Spotify is a music service that streams songs from a wide range of labels, and it has quickly become Pandora’s chief competitor. Now, Spotify powers SpotON Radio, a new iPod touch and iPhone app by Swedish Application Development, which clearly aims to knock Pandora from its lofty perch. SpotON lets you build stations and offer suggestions based on your music-listening history. For the purposes of this review, we used the SpotOn Radio app on an iPhone 4S. But due to the nature of the application, we expect the experience to be similar regardless of the device used.
It’s important to note that SpotON is not the Spotify app, but the application requires you to have a Spotify account. In other words, although the software is free, it requires a premium subscription, which costs $9.99 a month. The good news is that there is a free 30-day trial available, and you can use that to power the SpotON app.
One of the most important aspects of the review was quality via 3G. At home, we have the desktop version of the software and other options, so 3G performance is paramount. The good news is that SpotON works just as well via 3G as the Pandora iPhone app does. In other words, the experience is just as good via Wi-Fi or 3G, and the transition is seamless.
The second most important aspect is content availability. For those unfamiliar with the core Spotify service, the music library is enormous and much bigger than Pandora’s is. This was our first experience with the Spotify API outside of a desktop environment, so we were quite pleased to find that the entire music library is available through SpotON.
While listening to any song in SpotON, you can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down, which will influence future playback frequency. You can also add any song to any existing playlist you have in your Spotify account with a couple of quick taps, which is very useful. What is missing is the ability to “Star” a currently playing song, which would be a great addition to future releases.
SpotON pulls in your Spotify play history and automatically creates some stations for you based on most played artists. You can create new stations. Creating a new station can be done by searching for an artist by name. A couple of other options add value and flavor as well. First one is browsing the Top 100 artists, great for making a popular radio station on the fly. Last but not least, you can bring in a list of your popular Spotify artists and start a station that way. It would be great if the app allowed you to bring in the entire list of artists from all the artists you may have in spottily, whether in a playlist or starred. Similarly it would benefit if the app was able to scan your iPod music library to do the same station creation wizardry.
For fans of Pandora, SpotON may come up short in terms of play selection, however. Pandora uses the Music Genome Project; SpotON uses Echo Nest via the API; and the difference is immediately noticeable. The MGP is smarter and more hands-off. SpotON, on the other hand, is more data driven. That’s awesome for control freaks, but the experience lacks the exploration quality that makes Pandora so appealing.
It’s also worth noting that while SpotON is currently free, it might not always be that way. Those developer teases may just be a marketing gimmick to get us to download the application. But if it does become pay for, the total package would be too rich for our blood. Fortunately, there are certainly other iPhone apps using the API in the works that will be free, and you will just be able to pair your account with one of those new programs.
Overall, SpotON is a great program that provides an excellent music experience, and we’d recommend it to anyone. We won’t give it five stars, however, because the premium subscription costs $120 per year, and Pandora is free if you don’t mind listening to ads. In addition, if you’re big fan of the organic station-building aspect of Pandora, you might want to knock a half star off our rating.
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