Spotify is a small software download that provides free streaming content for you to play at your leisure. We say free, but it is advertising funded, and at your leisure, meaning it is streaming, so you’ll need an internet connection and you can’t take it away with you like Nokia’s Comes with Music. This makes it a potential solution to anyone sitting at home or work, online and wanting music. If you are bored of the radio constantly playing the same songs, breaking off into mindless banter and the rest of it, then why not be the DJ yourself?
A quick download and install and you’ll be up and running with Spotify. We tested the PC version, but it is also available on Mac and Linux. In terms of look, it is not too dissimilar to iTunes, with a grey theme, as is becoming the fashionable thing to do.
Your main navigation area gives you a left-hand menu bar including three main options of Home, Radio and Play queue, you’ll also get a recent search history, and your collection of playlists. The bottom of this left-hand bar is given over to the currently playing track, displaying the album art, if there is any. Across the top in the menu bar you get a few options, which we found we didn’t really need to use, and then the all important search bar, which we constantly abuse.
The content of the main area then changes as you select your options. From the Home menu you are presented with the choice of a few lists, basically a “What’s new” list and a “Top lists” er ... list. With almost everything being clickable, you’ll soon find yourself navigating off into the music and listening to something new, which is great. The Top lists include a range of customisations to cut the music down to your requirements, so if you want to see what is hot elsewhere, it’s a breeze.
But Spotify is really about putting together your own playlists and listening to what you want. Easily done. Just find something you want and drag it to the left-hand bar, create a new playlist on the fly, or dump it into your queue. Alternatively, if you’ve been really organised and set-up a collection of existing playlists, you can drop a track straight in – this might be by artist, genre, or whatever. We found ourselves overflowing with playlists fairly quickly, so a little strategic thought is worthwhile.
You can also share these playlists, so you can send them over to other users, post them to your blog or Twitter for other Spotify users to pickup and listen to. But for some, making a playlist is going to be too much effort, so the next option, Radio, is really good.
The radio section is topped by an option matrix to define what you want to listen to on the “radio”. Pick 70s disco and that’s what you get. Mix it up and you can come up with a whole random mess. Basically it takes the thought out of the process, like listening to the radio but without the hassle of the jabbering idiot in the studio. Fancy some house music? No problem. Fancy 80s heavy metal? Rock on.
That’s very much the experience of Spotify, you can simply set it going and ignore it. It is supported by advertising however, so you’ll have to listen out for those adverts, which Spotify say will be less frequent than radio advertising and we’d have to agree with adverts being pretty inoffensive and few and far between.
Music quality is also pretty good, if a little bassy, which may actually suit some, and you can easily alter the levels on your playback device. It is great to hook the PC up to an amp, invite some people over and just let them go wild on Spotify, queuing tracks to play like a jukebox in a pub. It also means that you don’t have to buy those ridiculous seasonal tracks for your annual Christmas party.
Streaming consistency is generally good, with very little start-up lag and you can often skip to the middle of a track too if you like. You can adjust the size of cache too if drive space is a problem: the default is 10GB. It would be nice to see some sort of indicator when the music stops, so you know why.
To get the best from the service, it is probably worth hooking into a hard line connection to iron out the occasional vagaries of Wi-Fi, but much of this depends on your ISP, router and PC, so will be different for everyone.
There is also plenty of content and more being sourced all the time, but it won’t take you long to find omissions. There are some weird and wonderful tracks included, but try looking for something specific and you may not find it. Some artists will be detailed, but their discography will be sparse, mostly limited to that artist’s inclusion on compilations and so on.
This isn’t a global application either, it is currently limited by territory, however it is available to those in the UK. The application itself seems to be pretty solid, we’ve only had one crash when trying to generate a “Top list” based on our listening history, which sent tremors through Spotify. We’ve also seen some anomalies, often that we couldn’t recreate, for example being told that a particular album isn’t available in your territory and then coming back later and it is (Britney Spear’s Circus in this instance). Weird.
But these things don’t detract from what is otherwise a great application and music streaming service. Of course you have to be able to access it. At the moment you have several options, either buy your way in for an advert free service, or wait to be invited. Membership gives you various additional extras, but we suspect that many would rather take the free option, so you’ll have to sit and wait for an invite.
But from us, it’s a big thumbs-up.