As far as I’m concerned, there are too many ways to listen to music these days. Part of the problem is that most of us have way too many devices, and they don’t all cooperate. My Apple devices have iTunes, and I love iTunes, but Android obviously doesn’t. So while my iTunes library sits at about 10,000 songs, I have zero access to it from my Android devices. [Ed note: unless you use iSyncr to sync files between iTunes and Android.]
My $10/month subscription to Rdio helps assuage some of those concerns. After matching my iTunes collection to what’s available on the popular streaming service, it’s easy for me to stream almost all of my music to my Nexus 4 or Nexus 7 whenever I need it. Not only that, but I can check out new music without paying extra fees and I can manage my playlists from my mobile devices with ease. Maybe you don’t already have an Rdio subscription but your Android phone is your main music device. Is the Android Rdio app worth the subscription fee?
After logging in and connecting Rdio to your favourite social services, its differentiating features become clear very quickly. Instead of just managing music, the app encourages you to check out new things front and centre. Based on what people you follow are listening to, you’ll be able to see what is getting the heaviest rotation with your friends.
Rdio is an inherently social app.
Aside from my friends, I’ve also followed a few other publications. I’ve done some work for Paste Magazine in the past and love their reviews, so I’m following them. And true to my roots, I’m paying attention to what a Canadian magazine is listening to.
The exploration features are my favourite aspects of the app. Nothing on the list is static, and because it’s not just about what’s new this week (although you can look at that list too), you’re often finding great new music to listen to. Sometimes, it’s new material, but other times it’s stuff that came out ten years ago and simply slipped past your radar.
Mobile Music Management
If you find something you like, you can just long tap on it and add it to your collection or download it directly to your mobile devices. As handy as downloading music is for people who might want it offline, it comes with the caveat that Rdio doesn’t allow you to download music to one device, but rather all of them. If I want the new Mowgli’s album on my phone and download it, Rdio’s default settings will download the LP to my Nexus 7 (and iPad) as well. It’s a frustrating niggle in an otherwise cool experience.
I found the long tap to add music to playlists wasn’t sensitive enough.
You can also add music to collections, a process that I thought could be a bit more fluid on Android. I use the playlist feature a lot for a music blog I run, and the iOS version of the app is simply much more responsive to the long taps required to add music to a playlist. Everything took four or five times longer on my Nexus devices to set up.
Also worth noting: Playlists are automatically set to be public on Android, while they’re set to be private by default on iOS. I don’t know why this distinction is made between devices, but people who want to keep their collections private should make a note of it.
Wait, Where Am I?
The app’s design is particularly confusing as well. It’s very similar to Rdio’s website and desktop apps, but on a smaller screen and with a few less visual flourishes. There are far fewer colour gradients in the Android app. I know that seems like a small detail, but the gradients help instil a sense of place in iOS and on the desktop. Without them, navigation becomes confusing.
When you scroll up the music player (right), it looks identical to the music browser (left).
And there are some redundant design philosophies in both the Android and iOS apps. If you’re browsing albums and tap on a song you want to play, a nearly-identical detailed music player pops up on the screen. Instead of relegating the track list to a button, the track list is the same in both the player and the selection screen. It sounds confusing because it looks confusing and it feels confusing to navigate.
Basically, it creates the feeling of having to tap twice as much as you should to navigate the app. Sometimes, I find myself getting mentally lost for a moment and having to collect my thoughts and bearings.
Navigating search results (left) and my music collection (right) are similarly unintuitive experiences.
Another huge flaw is that there’s no way to quickly navigate through your music collection. I’ve got over 10,000 songs synced to my Rdio account, and while I can choose a letter to quickly jump to in the iOS app (I can tap L if I want to quickly get to the Lumineers, for example), that feature isn’t present on Android. If I want to listen to Adele, fine, but if I want to listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, that involves a lot of furious swiping and scrolling.
I’d also like to see a more appropriate tablet version of the app. While I’m glad Rdio is available on my Nexus 7, taking what already feels like a bland design compared to its iOS counterpart and expanding it to fill more screen space isn’t my idea of “carefully considered implementation of tablet usage.” At least give me consistent access to the menu bar. I really don’t need much, but I do have extra screen space here, so using it would be nice.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a screenshot of Rdio running on a phone, but this was taken on a Nexus 7.
There’s also a concern I have with stability. On my Nexus 7, everything works fine, but on my Nexus 4, I had more than one occasion where a song would refuse to load. Uninstalling and reinstalling the app fixed it, but this is a serious bug. Reinstalling an app constantly isn’t ideal for anybody. My research suggests the bug also affects the Galaxy S4. If you’re on the fence about an Rdio subscription, give the free trial a shot first to make sure you won’t have issues using it on your phone.
Finally, the widget is so limited that I have to question why Rdio bothers including it. It offers a Skip button and a Pause button, but that’s it. The music widget built into my Nexus 4’s lock screen is far more functional, and that’s sad, but it thankfully does cooperate with Rdio.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing this app and comparing it to its iOS brethren, but in all honesty, after using both for a while, Rdio feels like an app that’s been unfairly neglected on Android.
I think the app needs a lot of work, but Rdio gets a lot of leeway because the service is astounding. I can’t think of a better way to spend $10 in a month. In Canada, which has notably fewer songs than the United States, I still have access to over twenty million songs. Add Rdio’s fixation on social curation and you have a recipe for a great music discovery and listening tool. I just wish the Android app had more polish.