Unless you purchased a Nexus or Sony Xperia device, you probably came to the conclusion that the media player that came with your Android phone was disappointing. Motorola’s offering is a very basic music player with FM radio thrown on. HTC Sense adds a beautiful interface and an equalizer, but is, again, very basic otherwise and will pester you with suggestions to “Enable Beats Audio and SRS WOW HD.” And lastly, Samsung’s Touchwiz has a player that looks like a 3 year old designed it. At this point, you’ll have a brief longing for your old iDevice before you hit the Market for alternatives. Now you’re faced with yet another problem: Should you download Google Music for free or fork over a few bucks for popular substitute? Well let’s find out! FIGHT! Read on for the full review:
Free | Google | 4.80MB
PlayerPro Music Player
$4.99 | BlastOn LLC | 3.20MB
$4.99 | Max MP | 3.20MB
$3.49 | Federico Carnales | 0.85MB
Round 1: Features
Google Music starts off the battle with a huge head start. It provides two killer features that none of its competitors have; streaming and Cloud sync. Streaming allows you to listen to any music (regardless of the source) in your Cloud library without actually copying it over to your device. Theoretically this feature can give you a 20,000 song library on a phone with no available storage at all, assuming a capable data connection is available. Cloud sync is similar, except any music you select will be transferred to your device, freeing you from needing a data connection. Additionally, you’ll find a button that recommends songs on the Market, a feature similar to iTunes Genius.
Google Music starts to lose its lead is when other aspects are considered. The app does anything you can expect from a basic media player, such as play, pause, shuffle, repeat, shuffle all, custom playlists, and search. However, it ends there. It offers no form of info management, album artwork management, smart playlists, or customization. A built in equalizer also seems to be missing.
PlayerPro and PowerAMP quickly catch up, while trading punches with each other. Both feature powerful equalizers, an assortment of lockscreen and homescreen widgets with varying size, skinnable UIs with numerous themes on the Market, smart playlists like “My Top Rated” and “My Most Played”, configurable crossfade, and the ability to manually edit song or album info.
However, PlayerPro quickly takes control with its integrated video playback, accelerometer and gesture-based controls, ability to en-queue songs or albums, and Party Shuffle.
One perk that makes PlayerPro and PowerAMP stand out is integrated album art management. Both of these apps will automatically download high resolution album art or give you the option to select one off the internet yourself with a built in search tool. Although it sounds minor, this is a markedly important attribute, since album art imported with folders into Android can be of very low quality and will make the interface appear less polished. It’s much more aesthetically pleasing to have beautiful, crisp, 500×500 album covers than to have blurry, washed out images.
Google Music and UberMusic unfortunately force you to manually copy in the album art you desire to your SD card. PlayerPro and PowerAMP have a much easier, PC-free approach to the process.
Above you can see the Album Artwork Manager in PlayerPro as well as the Tag Editor.
PlayerPro barely manages to squeeze out a victory in this round. The competitors have compelling features such as streaming and customization, but PlayerPro appears to have the most comprehensive elements without leaving out core features every media player should have. It’s definitely the number one choice as far as features are concerned. the only thing it is missing is direct cloud streaming.
Round 2: Interface
Even from a brief glance at UberMusic screenshots, it’s hard to miss the Metro UI influence. It’s almost a carbon copy of the WP7 media player in the sense that the interface is made of horizontally scrolling columns that function as tabs. You’ll also notice that the elegant white text and buttons make a stunning appearance as well. Despite its lack of originality, UberMusic definitely deserves the crown for user interface. It minimizes the use of the Menu soft-button on your device and functions almost entirely off gestures.
UberMusic is going to be very hard to beat in this round. Making a unique UI that can trump Microsoft’s evolving Zune and Windows Phone interface is a commendable feat. We’ll have to see if the other competitors are up to this standard, or if UberMusic reigns supreme in terms of visual appeal.
The UberMusic UI resembles the minimalistic Metro interface. The bottom right image shows an album cover Live Wallpaper included with the application.
