As an avid music fan, it’s important that I carry some tunes with me wherever I go – which should explain why I still tote around my 120GB iPod Classic. I’ve had music playback-capable phones for quite a while now, but none of them offered what you’d describe as a listening experience. With a smartphone however, it’s a completely different ball game. In a good way.
There are several options when it comes to music player apps for Android devices, including the fairly competent stock app. I’ve been more partial to Winamp though, mostly because I’m very familiar with the desktop version – and I thought that’d be the last music player I’d need to try. That’s when I discovered n7player. It’s slick, it’s well-designed, and it showcases your music collection elegantly. But is beauty only skin-deep? Let’s turn up the volume and find out.
n7player's Music Library (L - zoomed out, R - zoomed in)
n7player is a great-looking music player app that features a novel interface with which to browse your music collection and a ton of features seen in advanced music players. It’s currently in beta, requires Android 2.2+ (2.3+ for audio enhancements) and is available for free in the Market. It is definitely worth trying out, especially if you’re looking for an upgrade from the stock app.
The traditional Artists list view and the Now Playing screen
After you’ve installed n7player you’ll be greeted by a multi-touch album view which allows you to zoom and pan through your entire collection. Zooming out all the way shows you a tag-cloud style list of artists. There are cool nice transitions and animations for all menu actions as well. You can also click the music note icon (♫) to access traditional list views for artists, albums, playlists, genres, songs and folders.
What’s neat about the single-pane layout is that it integrates very well with the main playback interface. When you’re playing a track, you can hit the Back button to see the current song’s album art zoom out into the album pane so you can easily move to another artist or record and add tracks to your playlist. Long-pressing track names or albums pulls up menus from which you can also directly play or enqueue tracks.
Downloading album art (manually) and tweaking the audio settings
n7player offers a lot of control over your music experience. For starters, it can automatically locate and sort all your music, but also allows you to specify which folders to look in if you so choose. There are audio enhancements to try out, too: set the 5-band EQ to your liking or choose from five genre-based presets; apply one of six reverb effects (including rooms, halls and plate reverb); or add a bass boost and SRS surround sound.
Two home screen widgets and a customizable lock screen
The app includes two widgets (one 4×1 and one 4×2) for your home screen, each of which displays album art and features playback controls. The larger one has repeat and shuffle toggles, and tapping anywhere outside the buttons opens up the app. There’s also a customizable lock screen with similar functionality that you can choose to view when you hit the Power button on your device.
Organizing Your Music
If your music is missing album art, n7player can download it for you automatically (though if necessary you can still choose the right image manually). You can also edit ID3 tags for tracks and albums.
Once you’ve got everything set up, you can move quickly between the Now Playing screen and your music library to play specific tracks or albums instantly, or add them to your current queue or to a new playlist.
n7player does a lot of things and manages to do it all with aplomb. Animations and transitions are smooth across the app; finding files and album art downloads are really quick. I usually listen to my audio with the EQ off but I was tempted to try the other effects and was pleasantly surprised – sliding the bass boost to 3 and the SRS to 7 added some punch without going overboard. The app even scrobbles your tracks to last.fm.
I also got used to the album library view very quickly – it’s much more intuitive than traditional list views and looks great when you zoom and pan about. The layout and button placement on each screen of the app are also well thought out. The lock screen and widgets work very well too. However, one thing I wasn’t very happy about was the fact that you can’t reorder tracks in playlists.
Interacting with albums
n7player vs. the Competition
I like to think that competition among apps just makes things better for users, as there’s more choice to find the app that suits you best. I typically listen to entire albums in one go and don’t get into internet radio much, so n7player’s got just the right mix of features for my needs.
Strong contenders include Winamp (whose desktop app can beam tracks from your computer to your device from its library via Wi-Fi), PowerAmp (with crossfade, gapless playback, FLAC support), and PlayerPro (which includes skins, lyrics, video playback and even album/artist reviews). However these are paid apps (with free/trial versions), which cost over $4 each, and the extra features might be overkill for some.
Overall, n7player performs very well and has a nice feature set that should please the majority of users who use music player apps. There’s more functionality to be had with other apps if you’re willing to fork over some money, but if you’re after a free option, you’d be hard-pressed to find a music player more elegant than n7player. I’d love a bit more control over my playlists and perhaps a few themes, but other than that I’m glad to use and recommend n7player over the stock app.