A hitchhiker’s guide to the best free and paid Android music streaming apps

by Jared Peters on
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Most people that own a smartphone also use their phone to double as an mp3 player. It might not be the primary use of the phone, but it’s a popular feature nonetheless. If you only listen to just a little bit of music, storing all of your music locally on internal storage or an SD card is usually a quick, simple solution. But if you have a large music collection or perhaps your device lacks storage or an SD card slot, storing it all locally may not be an option. Like with all things Android, though, there’s always an alternative! In this case, most heavy music listeners opt for music streaming. The market for music streaming is pretty crowded, however, so the point of this guide is to walk you through some of the more popular options and choose which streaming service is the right option for you. Hit the break to find out more.

Google Play Music

Play Music is a free application available on Android devices and web browsers. It’s hosted by Google and offers a 20,000 song upload limit, which is more than enough for most people, and allows up to ten device authorizations. Music can be streamed to any of those authorized devices via app or web browser as long as the device has an internet connection. All of your music and devices are linked through your Google account.

Pros: It’s free. Many of these services are paid services, so Google has a serious leg up on the competition by being able to offer the service for free. It’s also going to be one of the most integrated music streaming solutions for your phone, as it’s a Google product. It integrates extremely well with the Play Store and Google+, allowing you to purchase new music and have it instantly in your Play Music cloud, and optionally share a free listen of your new music with your Google+ circles. If you’re looking for something free and only need music streaming, this is your best option. It does also support Last.FM scrobbling, if you’re a Last.FM user.

Cons: The biggest problem with Play Music is getting your library in the cloud. All new purchases made through Google Play are automatically uploaded to the cloud, but any music you own from CDs or other download services are going to have to be uploaded via an Upload Manager. The manager works well, but if you’ve ever uploaded large amounts of files on the internet, you know how extremely painfully slow it is. A large music collection could take days to upload, and it’s probably going to choke your bandwidth while it’s uploading. After the initial upload, it’s not such a big deal, but this could easily prevent some people from even trying the service.

Music discovery isn’t the greatest with Play Music, either. Google is making an effort by making some recommendations based on your Google+ circles, but it still leaves something to be desired.

Overall: If all you want is free music streaming and don’t care about social interaction or music discovery, Play Music is your app. After you get over the initial hurdle of uploading your music, it’s a painless service with a great interface that blends in very well with Android.

 

 

 

Amazon MP3

Amazon MP3 is similar to Google Play Music but with a few tweaks here and there. It’s tied to your Amazon account and only allows you to upload 250 songs for free. For $24.99 per year, that upload limit is increased to 250,000 songs. All of your Amazon MP3 purchases are automatically synced and don’t count towards that song limit. Amazon offers an Android application, an iOS application, and a web page for music streaming anywhere. It offers the same ten device authorization limit that Google does.

Pros: Amazon’s biggest strength is its huge catalog of music and media and its ability to offer that media for much cheaper than other places. If you frequently purchase things from Amazon, including MP3 downloads, Amazon MP3 will fit perfectly into what you already do. The MP3 app doubles as both a web store and music player, and anything you buy from the web store is automatically placed into your music player for easy listening. You can also download the music via the app and put it in another application, which offers a little more freedom than Play Music.

Another feature Amazon offers that Google doesn’t is music matching. Instead of that painful upload process, Amazon’s upload client will attempt to “match” your music with the music in Amazon’s database and automatically make that song available in your cloud player. So if you’ve got a large music collection that Amazon also has, you won’t have to upload any of it. Anything that Amazon can’t match will use the default uploading method.

Cons: The biggest con of Amazon MP3 is that is isn’t free, although $25 per year is hardly going to break the bank. The social aspect of Amazon MP3 is also lacking even more than Google Play, so if music is a social venture for you, you may want to look elsewhere. And if you have a large amount of music that’s unable to be matched, you’ll have to deal with the slow upload process that Google Play suffers. And lastly, Amazon’s music player app doesn’t support Last.FM scrobbling. If you’re not a Last.FM user, no big deal, but otherwise it may keep you with Play Music.

Overall: Amazon MP3 takes what Play Music offers and adds a few features here and there to round out the experience. The difference between these two really comes down to ecosystem preference. If you’re heavily invested in Amazon applications and you’re an Amazon Prime member, Amazon MP3 is probably the right choice for you. Kindle owners are also going to be locked into Amazon MP3. If you’re knee-deep in Google Play media and gift cards, Play Music is probably the better option.

 

 

Pandora

Pandora is a streaming-only internet radio service that lets you pick an artist or genre or keyword and create a “station” that plays similar music. It’s backed by the Music Genome Project which is a pretty complicated way of tagging songs based off of 450 different music characteristics and then scientifically figuring out what music you like and recommending new music based off of those characteristics. It’s complicated, but it works.

