Spotify review: Full-featured music streaming, for a fee

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

0.5 stars 1 user review

The Good Spotify's mobile apps keep your saved music handy and deliver highly curated playlists.

The Bad There are no live radio stations and free subscribers can't stream music on demand.

The Bottom Line Those willing to pay get the most out of the app, while free users get limited streaming on the go.

Free

8.5 Overall
  • Installation and Setup 9.0
  • Features and Support 8.0
  • Interface 8.0
  • Performance 8.0

Of all the streaming music services, Spotify (iOS|Android) is easily the most well-known. With more than 30 million songs in its library, it promises music for everyone's tastes, plus plenty of features to satisfy every way you want to listen.

Spotify has apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows desktop and Mac and a Web player, so you can listen anywhere you go. Just select a song or album and press play to stream music over the Internet, or download tracks to listen offline. The apps are well put together, delivering high-quality streaming music, curated playlists and solid sharing features.

While Spotify is one of the top options for streaming music, its mobile apps are not without their faults. The apps are better suited as a companion to the desktop or Web players, not as an alternative to them. That's because the the app's layout makes it easier to find the music you've saved instead of curated playlists and new music. You can use the apps on their own, but it's far easier to build playlists on the desktop before you play them on your phone.

In this review I'll focus on the iOS and Android apps, not the desktop versions. I also won't go into detail about Spotfiy's service as a whole. For an in-depth look at how it compares with its competition, take a look at CNET's guide to music streaming services.

Free versus premium

Spotify's undergone several pricing changes over the years, and currently it offers two plans; free and premium. The $4.99 monthly "Unlimited" plan that Spotify once offered is no longer available to new subscribers.

With a free account, which anyone can sign up for with an email address or Facebook log-in, you can listen to music from Spotify's full catalog with some caveats. Whether you listen on desktop or mobile, you'll hear advertisements between songs, usually lasting between 30-60 seconds. Those ads are what keeps Spotify free, but they can quickly become annoying during long listening sessions.

With a free plan, on the desktop app, you can play any song on demand and create playlists. However, on the mobile apps, you can only use Shuffle mode, which shuffles the songs in an album or playlist, instead of picking a song and streaming it immediately. You can play any radio station for free (more on that later), but again, you'll hear ads. Finally, there's no offline listening with the free plan, so you'll need a data or WiFi connection at all times.

The $9.99 (£9.99, AU$11.99) Premium plan gives you full access to everything that Spotify offers. That means ad-free listening on desktop and mobile and on-demand streaming of any song, album, playlist and radio station. You can download music to listen without a connection, like if you're on a plane or in the subway.

spotifyplayback.jpg
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Spotify's playback screen (left) shows the album artwork and controls. The menu (right) gives you sharing options. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Getting around the apps

The Spotify mobile apps have a clean design that makes them easy to use. The app opens up directly to the "Your Music" screen, where you can find all of the music you've saved to your account, plus any playlists you've created. As you listen to more music and playlists, that page will change over time to show your listening history. There are tabs for your playlists and saved music, organized by songs, albums and artists.

Tapping the three lines on the top-left of the screen slides out the navigation panel, which gives you quick access to the Search, Browse, Activity, and Radio features. Meanwhile, along the bottom of the screen sits the info for any currently playing music, including track name, artist and a thumbnail of the album art.

The Now Playing screens gives you the full album art image, as well as all of your basic playback controls, which include Play/Pause, Forward, Back, Shuffle and Repeat, as well as the Save button, which adds the song to your library. From here, you can share the track with friends, add it to a playlist, or create a radio station based on the track.

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