Editors' note, June 25, 2014: This review has been updated with details about Spotify Running.
Of all the streaming music services, Spotify (iOS|Android| Windows Phone) 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 the three major mobile platforms, Windows and Mac desktop 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 deliver 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. There are a lot of menus to dig through to find what you want, just like what you get with the desktop apps. I'd prefer a more streamlined design for a smaller screen, with more shortcuts to the music I want at the my fingertips.
In this review I'll focus on the iOS and Android apps, not the desktop versions. I also won't go into detail about Spotify'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. On both 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 Wi-Fi connection at all times.
The $9.99 (£9.99, AU$11.99) Premium plan gives you full access to everything that Spotify offers, with zero ads. You can play any song, album, playlist and radio station on-demand, as much as you'd like, and download music to listen without a connection, like if you're on a plane or in the subway.
Getting around the apps
The Spotify mobile apps have a dark, yet clean design that feels familiar if you use the service on your computer. 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. While all of those menus are easy to find, there's a lot of information packed on each page, which can be overwhelming on a smaller phone screen. 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.