Pros: The best part about Pandora is that you don’t need to own any music to listen to something. Since it’s all internet radio based, you just type in what you want to listen to and it starts shuffling music related to it. And the more you listen to it, the more accurate it gets. You can thumbs up or thumbs down any song which gives Pandora a more accurate idea of what you like. This eventually gets your Pandora account extremely personalized so you hopefully never hear a song you dislike again. It also helps you find new music because it can easily figure out what you would like based on what you’ve already told it you do like.

Cons: As far as internet radio goes, Pandora is at the top of the list, but it’s not without it’s drawbacks. It’s ad-supported, and in a recent guide we told you that mobile ads can hurt your battery life. Throw the ads in on top of music streaming, especially on LTE, and it can be a big battery hog if you plan on using it a lot away from a charger. Pandora does offer a paid-version that eliminates ads for $3.99 per month, however.

Depending on how you like to listen to music, Pandora may also be frustrating because you can’t pick exactly what song you want to listen to. It’s all based on stations, so even if you create a station on one particular song, you may only hear that song once over a few hours. Not a deal breaker, but if you like to listen to specific songs when doing something, Pandora may not work for you. Also, as Pandora is direct competition to Last.FM, there’s no scrobbling support.

Overall: Pandora offers a great alternative to building up a music collection (which can be a bit pricey) and boasts one of the best music recommendation engines on the market. If you just need some music as background noise or you really like shuffle playlists, Pandora will work extremely well for you. If nothing else, Pandora makes a great complement to your music collection as a playlist and music discovery tool.

 

 

 

Last.FM

I’ve mentioned the word scrobble a few times in this article, and I’m sure a few of you think that’s just a really weird sounding word. If you’re a Last.FM user, though, you already know that it’s the backbone to the entire music service. Basically, Last.FM tracks everything you’ve ever listened to and calls it scrobbling. What makes that different from other music services is that you can scrobble tracks from other music players, like Play Music,  to Last.FM and still keep up with your listening stats and get recommendations. On top of that, Last.FM offers an internet radio service that bases its recommendations on your entire scrobbling history.

Pros: The scrobbling is the biggest draw to Last.FM. With plug-ins for most major music players on the desktop and an official app for your Android device, you can track your entire music collection wherever you’re listening to it. This helps music discovery and does offer some social features as well. Last.FM users can communicate with each other and make groups based on who listens to similar music or artists. It’s pretty self-contained to just Last.FM users, but that’s a pretty large, booming community, so it wouldn’t be hard to add another social circle to your internet hangouts. The music discovery is fantastic just because it has more information to work with, too. It can figure out your tastes based on everything you listen to, whether that’s through Last.FM’s radio or music stored on your device.

Cons: Last.FM does have a few things that hurt it. Compared to Pandora, there is no free, ad-supported option for mobile. Scrobbling still works, but the free version limits music streaming to the desktop. The subscription runs 3 dollars per month, which isn’t bad, but it does limit your options. Another Last.FM nitpick is audio quality. While other services offer higher bitrates for music, Last.FM is hit or miss. Most songs are okay, but there’s occasionally a discrepancy with bitrates and differing volumes between songs.  It’s not a common problem, but it can be an annoyance for some. It also shares the internet radio flaws that Pandora has, like being unable to specifically listen to songs like you can with owning the music.

Last.FM also doesn’t really offer any social services outside of its own community. So for those of you that don’t want to convince your friends to pick up a Last.FM profile, you won’t be able to integrate it with Facebook.

Overall: For music listening, Last.FM isn’t at the top of the list. Pandora wins out in quality. But in music discovery, Last.FM more than gives Pandora’s Music Genome Project serious competition. Plus, being able to track all of your music you ever listen to is a pretty cool (or pretty creepy) feature.

 

 

 

Spotify

Spotify is similar to internet radio like Pandora, but offers the ability to listen to what you want when you want instead of constant shuffling. It’s essentially access to a large catalog of music that you can listen to anytime, as much as you’d like. If you’re using a netbook with very little hard drive space, for instance, this is a great option because the music doesn’t have to be stored locally. It also shares features that other popular players do, like social integration, great music recommendations, and playlist support.

