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

Pick and play

Spotify's robust search engine is one of its best features. With it, you can find essentially any artist, song or album in existence, if its in the music catalog. If you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, you can play that music on demand and even cache it to your device for playing while offline. You can also play it over speakers with Spotify Connect.

Spotify's also built an impressive library of curated playlists that fit any mood or activity. The Browse tab in the app changes daily (and throughout each day) to highlight playlists for various scenarios, like the Monday-morning commute, an after-work workout or classic music for Throwback Thursday. Below the highlighted options, there are hundreds of other choices in the Genres and Moods section. These playlists are great for when you want to listen and not fuss with finding exact songs or artists.

Equally useful is Spotify's extensive collection of user-created playlists, which span all types of genres, themes and activities. Anyone can create a public playlist in Spotify that others can find using the in-app search engine. These playlists are often a labor of love for the people who build them, some act as a collection of songs played in their favorite shows or movies, others capture the music from their childhood. I constantly find myself searching the community for new playlists for parties, road trips and workouts built by people with similar musical tastes to mine, and usually get hundreds of great results. if you'd rather keep your playlists private, you have that option too, as well as sharing playlists directly with your friends in Spotify or on social media.

Radio

Spotify also has a built-in Internet radio feature, which plays endless music based on an artist, song, album, genre or a playlist. Head to the Radio tab and then tap the radio icon at the top right to create a new station. You can search for any keywords to get started and pick a option to start listening.

As you vote songs up or down, Spotify gets a better idea of the kind of music you're into and learns quickly, adjusting the station to better suit your tastes. If you'd rather listen to a broader selection of music, you can fire up one of Spotify's several genre stations. Every station you create gets saved in Spotify so you can revisit it. Also, songs you upvote get saved in a playlist called "Liked from Radio" so you can find them again.

Unfortunately Spotify doesn't have live streaming radio stations or programming for sports and news. For that, you'll need a dedicated Internet radio service like TuneIn or iHeartRadio.

Spotify Running

Introduced in May 2015, Running is a neat new feature that matches music to your running stride. When you fire up a Running playlist, which is kept in the dedicated Running menu, the app asks you to start jogging to determine your stride in steps per minute. It uses that number to find songs with a similar beat per minute tempo and plays that music through your workout.

The point of all of this is to keep you motivated and energized while running using songs with a beat that matches your running pace. The effect is great, even if the music selection Spotify chooses isn't always spot-on for exercising. Spotify Running is rolling out to iOS devices now and coming soon to Android, but there's no information on when or if this will be available for the Windows Phone app. For a more in-depth look at this feature, check out CNET's hands-on with Spotify Running.

Social features

If you're into sharing what you're listening to, Spotify has you covered with a tight integration with Facebook. If you sign up with Facebook, or connect your account after the fact, you can see what your Facebook friends are listening to in Spotify and share music with them. You can follow your friends in Spotify to see what they're listening to, and follow artists to get updates on their latest music or upcoming shows in the Activity menu.

The settings menu includes an option to show every track you listen to on your profile. Also, using Android's built-in share menu, you can share track info through Gmail, text message, Google+, and pretty much any other app you have installed on your device.

Streaming quality

Spotify's sound quality is great, as is streaming stability, when connected to a reliable data signal. If you have a strong Wi-Fi or data signal, songs will load quickly and often you can keep playing even if you briefly lose your connection. For offline listening, you can download playlists to your phone or tablet and choose whether to download over Wi-Fi or use your data plan.

With a strong Internet connection, you can also increase the sound streaming and download bit rate from Normal (96Kbps) to High (160Kbps) or Extreme (320Kbps). The Extreme level is only available to Premium subscribers in the mobile apps. A higher bit rate can offer better-quality audio, with a fuller range of sound, but most listeners won't notice much difference between the three choices. Overall, I've been happy with how music sounds on Spotify, as an average listener, and having the control to change the quality is a plus.

Conclusion

Spotify is one of the most popular streaming music services you can buy, for good reason. It has an immense catalog of music across genres and eras, and simple search tools to find it all. There are hundreds of playlists for every kind of music-listening scenario, from partying on the beach to falling asleep. Finally, social features help you check out what your friends like and collaborate on playlists with them.

There are downsides however, especially if you have the free Spotify plan. With it, you cannot stream any song on demand; instead you can only Shuffle playlists and albums, or listen to radio stations. There's no offline listening and you'll hear ads between songs.

If you're already a Spotify member, either with a Premium or free subscription, downloading the mobile apps is a no-brainer. If you're not yet using Spotify, and aren't yet convinced it's the right for you, CNET's guide to the top music streaming services can help you decide. And while you're at it, read up on the 6 things you should consider before you get Spotify or a similar music subscription.

What you'll pay

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