Whether you're a fan of singing in the rain, hanging out somewhere under a rainbow or simply rolling down the street, sipping on Coke or juice, a new generation of mobile music apps is making it easier than ever to soothe the savage breast while on the run. While conducting research for our new Streaming Music Services report, I found five services' music apps consistently bubbling to the top of expert recommendations. Two even offer unlimited tunage for free!
Keep in mind, however, that while you're walking down the street nailing a sweet air guitar solo and listening to Jimi Hendrix, all that streaming music is eating away at your 3G/4G mobile data allotment. I will outline how much data these mobile apps actually use in an upcoming post. Now on to the tunes!
Spotify (free app with $10 per month premium subscription plan; iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Phone, Palm, BlackBerry)
Spotify's music catalog is one of the biggest around, and the service's mobile phone apps drops all those songs into your pocket -- if you have a Premium Spotify subscription. Experts say the interface is a bit messy, but totally functional, and Spotify's mobile apps stream music at 96 or 160 kilobits per second, which is higher quality than most mobile music offerings. The downside to higher-quality tunes is that they chew through data faster than lower-quality tunes. To offset that, Spotify allows users to sync up to 3,333 songs to their phone to make them available for offline use. Spotify is also available on the iPad.
MOG (free app with $10 per month premium subscription plan; iOS phones and tablets, Android phones and tablets)
MOG's mobile apps blow away critics; the service's iPad app and Android app are given the crown as the best streaming music apps on their respective platforms by TechCrunch.com and Tested.com, respectively. MOG's apps are polished, intuitive and customized for the individual platforms. This top-rated streaming music service streams at 64 kbps by default, but you can override that setting to stream music at a whopping 320 kbps if you're on 4G or Wi-Fi. That'll chew up data fast, but MOG's apps give you the ability to cache an unlimited number of songs for offline use. Unlike Spotify, it's also available for the vast majority of tablets.
Rdio (free app with $10 per month premium subscription plan; iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, select BlackBerry devices)
The attractive, colorful interface of Rdio's mobile apps lead most critics to give it the edge over Spotify's offerings, but most still prefer MOG's apps slightly better overall. Rdio distinguishes itself with its robust social sharing and collaboration options. If you like playing with others, Rdio is the service for you. The Rdio apps give you full streaming access to the service's 15 million-plus songs as well as the ability to cache and unlimited number of songs for offline listening.
Slacker Radio (free; iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm)
Slacker Radio is not only available on more mobile operating systems than its competitors, it's also completely free. The mobile app gives you unlimited access to Slacker Radio's top-rated streaming radio-style music stations, though you'll have to suffer through the occasional audio and video ads to get it. Upping to a Slacker Radio Plus subscription unlocks an offline listening mode, adds radio stations from ESPN and ABC and ditches the ads, while top-tier Slacker Radio Premium subscribers can listen to any of Slacker's tracks on-demand. Reviewers love Slacker's mobile interface, but it only streams at 64 kbps.
Pandora (free; Android, iPhone/iPod touch, Palm, select BlackBerry devices)
Sound quality is an Achilles heel for Pandora's apps, as well -- they also top out at 64 kbps -- but the Pandora apps draw rave reviews for their clean, slick interface and completely free and unlimited radio-style listening. Pandora's music catalog isn't nearly as deep as the others', but it does a better job of delivering music tailored just for you thanks to its "Music Genome Project" algorithm, which learns what musical elements you like and dislike as you rate songs. Virtually everyone says it's the best way to find new music. On the downside, ads are a frequent interruption, and there's no offline cache mode available, so if you lose Internet access in the deep woods or the desert, you lose your tunes, too.
Want to see how the full offerings -- not just the apps -- from these streaming music services stack up against one another? Check out our brand new streaming music service report to see which one is right for you. We have reviews of MOG, Rdio, Slacker, Spotify, Pandora and more.