Spotify Preview for Android: Full Hands-On Review

Spotify finally released an update to their Android app this week and boy did they come up with something special! Released as a “preview” version (so it’s not yet available in the Google Play store), this beta app is a complete rewrite that brings a host of features to Spotify on Android for the first time. It’s also fully compatible with Ice Cream Sandwich, making this the first Spotify tablet app.

The web is full of press release rewrites and brief overviews of the new app, but here is an in-depth expert look at what’s new, what to expect in the final version, and some hints and tips for “power users” to get the most out of the preview app.

 

The first thing you’ll notice when starting the new Spotify on Android is how much faster and smoother it is compared with the previous version. Google’s Holo theme is used throughout, lending the app a polished 2012 feel that has seen the end to any lag when navigating around the app. In keeping with ICS, the greys have been darkened down and the subtle use of Spotify Green throughout adds suitable brand identifiers. The old tabs at the bottom are gone: instead there’s now a smooth slide out sidebar with options for SearchPlaylistsWhat’s NewInboxFriends and Settings.

Links to the main pages have been moved to the side; the turbo-boosted search now shows artist and album art.

The Search function shows a vast improvement: it’s way WAY faster than before and results are all listed on the same page. It also now shows artist and album art for the first time on Android: just like the iPhone version! Clicking through to an artist goes to an Overview page showing a large artist image following be sections for Top Hits, Albums, Singles, Compilations and “Appears On.” Sliding the page to the left shows the artist Biography page and on the right is a new Related Artists page. This has a collage of images for the top 20 most-related artists and is an excellent addition for music discovery on mobile.

Artist pages now have large, hi-res artwork; the all-new Related Artists tab is much like the desktop but debuts on mobile with this preview release.

The player itself has also had a huge makeover. In full mode it shows off the new high-resolution album art to the max, with all the playback buttons you’d expect below and a standard ICS-style triangle button to popup a menu with further options such as Add To Playlist and Share. Hitting the “X” top-left shrinks down the player to the bottom of the screen, where you can still access the play/stop button while navigating the rest of the post.

Most importantly though, two new core playback features have arrived with this preview release. Firstly there’s the option to both stream and download in Extreme Quality. Extreme Quality is roughly 320 kbps (it’s Ogg Vorbis q9) and pretty much the entire Spotify catalog is available in this high audio quality format. If you’re an audiophile this bitrate should be your standard setting: everything I’ve listened to so far sounds crisper and so much sharper than before.

The new player looks fantastic, I just wish it mentioned the name of the album somewhere.

The second new playback feature (unannounced in the press release but discovered by yours-truly!) is gapless playback. Gapless playback came to the desktop recently and now it makes its debut on mobile with this Android preview. I discovered the lack of gaps while listening to a Shpongle album to check out the Extreme Quality setting (Twisted Records albums are always expertly produced). To my delight, I discovered that each track sequences perfectly into the next, just how the artist intended. I hadn’t “downloaded” the album and was streaming it live. And this was even on a 3G connection, not wi-fi!

Another area that sees a big overhaul is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the social “My Friends” side of things. The Friends page lists all your buddies and you can now click through to view their profile pages. This reveals your friend’s Top Tracks, Artists and published playlists. When sharing a track or playlist to a friend you can now add a comment (as on iPhone) and from your Inbox you can now see received comments too. This all makes the Android app feel a lot more social and connected, encouraging you to spend some time checking out what your friends are listening to. I’d like to see a split between “everyone” and “favorites” as on the desktop though, as many of my Facebook friends have, ah, very alternative tastes than I.

The Inbox now shows album art as well as any messages; viewing a playlist now also shows the number of subscribers.

Other welcome tweaks and new additions include the ability to rename a playlist (yes, that’s only just arrived on Android!), release dates are shown for albums, and I especially like how I can now see how many people are subscribed to my playlists.

There are of course a few things missing from this preview release that the old version had: scrobbling to Last.fm for one, as well as a homescreen widget and the ability to set the storage location (but see below for a workaround tip). Spotify have promised scrobbling will make it into the final version along with – finally! – playlist folders. There also seems to be no way to playback local files any more (the Library page has gone) unless you add them to a playlist from your PC then set them to download on your phone/tablet. And while you can add a track to the play queue, there’s no way to view or navigate the queue. Oh, and there’s no Landscape mode yet either.

A few tweaks I’d like to see: the main playback display doesn’t show the album name (you need to press the triangle button then Album to view album details) so I’d suggest using the space currently taken up by the Now Playing text to display the album/artist/track name to display all three. Another tweak I’d like is a better way to distinguish Downloaded vs. All playlists. Currently, all downloaded playlists are listed twice (once in each section) which, if you tend to download everything for later playback like me, then your list of playlists is double the length it needs to be (with the added confusion of new playlists being created right in the middle of the two sections). Hopefully though the promised inclusion of folder support in the final version will remedy this.

Playlists are divided (and duplicated) into Downloaded and All sections; the What's New page is now much more like its desktop counterpart.

Although this release is technically a preview version, I unreservedly recommend anyone using Spotify on their Android device to switch over now. This preview is far more stable than the current regular version, and if you want high-bitate, gapless playback then you can have that right now. I’ve spent the past few months moaning about the state of Spotify’s Android app – it hadn’t seen much of an update for a whole year and was starting to get decidedly flaky – but this new rewrite has turned everything around. It’s fast, it’s slick, it fits in perfectly with the Ice Cream Sandwich look-and-feel and it brings some new killer features to Android mobile music.

 

 

POWER-USER TIP #1: To set the storage location, first set it using the regular (non-preview) version of the app (to do this, select the option from the Menu when at the login screen). Then install the new preview WITHOUT removing the previous version. The preview replaces the old version but retains its setting for where to cache files. So if you set this to an external SD card, it will continue to use that location.

