Listening to music is great -- and there's no reason to be left out just because you're on a Windows Phone. Music streaming services are out in force, and just about all of the most popular players have thrown their weight behind Microsoft's smartphone platform. That gives Windows Phone fans plenty of options to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites.
Price: 30-day free trial; $9.99/month
If you're using a Windows Phone, you're likely familiar with Microsoft's Xbox Music app. It's more of a traditional music store, in the vein of something like iTunes; you can browse for new songs, listen to 30-second snippets, and buy the tracks or albums you like. Paying $10 a month gets you access to Xbox Music Pass, which unlocks unlimited, ad-free music streaming and offline listening on just about every device under the sun: there are Xbox Music apps for iOS and Android, and you can also listen to music on Windows PCs and on the Web. And then there's the Radio and Smart DJ tools, which will build smart playlists on the fly of music related to artists you like.
That Xbox Music pass becomes especially valuable if you also own an Xbox 360 and Xbox One, as you can stream music videos too. There's also a 30-day free trial, so you can spend a month giving it a whirl to see if the music you want is available.
What's great: Support for plenty of platforms and extra benefits for Xbox fans make this a solid option if you're already enmeshed in Microsoft's ecosystem.
What's not: There's no free, ad-supported option, so if you're wary of paying a subscription for streaming music, this one likely won't be for you.
Price: Free; $4.99/month to remove ads
Pandora is one of the oldest and most popular streaming services, and its Windows Phone app is one of the more robust ones you'll find. For the uninitiated, the service is basically a do-it-yourself Internet radio station: pick an artist or song you like, and it'll attempt to line up tracks that should match your tastes. You can't build playlists of favorite tracks, though; instead, you'll create radio stations that remember your preferences. The app does give you an option to buy songs you like on Xbox Music, so you can check them out later. It also offers a Live Tile that'll show you what track is currently playing, and it can take over your lock screen, so you can see track info without unlocking your phone. You can even pin the radio stations you create to your home screen, which is a great way to get right to the music you want to listen to.
I prefer a more hands-on approach to curating a streaming music library, but if you just want music you like playing in the background, this might be the app for you. It's also free, though there are ads. To get rid of them, you can sign up for a Pandora One premium account for a mere $5 a month.
What's great: Pandora is a great way to discover new music based on your existing favorites and offers neat Windows Phone-only features.
What's not: There's no way to create playlists of particular tracks, nor offline playback.
Price: Free; $9.99/month for more features
Spotify is a popular music streaming option that's available on every platform under the sun, and the Windows Phone incarnation is a solid effort. It's really attractive, adopting Windows Phone's flat aesthetic to create its own singular look and feel for fans of the operating system. But the app lags behind the versions on other platforms, which can create big problems if you plan on using Spotify elsewhere.
Earlier this year, Spotify changed the way its apps organize music. Instead of "starring" songs and creating a favorite music playlist, you can now simply add music you like to an all-encompassing music library. The Windows Phone app has yet to be updated, and it's still stuck on the Starred music system. Songs you star will still appear on a generic "Starred music" playlist, and you can create your own playlists, as expected. But if you also use Spotify on the Web or a non-Windows Phone device, there's no elegant way to get the music you've added to your general library onto your Windows Phone, short of creating a whole bunch of playlists.
If this seems like a minor inconvenience to you, then there's a good chance you'll like Spotify -- an update should alleviate that complaint, too. Spotify is also free to try (with ads), so there's no harm in signing up. A premium account will set you back $10 a month, but it removes ads and offers offline playback.
What's great: Spotify is available on just about every platform under the sun, including the Web, so you'll always have access to your music.
What's not: The lack of support for Spotify's new Your Music library makes the Windows Phone vastly inferior if you're using Spotify elsewhere.
Price: Free; $3.99 and $9.99 monthly subscription plans for more features
Slacker has a lot in common with Pandora. It's a streaming radio service that lets you build stations around particular artists and songs, and then finds related music you might also like. In some respects, Slacker goes quite a bit further: artist- and genre-centric music stations are joined by proper radio stations with DJ personalities and the like, so you can get something like the terrestrial-radio experience on your Windows Phone. Or on the Web, or iOS and Android devices -- Slacker is available there, too.
Slacker's interface is a bit garish. The resolution of the album art on the playback screen is really low, and advertisements run along the bottom of the currently playing track; that's in addition to the ads that'll occasionally interrupt music playback. And while the app also offers more robust features, like the ability to create a radio station for a single artist, download music, and listen to radio stations from media outlets like ABC and ESPN, all of that is locked behind a paywall: $4 a month for an enhanced radio experience, and $10 for on-demand music.
What's great: Slacker's radio stations are a great way to replicate the old-fashioned radio experience on your phone.
What's not: Most of the best features are locked behind a paywall, and a basic account doesn't get you much more than competing services.