Spotify Review

I’m trying out Spotify. After hearing so many good things about it, and having looked at a few other streaming music services, I thought I’d give this one a shot. I’m already past my 7-day trial, and now on my first free 30 days. I’m hoping to know definitively, by the time it comes to charge me the first time, whether I’m going to stick with it or go back. So far, here’s what I’ve learned: ┬áSpotify seems to have the largest music library out of all of the streaming music services–or at least pretty close–and it’s definitely the most popular.

The Good: I love the 12-second cross-fade. I haven’t seen this feature since my old MediaMonkey days, and I really like it. It sort of feels like a DJ-blended mix when I listen this way, smoothly fading between each song. Then there’s the simple “SAVE” button on every album, which saves it to “My Music” instantly, making it easy to find anything I grab when browsing their gazillion tracks. And once you “Save” an album, the option to make it “Available Offline” appears as a toggle switch, which results in the album downloading to your device locally. You can even stay offline for up to 30 days before you have to go online again, at least to “check in” to make sure you’re still a Spotify member. Very nice. It seems they’ve got both solutions (the ability to offer their vast library to their members available for STREAMING as well as offer local downloading and saving of any content for the members who prefer to download–or can’t afford to constantly stream). The interface is pretty solid with a nice layout and options. And I believe Spotify has the largest music selection out of all of the current streaming services, so it’s probably the best one to go with, if I stick with a streaming service.

The Not-So-Bad: Just after I signed up, I spot-checked some of my old classics, just to test the waters. For the most part, everything was there and easy to find. I had an issue with a few albums though, and this one kinda bugs me: I searched for Hootie & The Blowfish’s album “Cracked Rear View”, as this is an old favorite of mine. I couldn’t find the album, though there were other Hootie songs and one other album I found, as well as a few of the songs from Cracked Rear View on other albums. So I figured out how to do “Local Files” on the PC, I dropped my old copy of Cracked Rear View into it, then created a playlist that contained the album, which showed up on my phone in Spotify, then I was able to stream and/or download it. That worked ok, but the very next day, I played around some more, and there was Cracked Rear View, in Spotify, like it had always been there. I removed it from my “Local Files”, and it’s on Spotify now. Was that just a weird coincidence, or does Spotify just monitor user searches and Local Files and act on what they find really really quickly??? If it’s the latter, that would be amazing to learn. Wow, that would be amazing. Now I’m anxious to find another one that’s missing and do the exact same thing just to prove it was a coincidence. So that’s not so bad.

The Bad: I have over 67,000 local songs and audiobooks, all purchased as MP3’s, extracted from CDs, or converted from other formats, accumulated over the years. To quickly answer my next question, I pointed “Local Files” on my PC to my entire music section. I gave it a full day to add, catalog and index it all, but it failed miserably. Spotify on my PC froze up each time I clicked on Local Folders to view them, sometimes it even worked, somewhat, and displayed the tracks, but I wasn’t able to search them so they were pretty much useless to work with. If I were going to use “Local Files”, I would have to pick and choose the exact albums to make available to Spotify. I think 67,000 songs is way too much for it to handle at this time. One other feature that most other music players that I’ve used on my android device (and Audible) have is the ability for the app to pause or at least lower its volume when it loses temporary “focus”–this is when a notification sound occurs on the system, or another application uses the audio momentarily, such as Runtastic, which has a voice coach that announces my workout progress every so often while I walk. Spotify doesn’t have this feature, and I’ve grown very fond of it over the years with all my other apps. It makes them sort of “cooperate” with each other instead of fighting for the audio all at the same volume.

So, overall, I’m fairly impressed. It has it’s flaws, but nothing so bad I find it unusable. I’ll continue giving it a solid workout for a couple more weeks before they take their first $9.99 out of my wallet.

If you use or have used Spotify, I welcome your input, tips, suggestions and/or recommendations! Thanks!

New Toy

The Moto 360 smartwatch recently dropped another $100, which puts it at $149 now. We paid $300 for Kevin’s at Christmastime, so it’s actually a decent price right now, considering its features. I also had a $20 coupon for Best Buy, which was close to expiring, so for $130, I couldn’t resist.

Let’s get the worst thing out of the way right away: The battery life SUCKS. Just getting in an 8-hour shift at work without the watch dying is rare. It does only take 1 hour to fully charge from dead though, even using any wireless Qi charger, but it’s still a hassle. If it could somehow charge within a 2-foot range while still attached to my wrist, now THAT would be awesome… But I usually have to take it off and set it on top of my Qi pad for an hour to charge it up at work. Hey, at least it’s wireless!