 

POWER-USER TIP #2: To enable lock screen player controls, go to Settings > Applications > Spotify then click Clear Data. This may not work for every device, but it has been reported to enable the lock screen controls for the HTC One X, Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S.

  

  • http://twitter.com/bobcat_zed Oskar Grenholm

    Power-user tip #3.

    Swipe from anywhere on the left edge of the screen to reveal the navigation menu.

  • Licenced

    Good write up, and well done spotting the gapless playback. Can’t believe I missed that!

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Cheers! Good job organizing feedback on the community site, you should be due at least a month’s free premium for that ;)

  • http://about.me/phil.baines Phil Baines

    Really liking the preview. Wants: Playlist folders, and ability to view the play queue. 

  • bradavon

    Isn’t it so much better. It’s just nice to finally have an android app that actually works.

    Playlist folders are a must, as is being able to see the queue and landscape support (what is it with Spotify and it’s lack of landscape support?).

    Well spotted on local files no longer being supported. Oddly they’re shown in the main playlist list but not when you open it.

    Snow Patrol’s latest album isn’t on Spotify but my playlist of local mp3s shows 14 tracks (in the main playlist window), yet when I open it I can only see 1 track that happens to be on Spotify.

    Also going to a playlist of an album on Spotify but I’ve specifically not marked for download because I have it as local mp3s, if I set Spotify to offline mode it won’t play.

    This REALLY needs fixing before it’s officially released.

    p.s. How would clearing the Spotify Application Data possibly enable lock screen support? Spotify have never supported that. That trick doesn’t work on the HTC Desire.

  • bradavon

    How does the Preview work with your Transformer Prime?

    Does it finally work? Does it crash at all? Is it optimised for tablets?

    Thanks

  • Marten

    Nice article full of tips and tricks, the gapless playback was a good find. Never thought I would defend the old app, but I must point out that playlist renaming actually is possible in it (hold on playlist name to display a menu where it is an option). Still using that one for the scrobble support on my main cellphone.

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    It seems to work fine on my Prime – so far at least. Granted I’ve not really used it much on the Prime and 
    I know others have had problems keeping in online, but I’ve not had those issues.

    As for tablet optimization: I don’t really see any, but it does look ‘n’ feel more tablet-friendly compared with the previous version. No landscape mode is a missed opportunity but hopefully that’ll be enabled for the proper release.

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Thanks Marten. Oh, I don’t remember there being an option to rename playlists but I’ll take your word for it [here's a bug/easter egg: rename a playlist to include the pipe symbol "|" in it then delete the playlist from the phone. Check out the OK button text!]

    Yes, kinda missing my scrobbling – I hope Spotify release the non-preview version with that enabled soon!

  • bradavon

    Thanks.

    A: I hope Spotify are working on tablet optimization, especially now the iPad app is out.
    B: Any word on the next beta release? This beta is miles better but no Local File support is REALLY annoying. I hope it’s there for the official release.

  • Geoff

    Just to pass on my experieince with using the new app on ICS – I am using it on a tablet, and still have the “off-line” problem. The Android app loads OK, but fairly soon reports itself as  off-line,and wont sync, even though it is shown as  an active device on the decktop Spotify.   I spent ages trying to find ways round this – but none worked. It appears that it might be a problem with wifi only tablets. Apparently Spotify wants to chech the IMEI number – so Wifi only tablets cause it a problem.

    Hopefully can be fixed soon, as the  new App is a huge improvement in every other way.

  • bradavon

    I heard that too about it checking for an IMEI and obviously Wifi only tablets don’t have these, so it thinks it’s offline. That does sound very annoying, especially when it doesn’t support Local Files either (my biggest gripe, I’ve not tried it on a tablet).

    I’m hoping they’re working  on fixing all these bugs and putting back missing features. I’m still glad they’ve done this because the old app needed  re-write from scratch, you can’t polish a turd and it’s certainly that.

  • HappyConch


    And while you can add a track to the play queue, there’s no way to view or navigate the queue. ” You can add a track OR an album, and you can navigate through your queue by wiping left or right through what’s currently playing in expanded view.

  • bradavon

    How do you do that? What’s “expanded view”? You mean swiping not wiping right?

    You can swipe from the left to bring up the Main Menu (Search, Playlists etc…) but I cannot manage to swipe from the left to bring anything else up and swiping from the right doesn’t do anything.

    I am using a HTC Desire with Froyo, if that makes a difference. I cannot get the lock screen widget to ever appear too.

  • HappyConch

    Let’s play a quick scenario.
    Say you are listening to something: current track shows up at the bottom. Select it, you get the expanded view of your track/album, full page display under “now playing”. if you swipe right (sorry, not wipe…) this is your queue.Select the track title, select artist, select a track in another album (than the one currently playing), select more, select Queue. Select again the track currently playing at the bottom, swipe right in the expanded view: the one you just stacked is there. If you continue to swipe right, the initial content of the queue is waiting thereafter, same behavior than before.
    I hope this is not too confusing.

  • bradavon

    Thanks. I get what you mean now and yes swiping to the right shows your next queued tracks, swipe enough times and you’re back to the initial contents of the queue.

    Fair point, that does work. You used to be able to see a more easier to read queue list though.

    Personally I’m finding the lack of local mp3 file support the most annoying. All MP3s on my SD Card are being ignored and Spotify insisting on streaming tracks I’ve already got stored as MP3s.

  • Pingback: Spotify for Android Update: Here’s What’s New | Pansentient League - a Spotify Blog

  • Pingback: Spotify on Android: Workarounds for Missing Features | Pansentient League - a Spotify Blog

  © 2014 Jer White / Pansentient League.
Runs on WordPress. Theme by Theme Junkie