Downloading music has become a thing of the past, as the popularity of music streaming has skyrocketed in recent years. With a wealth of artists and albums available at your fingertips, it’s easy to see why streaming has transformed the way we listen to music, particularly on-the-go.
Now with more streaming options to choose from than ever before, it’s difficult to know which service is best for you. To help, we’ve pulled together a round-up of the best music streaming apps available for Apple, Android and Windows devices, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more.
Price: Free / £9.99 per month
Launched in 2008, Spotify is arguably the best-known music streaming service there is, having gone from strength to strength over the years. It has evolved to have over 10 million users worldwide, of which 2.5 million are paid subscribers. Spotify has apps available to download on all the major platforms, including Apple, Android and Windows, making it one of the most accessible music streaming services on the market.
There are two options for users: Spotify Free and Spotify Premium. Spotify Free has no cost, but the experience differs for smartphones and tablets. Smartphone users can play any of Spotify’s premade playlists and use the Spotify Radio feature on the app, which chooses tracks for you at random.
The huge downside, however, is that you cannot pick specific tracks to listen to and you can only skip up to six songs per hour. This means you actually have very little control over what you listen to, as Spotify will select songs for you based on an artist, album or genre. Tablet users, on the other hand, have much the same experience as desktop users, as you can choose what tracks you want to listen to, with adverts in between.
Spotify Premium is available for £9.99 a month, or £4.99 if you’re a student. This gives you unlimited access to Spotify’s music catalogue, with the ability to play any song you want, skip songs at will, create playlists and more. The best feature of Spotify Premium is the ability to make your music available offline, which downloads your songs and playlists to listen to whenever you like, without the need for an Internet connection.
This transforms Spotify into one of the best music streaming apps there is, as Premium also gives you access to high-quality streaming at 320 kbit/s, compared to 160 kbit/s for Free users.
Price: 3-month free trial / £9.99 per month
A relative newcomer to the music streaming scene, Apple Music was launched in 2015 to instantly become Spotify’s biggest rival. Users can try a 3-month free trial, which gives you access to the full service, and will continue to charge you £9.99 thereafter, unless you remember to opt out.
Although, there is a free service available that gives you access to ‘Beats 1’, a continuous global radio station that broadcasts from London, New York and LA. Apple Music can be accessed through the Music app on iOS devices or a new beta app can be downloaded on Android phones.
What sets this streaming app apart from the rest is that it guides music recommendations based on real people, rather than an algorithm. Each user has a ‘For You’ section in the app, which provides personalised music suggestions based on your favourite artists and genres. Much like Spotify, paid subscribers to Apple Music can save songs to listen to offline, as well as skipping as many songs as you like.
Apple Music goes a step further than Spotify and offers the option to ‘Connect’ with artists by sharing things like photos and playlists with fans. However, Apple Music only streams at a maximum of 256 kbit/s, which is less than Spotify Premium.
Google Play Music
Price: Free / £9.99 per month
Google has taken a slightly different approach to music streaming by offering cloud storage alongside their music catalogue with Google Play Music. Even with a free account, you can upload up to 50,000 songs to the cloud, which allows you to stream them from up to ten registered devices whenever you like. If you upload an album that Google already has in its catalogue, it will give you access to its own 320 kbit/s version, meaning you can listen to it in higher quality.
For £9.99 a month, you can subscribe to Google Play Music All Access, which provides unlimited streaming of Google’s music catalogue, as well as cloud storage. However, a major drawback is not all tracks sold in the Google Play store are available for streaming by All Access users, which is odd. Like Spotify and Apple Music, a subscription to Google Play All Access allows you to save songs, albums and playlists to listen to offline.
It also has its own music recommendations service powered by Songza, which suggests music based on time of day and other factors. A brand new feature that gives Google Play All Access an edge on competitors is its YouTube Music Key, which allows you to watch YouTube videos without adverts and save music videos for to watch offline.