The only other thing wrong with this watch is the “flat tire”. This is a small flat section at the bottom of the otherwise-perfectly-circular display. I have heard that this area is there to hold various sensors that the watch uses, so it’s necessary, but does tend to take away from the “perfect circle” display somewhat, and also hides useful information from watchfaces that take advantage of this area for displaying information. Several round-display smartwatches have since been released without this “flat tire” though, so one wonders whether they found a workaround for whatever sensors Motorola needed to put in that spot. Those watches currently cost a lot more than the Moto 360 right now though, so it’s a trade-off. Save $150, but get a flat tire…? I’ll take it!

But aside from those two things, I love the watch! It uses Android Wear, which is the universal software connection between pretty much every smartwatch and Android. This apparently opens up options for just about everything you could imagine, depending on what a developer wants to use it for. First, and foremost, is telling time. Yes, it tells time like a REAL watch. And if that’s all you want it to do, you might just be able to get decent battery life out of it as well! You can simply turn off all notifications and other features, find a simple watchface with only the most basic of animations (like just moving hands on an analog watchface) and the battery will probably last quite some time. I might have to try that some time, just to test this theory. But right now, I’m still playing…too many knobs and dials to try out…gotta play, gotta tinker.

Every option for telling time is available, even if you don’t see it in whatever watchface developer’s interface or app you’re using. Developers will only provide the features THEY want to, make their interface either easy to use or very difficult, and/or even make you pay for their watchface and/or design interface to make your own watchface. So, obviously, your experience with the watch may vary greatly. For myself, I like to try out everything, then I’ll eventually settle on a few apps or watchfaces I like the most and just use those. But then there’s always new stuff coming out, so I try those as well, hoping to find better things along the way. Being a geek, this is normal for me though.

Basic interfaces allow options for time, date, battery levels for the watch AND your phone, weather, etc., and some developers will also use nice animations, include calendar events, etc., but at the expense of battery life. Apps are another option altogether. Certain apps can be “installed” on the watch, though I’m pretty sure these are just tiny “stubs” or “mini versions” of actual applications that are primarily installed on your Android device, then simply feed data to your watch as needed. If an app installed on your android device is Android Wear-compatible, it is automatically installed on your watch and appears in the Apps list when you swipe right-to-left on the watch. One of these that showed up for me, surprisingly, Ingress! This is the MMO GPS game played worldwide that I play regularly (Resistance – Blue team). On the watch, when active, it alerts me to when portals are in range, and even allows me to hack the portals from my watch! This is neat, but after some use I find that it’s pretty limited and pretty much just a novelty. Your options are pretty limited, and–just as Ingress does on your phone–it’s a real battery juice sucker! Try hacking on your watch for an hour and you’re watch is DEAD, believe me!

Basically, the experience you have with the watch and how much you like it is going to come down to the quality of the developers and the apps and options they provide. For example, there’s an amazing app available called “Tip Calculator” for calculating restaurant tips, which you would think requires a calculator-type interface with all the number keys. This app manages to work flawlessly with only the slightest learning curve, has no “keyboard” at all, but only a few numbers (which are controls as well) in its center and a circular dial around the outside circle. It works great, doing exactly what it’s supposed to very quickly for you. It’s perfect for a round watchface. I hope more developers take a lesson from this one. The design is awesome, both in appearance and functionality!

There’s certainly no shortage of watchfaces for Android Wear. There are literally thousands out there to choose from, or you can just use one of the hundreds of different interfaces and design your own! There are so many good ones that I can’t even settle on just one and keep it that way, like Kevin does with his “Chicago Bears” themed watchface. I have a few different “Google Fit” watchfaces that show me my daily stats, including a constant view of my heart rate, my steps done today, and calories burned etc., and both my watch’s & phone’s battery levels as well as and “ambient” display that shows today’s weather forecast and temperature trend through the day. Another of my favorites is a “Military” watchface with no less than 6 different screens of details to flip between, and instant color-changing of them with a simple button push.

Basically, I’m happy with it. I consider it a geek toy, and it’s perfect for that. It tickles my wrist whenever I get any type of message, e-mail or text, and I can preview a bit of it or even read the entire message most of the time right on the watch. It helps me keep my phone in my pocket more often so I’m less distracted, and the automatic tracking of my steps and heart rate is just a health-monitoring bonus I could use. During my walks it constantly shows me my walking details and displays the music I’m listening to on my headset while I’m walking. And right now it’s analyzing my daily routine and it’s supposed to come up with a plan to help me stay (or in my case, “get”) fit based on my schedule. It should be interesting seeing how it progresses. It says it’ll take a couple weeks of gathering data.