With bandwidth prices dropping, more and more digital services are becoming affordable for South Africans. Awesome things like being able to listen to any song you like, any time you like thanks to the marvel of music streaming services.
All that money you’re not spending on your internet bill any more? Sign up for a streaming service. You won’t look back. Even better, most of these services also have accompanying smartphone applications. The likes of Deezer, Rara, Simfy, and Rdio have great mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone that’ll let you take all the world’s music with you wherever you go.
The only question that remains is which service is right for you. And laying down ourselves for your sake we’ve gone through the horrible, arduous task of trying them all out (in their Android forms, at least) to work
Like its streaming brethren, Deezer has a nonsensical name. Nobody knows what it means, but thankfully plenty of sense can be made of its app. Firing it up for the first time shows a login screen that lets you sign up with either Facebook or an account you’ve already created. You don’t have to spring for a R60/month subscription right away, either – Deezer gives you 15 days to try out the premium service, for free.
The main screen for the app has Deezer’s “Hear This” suggestions – stuff the music editors think you should listen to right now, based on what’s new and your listening history. Swipe from the left, and you get access to stations, music discovery, and also your friends. Now you can see what your friends are listening to, and pick up good or bad habits that way.
Like the other services and their apps, Deezer also lets you mark albums for offline listening. Doing this also favourites the album, so you have easy access to it in the future.
Where Deezer sets itself apart completely, though, is with apps. It’s all a bit meta, but extra services can be added into Deezer as apps-within-the-app, and can do things like show lyrics, provide better music discovery, and more.
Rara lets you sign up using Facebook social! Hooray! But Rara also doesn’t have a free trial period at all. Boo. It’s sole saving grace, in this department, is that signing up for Rara costs just R13.99 for the first three months. (R13.99 gets you app access; the cheaper, R6.99 offer is for desktop-only use). However, it jumps to R68.99 a month after those first three months.
For your R14 you’ll get access to a service and app that offer everything you need, for music. Rara’s music editors compile playlists for you to explore, and you can also use themed stations to get more of the music you love. Rara even has station settings for certain moods, such as “Let’s Party” or “Chilling Out”. We’re grateful there’s not a “Road Rage” playlist because Gauteng drivers don’t need more encouragement. Overall, the discovery and recommendation engines are great.
Where the Rara app does stand out is with its intuitive interface. Favouriting tracks or downloading them is easily done with on-screen buttons, rather than long-press gestures or similar.
It might not be super swish or pretty, but it works – and that matters a lot.
The newest arrival on the streaming music scene – at least here in South Africa – is Rdio. It’s slick as heck.
Start up the app, and it’s as simple as signing in with your Facebook account. If you’ve already got your Facebook account set up on your phone you won’t even need to type in anything, just accept the permissions and start listening to some tunes. New accounts get 14 days for free; subscriptions cost R60.
The home screen has albums that are currently in heavy rotation, but a quick swipe from the left reveals top albums, latest releases, recommendations, and – the holy grail of streaming – stations. These let you plug in an artist or genre, and Rdio’s recommendation engine goes about playing similar stuff that you’ll like. It will also recommend albums you might enjoy based on your listening history.
It’s also possible to sync your favourite albums to your phone – essentially saving them for offline listening. Like the other services, you can only listen to saved albums through the app.
Dig deep into the options, and you’ll find the option to stream higher-quality music, so your expensive headphones will be done justice.
Simfy should score bonus points for being first streaming service to arrive in South Africa – way back in 2012 – but it doesn’t make a great first impression. Rather sign in with your Facebook account, like the other three, there’s a sign-up link that takes you to a website where you can sign up. [Surely this is a good thing? – Facebook hating ed]
Of course, you can log in with an account you’ve already created on your computer. New accounts get 14 days free, but you have to enter your credit card details and then cancel the subscription before you get charged, which takes the whole thing down in our opinon. Monthly subscriptions cost R60.
Once you’re in, you can immediately start listening. The latest and most popular albums are arranged in tiles on the app’s home screen, and swiping from the left edge of the display reveals search tools, as well playlists and active downloads. The latter is used for offline listening – and music can be downloaded to your phone using 3G, too. A good option to have, so that you don’t unwittingly drain your data allowance
There are also options to allow high-quality audio streaming as well as high-quality audio downloads. This might not be noticeable on cruddy earphones, but definitely if you’re going to plug your phone into a Hi-Fi.