Google Music tries to make a comeback here with an interface design similar to that of UberMusic, but with a unique Ice Cream Sandwich styled interpretation of Metro.
What it borrows from Microsoft, again, is the horizontally scrolling tabs for navigation and a largely textual interface. However, it also features grid navigation and 3D cover flow in landscape, depending on the category you are viewing. Although Google Music’s portrait mode gives the impression of requiring you to scroll through the tabs at the very top, swiping left or right absolutely anywhere on the screen will allow you to switch tabs, just like UberMusic.
It just falls short of taking the lead. Although its UI is very appealing, the minimalistic style of UberMusic is simply cleaner.
Here is the Google Music interface. It’s quite intuitive. The consistent blue background seen here changes color depending on the album you are listening to.
PlayerPro offers a grid based navigation system. Any category you view, aside from Songs, will display large high quality images as buttons. The albums section will obviously use cover art, but the Artists section will show great pictures of the artists automatically downloaded off the internet. The interface is quite fresh if you’re used to the vertically scrolling lists found in iOS and WP7. You’ll need to use the Menu button to access certain features like Party Shuffle and Equalizer, since there is no available on-screen activation method.
Clearly, BlastOn wanted to take an approach to interface that truly stands out. Instead of following a textual template, they decided to make images stand out. Whether those images are album artwork or pictures of the artist, PlayerPro does not fail to show off their color. It consistently provides the user with large, easy to access buttons. These traits let it pull up next to Google Music in the charts, since it provides a beautiful, yet original interface.
The PlayerPro grid UI. Several skins have been applied to show what you can do with the theming engine.
From a fantastic performance in the Features round, PowerAMP falls behind to last place in Interface. The developers made a futile attempt to make the UI appealing by displaying important information in a glowing electric blue color. The nice font simply can not make up for the clutter, ugly buttons, and unintuitive navigation.
PowerAMP has a very generic list based UI with three tabs on the bottom labeled Folders, Player, and Library. The actual player has obnoxiously large, grotesque buttons and the library is just a long list with no visual flair. The only way to switch categories is to hit the Back soft-key to go back to the Library start screen. You’ll also need the Menu button to navigate to any function, which becomes a hassle in the long run. The interface works, but is not intuitive at all compared to it’s competitors. If anything, it’s like iOS’s media player with all of the important navigation tabs on the top and bottom removed.
Clearly, the PowerAMP UI is underwhelming. The buttons are ugly and navigation is complicated.
Google Music: ★★★★½
Round 3: Audio
The default audio quality from all four of the applications is exactly the same. However, PlayerPro and PowerAMP feature built in equalizers. At first, the equalizers of both of these apps will seem similar in terms of functionality, but there is a free add-on for PlayerPro called DSP Pack that allows you to adjust more frequencies and gives you dozens of extra presets to choose from. How EQ will affect audio quality is entirely up to you, but if you need very precise control over your sound, PlayerPro has the best integrated tool. That is, unless, you have a Nexus device or any other Android device on an AOSP ROM. If you do, you’ll probably have DSP Manager, which is a global equalizer for the OS. It has sufficient functionality for most adjustments and features a virtualizer. You can still have EQ without DSP Manager on Google Music or UberMusic with an app called Equalizer from the Market, but it has some issues with sound skipping when the phone is unlocked.
Again, PlayerPro manages to pull into the lead with a powerful, built-in equalizer. PowerAMP also makes a comeback this round with its own capable equalizer. Google Music and PowerAMP can’t be directly compared in this round since aftermarket audio tweaks have varying quality. Unfortunately, they’ll lose points since they lack any built in audio management.
A comparison of the available equalizers.
Google Music: ★★★★
Round 4: Reuse
Aside from your music, there are several other factors that can affect how often you will use each of these media players, like power consumption, speed, smoothness, and ease of use. There’s no significant difference in battery usage among these media players. However, if you plan on using an equalizer (built in or not), you’ll want to keep in mind that efficiency varies. DSP Pack in PlayerPro and the universal DSPManager usually aren’t very taxing, although that depends on what effects are enabled. PowerAMP’s built in EQ was no different.
