Review: Spotify for webOS | webOS Nation

Review: Spotify for webOS 24

by jackofspeed Wed, 17 Nov 2010 2:34 pm EST


PreCentral forum member jackofspeed submits this review of the Spotify webOS app and service, as he's from the UK and can use Spotify

Here in Europe (the land from whence this author hails), Spotify is kind of a big deal. When their webOS app became available last week, it was the end of a 12-month wait for those of us lucky enough to be able to get the Spotify service. To most of you though (i.e. the United States) it may be an unknown commodity, and this is as much a review of the service as it is the app.

A quick summary is in order: Spotify is a cloud-based music streaming service, not unlike Pandora, but with one key difference - you can choose exactly the music you want to play. It's as simple as that; if you want to listen to a specific artist’s new album, you just search for it and play it. What's more, if you don't mind a few adverts, it's free to do so! Alternatively, you can pay £4.99 a month for ad-free streaming to a computer at 160kbps, or £9.99 per month for ad-free streaming at 320kbps to a computer or mobile device.

The more expensive of these services also allows for offline storage of playlists (limited to around 3000 tracks) so playback can continue in the absence of a data connection. The service also supports collaboratively editable playlists, scrobbling, and social links via Facebook or as web links which can be used in any way you wish. Incorporation of local music into playlists is now supported as well, so the Spotify app can really act as a hub for all your music on your Pre or your desktop. Yes, you understood that correctly, Spotify does what iTunes does, but with a subscription service like Zune Pass built right in.

But what about webOS? Well the Spotify app supports all the features described above, provided you have a Premium subscription. You can build playlists on the phone or on the desktop app, and they sync through the cloud between devices in a totally transparent way. Got a good Spotify playlist already? Install the app and it's there, ready to go. You can hit play straightaway and it's off, playing your music pretty much instantly. This works flawlessly over Wi-Fi, and pretty much flawlessly over 3G GSM.

Spotify The killer feature of the Spotify app though is offline storage of playlists. You can set specific playlists to sync for local storage on the phone, and that playlist will be downloaded over Wi-Fi when the app is running (3G syncing is an option guaranteed to cream through your data allowance). The tracks are downloaded in Spotify's own proprietary DRM wrapper, and will fill up as much or as little of your device storage as you like. Once you have your tunes stored offline, you can play them to your heart’s content - even in the underground railways of which we are so fond in Europe.

Where Spotify really wins is in its use of the cloud, and in the social elements. For example, a group of friends can maintain a communal Spotify playlist, which any of them can add tracks to, and which they can all listen to independently of each other, with changes to the list being reflected to all listeners transparently. In addition to this, we maintain a “new music” playlist, so that as soon as we hear of some music we want to try out, we can add it to the playlist. Then, in the car, it’s already synced to the Pre and ready to go. If we like the tunes, we can quickly post a link to Facebook or Twitter, and any friends with a Spotify account can listen to it straightaway. The webOS app also provides the ability to share a Spotify link via e-mail or the native messaging app.

The Spotify UI is sleek black with a hint of Spotify green, and it pops up a notification bar (with album art underlaid) when the phone is locked. This dashboard bar (just like the native music app or drPodder) offers play/pause and forward and back skip buttons, and works a treat when the phone is being used as a pocket-based media player, or is on the Touchstone.

Spotify During our testing we experienced no crashes, hangs or significant issues, only a few performance issues we’ll come on to. However, syncing a large (500+ tracks) playlist over quite a shore, even over a speedy Wi-Fi connection. The issues were twofold. Firstly, the phone (an original GSM Pre) got pretty hot during the transfer, and the exercise basically drained the previously full battery. Secondly, when the device powers down, the sync tends to stop. We found we needed to keep the slider open, and the device plugged in (on the Touchstone would also work) to keep the transfer going - the combination of heavy processor load, nonstop data usage, and battery replenishment did no favors for keeping the phone cool. However, this is a rare exercise, once your big playlists are on the device, changes and updates happen transparently and without issue.

Over time it became apparent that a few issues were beginning to develop. The stuttering problem when streaming over 3G wouldn’t go away, even when full signal strength was available. The notification bar sometimes stopped updating when the app moved onto the next track, continuing to display the first track played, and the Pre really began to bog down quite considerably. In fact, the 3G stuttering seems to be connected to system resources somehow – when the Pre received an e-mail or SMS message, the playback seemed to stutter. Following these problems, we decided to try the app on a different device, a Pixi Plus. It’s fair to say that the difference was significant - all the bugs we found disappeared instantly; stuttering was a thing of the past, the notification widget worked fine. Notably, playback seemed to be unaffected by other processes running on the device. It was beyond strange, considering how the Pre, even in non-Plus form, is still more powerful than the Pre Plus. We’re hoping that these were issues with our own device and not problems with the Spotify app itself.

Spotify So, Spotify is a cracking service, and the webOS app is a good, full-featured implementation. By launching on webOS, they’ve made themselves a key European launch partner for HP and Palm when a tablet device emerges next year. It is, however, disappointing to see poor performance and bugs when working on an original Pre, we’d have hoped that a bit of careful coding could have slimmed the app down a bit, and avoided these problems. It’s hard to imagine Spotify devoting resources to resolving this for a device which is already a year old in Europe, but let’s hope that they continue to maintain the app and roll out new features as they add them to their service.

Spotify is available for free from the App Catalog, though it does require a Spotify Premium subscription to run. Also, Spotify is only available in select European countries - we're still hoping wishing and waiting for a US version (though not getting our hopes up).