Pros: All the music you want for free. There are two paid versions that give you ad-free listening and mobile streaming for $5 and $10, respectively. Instead of having to buy albums for $10 – $12, Spotify lets you listen to those same albums as long as you’d like. It’s cheap, and it also means you won’t have to clog your hard drive up with gigabytes of music. You also avoid the slow uploading process of many other music streaming services. Spotify also offers some of the best social media integration, especially with Facebook. Spotify allows you to post the music you listen to on your Facebook wall, as well as see what your friends are listening to. This is great for music discovery because it’s easy to listen to some of the songs that are making rounds in your social circles, and you can hear some of the stuff your like-minded buddies are jamming out to, also. Adding other people’s music and playlists to your personal collection is easy, so you’ll always have something new to listen to. Your music collection syncs across devices, too, so you can take it on the go with your smartphone or tablet. It even supports offline listening to when you know you’ll be away from WiFi.

Cons: Unfortunately, Spotify’s mobile streaming isn’t available without a premium subscription that runs $10 per month. The app lets you stream radio for free, but streaming from your personal Spotify collection won’t work. Fortunately they do offer a trial version of the premium option to get a feel for it, just so you know everything you get for that $10 per month.

There’s also the slight issue of music availability. Spotify’s catalog is huge, make no mistake about it. If you listen to some obscure bands, (or Tool, for instance) you may run into problems trying to find that music to stream. It’s also an issue if you’re trying to stream that music to your phone. You’ll have to keep the files stored locally on your device, which isn’t a huge problem, but it does defeat the purpose of Spotify.

Overall: If you’re the kind of person that wants things easy and you don’t mind the occasional artist or two being missing, Spotify is an excellent service. It offers music that you want, whenever and wherever you want. Its flaws are so minor that they honestly won’t even affect most people. And with a free premium subscription trial, it’s hard to not at least try the service to see if it can replace your rapidly growing digital music collection that’s eating up the rest of your hard drive space.

 

Slacker

Slacker Radio offers the best of radio stations similar Pandora with the on-demand catalog of Spotify. If offers specific genre stations, playlists, and boasts significantly more available music than the nearest radio competitor. But the biggest selling point on Slacker is its customization of your music. It’s incredibly easy to create fine-tuned custom playlists and radio stations, as well as caching your favorite music to your device for listening when you’re away from WiFi or out of cellular coverage.

Pros: The biggest draw of Slacker is the huge music selection and the ability to pick how you want to listen to it. Want to listen to a particular album? You can do that. Want to listen to radio based off of just one artist’s songs? You can do that, too. It even offers ABC News streaming and ESPN radio streaming, so if you’re not in a music mood you can still find something to keep yourself entertained. That’s definitely a feature set that other streaming services can’t match.

Local caching is also extremely helpful. You can store entire radio stations on your device for those long trips when you know you won’t have service. With the premium subscription, you can store specific artists and albums on your device for on-demand listening. Slacker even provides the lyrics for the music you’re listening to. Throw in no-ads on top of that, as well as personalizing ESPN radio for your favorite teams, and you’ve got quite a powerful music player.

Cons: Like with many other music streaming services, some of the best mobile features require the premium subscription which runs $10 per month. The $4 per month subscription won’t let you stream music on-demand, but it will let you cache radio locally on your phone and gets rid of ads. It’s in line with other subscription services, but worth mentioning regardless. There are also issues with lyrics on some songs not showing properly, which is disappointing as that’s a feature that Slacker boasts, and some music just isn’t available on-demand. To be fair, that’s a problem with licensing, and not really a fault of Slacker, but it is an inconvenience.

Overall: If you’re looking for a service that combines Spotify and Pandora, this is what you’re looking for. It lacks the in-depth recommendations of Pandora’s Music Genome Project and the deep social connections that Spotify does, but if you can live without those, it’s hard to go wrong with Slacker.

There are still tons of other music streaming apps available on your Android device besides these applications, and they all do things a little bit differently. Some focus more on music discovery, some focus more on social sharing. Some services offer free storage, others are paid because you don’t need storage. Regardless of what you’re looking for, Android’s got it covered. Happy listening!

» See more articles by Jared Peters


  • adri1p

    what about grooveshark? There is an app for Android, you can put your playlist in offline mode on your devices, listen to stations, etc…

    • pickaboo

      I used to love grooveshark, I considered it to be the best app out there, but from a few months now, it stopped working properly, I am a premium user, and the streaming is useless, I am cancelling the servicem andI am looking for a substitute

  • http://twitter.com/andrewscorgie Andrew Scorgie

    Pandora not available in the UK

  • http://www.facebook.com/rich.wells.31 Rich Wells

    Songza? Jango? TuneIn?

  • this song is for the rats

    That’s all well and good but you forgot Mog, Rhapsody, Rdio, 8tracks, Songza, HypeM & TuneIn.

  • jessica

    the other problem with google music is that you have to be signed into the email account that you used to signed up with. so if you have 2 or 3 gmail accounts the music stops when you sign into a different email account. this is very very annoying and that is why i am looking for a replacement.