Sigh! Grooveshark on Android should’ve been great. More than that, Grooveshark should’ve been amazing and right now I should be telling you to stop what you’re doing and to go grab this app as soon as possible. But it isn’t amazing, it isn’t great and yet it so could’ve been, it’s practically heartbreaking. For only $3 a month, Grooveshark offers you access to millions of songs which you can stream straight to your phone. You can search for songs, create & save playlists and ‘favourite’ the tunes you like the most, there’s even a “hassle-free” trial period. If anything this should be a real competitor to Spotify and even iTunes but sadly, despite the fact that the app does what it’s supposed to (search for and stream music), creating and saving playlists takes more work than you may be willing to put in.
For the uninitiated, Grooveshark in it’s proper form is an online music search engine that allows you to search and stream music, it’s like Spotify except that it runs in a web browser rather than being it’s own program. Sadly it’s UI isn’t as polished as Spotify (in fact it’s downright awkward at times) but you can dip in and do the same things as Spotify wherever you have a computer and a good internet connection and you don’t even need an account to use it. To use the free trial on Grooveshark for Android you will need to get a Grooveshark account, the good news is that these are totally free to get and once you do, your Grooveshark App trial will last for 14 days or 50 played songs with no need for payment details. It really is hassle free and it allows for a long enough run to give you a good idea of whether you want to stump up for a subscription.
It's all there on the homescreen, all it needs to do now is respond when you select something.
Once you’ve logged in you’re greeted with the clearly presented homescreen, from here you can access your playlists, favourited songs, offline songs (more on that later), popular songs on Grooveshark and Radio Stations. Clicking on ‘playlist’ left me waiting for longer than I expected whilst the app grabbed my playlists (all five of them) from the Grooveshark server, and this was over wi-fi too, hardly a good sign. Sadly this happened almost everytime I clicked playlist or any other icon that required an internet connection, sometimes the app would even become unresponsive, even at a low $3 a month this isn’t really acceptable. When it does work Grooveshark runs well, scrolling through playlists or the lengthy ‘What’s Popular’ list with smooth abandon. Using playlists you’ve already created is fine, you can organise them by name or date and you can even share them via any apps which appear in your share list on your handset. Creating playlists however, whether it’s from scratch or via saving a playlist created by another user, is pretty much hopeless. If you have a list of songs you’d like to save to a playlist you have to save them one by one, there is no multiple select option. To make matters worse the app doesn’t remember what playlist you previously selected so with every save you have to go back into the drop down menu of playlists and tell it where you’d like the song to go. If your account has anything more than half a dozen playlists this makes creating a simple playlist tiresome chore.
Using playlists is great, creating them however will drive you insane.
Saving other users playlists, particularly ones based on albums, is also a hit and miss affair. Saving them is simple enough but due to the user managed nature of Grooveshark you may be saving a poorly created playlist, it could be in the wrong order or even missing entire tracks. There is a separate definition to search for albums rather than playlists but there doesn’t seem to be an option to save these so you can go back to them at a later time. This is consistent area where Grooveshark falls down, at times the UI can be counter intuitive and for an app that’s trying to compete with iTunes or Spotify getting the UI right is half the battle.
Searching for songs works well, results usually come back in plentiful supply and if you’ve drawn a blank for search ideas (as is always the case when you can search for anything) the ‘Popular’ list is on hand to offer all kinds of suggestions to get you started. Once you select a song, you can play it, share a link to other mediums such as Facebook or Twitter, add it to favourites or a playlist or even make it available offline. Offline songs are stored in Grooveshark’s ‘offline’ folder on your SD card, they can only be played by the Grooveshark app. Having songs stored offline is ideal for when you have no wi-fi access (using Grooveshark on 3G is a futile exercise), it’s an excellent feature that stops this app from being a total write off.
Ok, think I'll just skip to my favourite par... OH GOD THERE'S NO SKIP FUNCTION!
Once you’ve got a song up and running, the ‘Now Playing’ screen seems to fulfill the necessary criteria and to be fair Grooveshark streams music perfectly well over wi-fi. You have buttons to favourite a track, add it to a playlist or share it. There also basic play/pause, next & prev track controls, access to your playlist is done via a cool ‘drag up’ menu and there’s also a ‘Radio’ button with which you can rate a track and build a ‘Last.Fm’ style playlist (Last.Fm scrobbling is also possible in the full app). If you go into landscape mode the screen arranges itself into a better layout and you can ‘swipe’ through the tracks in your playing queue, very nice. What’s totally missing however is a seek option, there is no way to select what point in a track you would like to listen to despite the fact that the screenshot for Grooveshark on AppBrain clearly show one.
In a way that’s the Grooveshark experience in a nutshell, for each thing it does right it does something else horrendously wrong which ruins what could have been a must have Android app. It’s not a complete loss, most of these issues are things that can be fixed in future builds, whether I’ll be able to try those builds out is another matter as Wraith3 points out in the Marketplace comments section.
Needs to reset free trial after bug fixes. How am I supposed to know if it got any better if I can’t log in?
…. hmmm good point.
Links : Install via AppBrain, Official Page
Bottom line : A counter productive and sometimes unresponsive UI, along with unreliable content ruins what could have been the one of the best apps in the Android Marketplace. For a subscription based app, even at only £3 a month, it’s still not good enough. Here’s hoping that things improve for the future.