Price: £9.99 per month / £19.99 per month
Tidal is undoubtedly the most expensive music streaming service there is at £19.99 per month, with no free option. Owned by rap superstar Jay-Z, Tidal prides itself on what it calls ‘lossless streaming’, which boasts an unbeatable bit-rate of 1,411 kbit/s, leaving its rivals in the dust. Of course, the true benefit of this will be testament to the quality of the audio output you use to listen to it, with a good pair of headphones obviously providing better quality than cheap earphones. Tidal now offers a cheaper package at £9.99, which does not have lossless streaming, as it limits quality to 320 kbit/s.
To entice users to it, there are certain artists, albums and tracks you will only find on Tidal, such as Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Other stars, like Rihanna, use the service to exclusively debut their material before releasing it to a wider audience. Tidal also offers personalised music recommendations and its ‘High Fidelity’ playlist showcases new tracks with the best quality sound.
Price: Free / £9.99 per month
Deezer has been around longer than Spotify, having launched in 2007, but it has not achieved quite the same success. However, it remains one of the biggest music streaming services available with a huge catalogue to choose from. Free users cannot access this catalogue on their smartphones, though, as you are restricted to radio channels and Deezer’s music recommendations, called Flow.
If you have a tablet, you can listen to unlimited music through the app, but it is supported by ads and you can only skip a few songs per hour. You’re limited to low-quality streaming on both platforms, though, at 128 kbit/s.
For £9.99 a month you can sign up to Premium+, which gives you access to 320 kbit/s of music streaming. Like its rivals, Premium+ lets you download your music to listen to offline, as well as unlimited track skipping on the app. There’s also no annoying adverts to interrupt your tracks, and you can even upload your own songs on Premium+, similar to Google Play Music.
Deezer has now introduced an app for Windows smartphones, which means it’s available to download on all the major mobile devices. It is also the first music streaming service to work with IFTTT, an Internet automation service, which allows you to automatically share your tracks to social media, amongst other features.
Price: £5 per month / £10 per month
Napster gained a reputation in the 90s as the go-to service for downloading free music, somewhat unscrupulously. These days, they’ve taken a more legitimate approach, creating a music streaming service with an enormous catalogue of tracks to choose from. The Napster app is available on Apple, Android and Windows devices, directly competing with Spotify and Deezer.
However, there’s no free option for Napster; only Napster Unlimited at £5 a month and Napster Unlimited Plus Mobile at £10 a month. As the name suggests, only the more expensive option lets you stream music through your smartphone. However, it is still a competitive price against its rivals and offers much the same in the way of features. You can listen to tracks at 320 kbit/s and save your music to listen to offline, without the need for an Internet connection.
As for what makes Napster stand out from the crowd, they’ve managed to secure a number of artists that aren’t available on most streaming services, such as the elusive Taylor Swift.
So, which music streaming app should you choose?
Each music streaming service has its own pros and cons, meaning it’s entirely up to you which one you go for. Spotify is reliable, with lots of artists available and an app that is easy to use and easy on the eyes. The recent ‘Discover Weekly’ feature, which provides a playlist of artists it thinks you’ll like every Monday, is great for finding new music.
However, not all artists are available to listen to on Spotify, usually as a result of royalties’ disputes. Apple Music is still finding its feet in the music streaming world, but the acquisition of artists like Taylor Swift edges it ahead of Spotify, for instance. The ‘For You’ feature rivals Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’, so it is close to call between these two.
Google Play Music offers impressive cloud storage, even for free users, which is a strong selling point for this service. However, not all tracks are available for free, even for paid users, which defeats the purpose of a subscription. Tidal is great for audiophiles and has the lure of exclusivity, but it is heavily focused on R ‘n’ B, rap and hip hop, so if that’s not your thing, it may not be worth the price tag.
Deezer is trying hard to compete with the likes of Spotify and being able to upload your own songs makes it a viable choice for those looking for a change. Finally, Napster offers a lot of the same features as its competitors, but has more artists on offer. The problem may be that they can’t shake the reputation they’ve gained from their first incarnation.