Last.fm 2.0 iPhone app makes big improvements

CNET's Donald Bell offers his review of the version 2.0 software update for the Last.fm internet radio application for the iPhone and iPodTouch.

Last.fm logo

Version 2.0 of Last.fm's free music streaming and discovery application for the iPhone and iPod Touch is now available through the iTunes App Store, offering significant performance and design improvements over the original version we reviewed in August .

Last.fm hasn't added any notable new features to their application, however, a few features have been enhanced, and an overhauled design makes the user experience more intuitive and attractive. For instance, the main menu is now divided into two tabs that separate Last.fm's streaming radio features from its social networking capabilities, making the experience less confusing for first time users. The radio menu tab is the default menu screen, offering a listing of your preferred personal music channels, along with Last.fm recommendations and a prominent red button for creating a new music channels. By clicking over from the Radio tab into the Profile view, Last.fm regulars can still dig deeper into their top artists, albums, and tracks, keep tabs on local music events, and peek into the listening habits of their friends.

Image comparing version 1 of Last.fm main menu with version 2.
Last.fm's original main menu (left) was dull and a little confusing for anyone unfamiliar with Last.fm's lingo and social features. Version 2.0's main menu splits the application's radio and social features into two tabs across the bottom and emphasizes the immediate gratification of creating new personalized music stations. CNET Networks

The Last.fm Now Playing screen has also undergone an extreme makeover. Album artwork is now displayed clearly and not superimposed with song information. A volume bar is a permanent fixture on the bottom of the Now Playing screen, and many controls have been consolidated for the sake of simplicity. A collapsible menu lets you add your own personal song tags directly from the playback screen, along with options to save the song to a playlist or share it among your personal contacts or Last.fm friends.

A distinction between Last.fm and other personal Internet radio applications such as Pandora, is the ability to view and save an artist's current touring information. An On Tour button appears next to the name of currently touring artists on the Last.fm playback screen, allowing you to browse tour dates on an internal calendar and flag any shows you're considering.

Image comparing version 1 of Last.fm with version 2.
The Now Playing screen on the original Last.fm application (left) offered a confusing mush of buttons, hidden volume control, and obstructed album art. Last.fm 2.0 (right) offers a much cleaner interface with consolidated controls, pristine artwork, and dedicated volume slider. CNET Networks

Last.fm's streaming audio performance has also improved on their application. The dropouts and buffering delays experienced in the first version of the Last.fm application have all but disappeared in version 2.0. While connected over a moderately strong Wi-Fi signal, we encountered no drop outs and noticed that the buffer gaps between songs are down to around 1-2 seconds in length (about what you'd experience using Pandora). Audio quality is also quite good, with no noticeable streaming compression artifacts and a stereo sound quality comparable to 128Kbps MP3.

Overall, the updates to the Last.fm application have brought nothing but improvements. If you're looking for a personalized streaming music application for your iPhone or iPod Touch that offers more features than Pandora, Last.fm does not disappoint.

Editors' note: Last.fm is owned by CNET's parent company, CBS Interactive.

 

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