Just about all of the apps. with the exception of PowerAMP, were smooth enough where a user wouldn’t notice a difference unless they did direct comparisons. UberMusic was the smoothest of them all, but each are smooth enough so it really won’t effect the reuseability.
PowerAMP, however, has very little to render and is generally smooth as well. It has issues with choppiness during scrolling since it constantly refreshes the album artwork. Such choppiness can be replicated by going into the Top Paid or Free section in the App Store on an iDevice and quickly swiping down to the last app in the list. What takes away from PowerAMP’s experience is the poor interface. To do almost anything, you’ll need to hit the Menu button which will bring up a dozen random options and settings that you’ll need to sort through.
Google Music has the advantage of streaming music which is very fast and quick to buffer. However, there is some stutter to animations in the interface. Cover flow is very smooth, but any scrolling or swiping otherwise seemingly displays at around 20 FPS. This can probably be attributed to the design of the application. Google Music 4.0 was optimized for the hardware accelerated UI of Ice Cream Sandwich and logically won’t run render optimally in Gingerbread. This isn’t much of an issue since the app is still very responsive and quick; it’s more of a little aesthetic annoyance. Like with UberMusic, navigation feels natural and smooth.
The heat went up in this round, as UberMusic, PlayerPro, and Google Music fought to be the most pleasing app to use. However, UberMusic prevails with its natural and smooth navigation. Now both PlayerPro and UberMusic have 2 wins, and must take Round 5 for themselves to secure victory.
Google Music: ★★★★½
Round 5: Value
As you may already know, $5 is a hefty price to pay for any type of application. Is it worth paying that price for PlayerPro or PowerAMP? Or should you just stick with the free Google Music? Then again, there’s the option in the middle; UberMusic at $3.50. If you want a basic version of the entire iTunes library management system on the go, PlayerPro/PowerAMP are definitely worth it. You’ll get more control and functionality over both the iOS and WP7 media players. However, if you just want an app with a nice UI that plays all of your music, you’re better off sticking with Google Music. You’ll have some trouble with library management while using UberMusic, but if aesthetic appeal is priority, it should be your #1 choice.
As expected, Google Music takes this round without putting up much of a fight.
Google Music: ★★★★★
Winner: Google Music
At the end of five rounds, both PlayerPro and UberMusic come away with 2 wins each. One of them must take this tiebreaker round to become the champion of Android media players!
Since both apps provide it as a core feature, it’s worth comparing their customization options. PlayerPro has 12 high quality free skins on the Market. These skins will change the Now Playing bar on the bottom, font, navigation bars on top, and the buttons and layout of the main now playing screen. However, it’s easy to tell that you’re using the same app.
Aside from the Windows Media Player skin, the others don’t change very much.
In contrast, UberMusic features 18 free and paid themes on the Market, each of which changes every aspect of the app, including the widget. After applying a new skin, one will find that it looks like an entirely different app. This isn’t the case with PlayerPro. It’s also interesting to note that the PlayerPro widget will look the same no matter what skin is applied.
OMG SHINY!!! But in all seriousness, UberMusic skins completely rejuvenate the experience.
It doesn’t take an expert to tell that UberMusic’s skinning abilities simply outclass those of PlayerPro. And with the feature, UberMusic takes the final round with a blowout victory. However, you’ll need to keep in mind that some of UberMusic’s skins will cost you a dollar.
Ultimately, you really can’t go wrong with anything other than PowerAMP. Google Music provides a myriad of features and exclusive integration with a cloud service all for free. In fact it gives Android native wireless media sync. Google Music’s desktop client will automatically import any iTunes music and sync it to the cloud. PlayerPro takes second place as a feature packed media player which can do just about anything. Media management essentially becomes PC free with it. Lastly, our champion UberMusic brings the best feature of Windows Phone to Android, the most intuitive and sleek mobile interface on the market.