There is a world of free music out there, and your mobile device is a useful tool for getting your hands on it all. Fear not, we’re not endorsing torrents and file-sharing here, as there are plenty of ways that a shrewd smartphone user can listen to their favourite artists on the move, without shelling out a penny.
To give ourselves a bit of guidance while we were looking through the multitude of music apps out there, we decided to pick one artist and search for their tracks in particular. Completely at random, we decided that Elbow would be a good one to go for, since their success means they should be pretty well supported by any music service worth its salt.
First up, one of the biggest names in music streaming, which has recently added a free version to its mobile offering. Spotify now allows users to shuffle through tracks by a particular artist with no adverts or subscription, and the service has an enormous catalogue to back this up.
Searching for Elbow, we found pretty much all of their back catalogue available, enough to satisfy the most ardent of fans. However, we do find the compulsory shuffle feature a little annoying, especially when what you want to do is sit back and listen to a full album.
A serious Spotify contender, Rdio has an impressive suite of features for mobile users. While working on a subscription basis, the app offers a free trial, although it does work on a slightly confusing model. It seems that an initial 14 day unlimited trial can be dragged out to up to six months, with limits on how much music you can stream each month.
There is plenty of Elbow stuff in there, although we found the way in which individual tracks are sometimes listed alongside full albums is a little confusing. Nevertheless, the fact that you can stream a full album in one go is impressive, and the user-generated recommendations that sit alongside artist information are certainly useful.
Bloom has an outstanding user interface full of cute animations and pop-up graphics. It’s model is similar to Rdio, although the app has a strange system in place for its free version which only streams 30 second clips of tracks. To play them in full, you have to cache them to your device, and the free trial limits you to 20 tunes, which isn’t much.
Elbow’s back catalogue is extensively covered, with limited editions of particular albums appearing alongside their regular counterparts. However, while Rdio’s trial version works as a pretty much fully featured version of the app for a limited time, we can’t shake the feeling that Bloom’s equivalent is merely a taster of what the subscription service has to offer that isn’t particularly useful on its own.
Deezer has a well stocked catalogue, including plenty of Elbow tracks, so there’s no shortage of decent music on here. The app follows a similar model to Rdio and Bloom, offering offline playback and recommendations of similar artists.
We did find the app’s user interface to be a little confusing and admit that we got lost in there a couple of times, which is a drawback. However, this is made up for by an excellent feature that allows users to add extra functionality through a kind of ‘app store within the app’. Here you’ll find many free services that provide the likes of playlists curated by music magazines and extra sharing options.
Lastly, anyone looking for free music on their smartphone could always just head over to YouTube, where millions upon millions of tracks are available to stream. If this is your chosen method, we’d recommend an app called Pocket Tube, which allows you to cache the audio from YouTube videos and play it back through a regular music-playing app.
This is an easy and convenient way of getting around the fact that YouTube videos aren’t really arranged in the order of album tracklists. It also allows you to quickly create your own playlist, and avoids any data costs that may be incurred by streaming over 3G. Sound quality on individual tracks can vary though, something which stands out if you are playing a lot of them one after the other.
Overall, we found Rdio’s service to be the best offering in our search for Elbow’s tracks, but only while its free trial is running. Spotify’s model is impressive, but the shuffle feature is a little uncomfortable, no doubt a deliberate move to push users towards the subscription service. Finally, Pocket Tube is a great way of accessing YouTube’s content that brings an almost limitless amount of music to your smartphone.