images haven't yet given it away, Rdio is a premium service, and that comes at a price: $10/month for the mobile-enabled version (the Web-only service goes for $4.99/month). But even if you wish to pay for it, another major issue (for me, at least) is that it's currently available only in the U.S. and Canada. I got to test it while I was in Canada, but it's not a service that I could use in Israel.
Other than these two concerns, Rdio is simply amazing, and I wish that it was globally available. But if the price seems a tad steep, or if (like me) you are simply barred from using the service, perhaps Grooveshark can prove to be a viable alternative. Read Vlad's review to find out!