Thursday, August 23, 2012

iPhone App Review: Albums

"Albums is a really good iPhone music app geared towards album-listeners"

What It Is

Albums (Albums Music Player on App Store) is a new music player app for iPhone that aims to be used by people who listen to albums rather than individual songs. Instead of explaining the philosophy myself, I'll quote what the developer, Adam, said to me:

"Albums is kind of a niche thing. For the vast majority of users the music player included with iOS is great. Most people only listen to a couple of tracks per album, buy singles, and listen to playlists or play queues. I'm an album listener though. I buy albums and most of the music I listen to is "epic" music that you are supposed to sit down and listen to all the way through. For me the iOS music app isn't very good. I developed Albums to meet my needs as an album lover. For people like me it is really great."
Cost: $1.99 (as of the time of writing)
Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch

Note: The app was tested on an iPad 2. So the screenshots in this article may have weird resolution and text blur.

The Good

Attractive and natural-feeling interface

The interface of Albums alone makes it a notch better than the bare-boned Music app on iOS 5 (called iPod on older versions of iOS). However, it’s not an alternative for everyone. More on this later.

Albums looks good, simply put. It's no Paper by FiftyThree and it's no Flipboard or Alien Blue. But it's not as bland as the stock Music app on iPhone.

When the songs list button is tapped under the album art, the artwork curls up like a page. The Crate Diver feature, which lets you pull out random albums actually has a music album crate at the bottom of the screen which spouts out random albums onto a wooden shelf. It’s a pleasant move away from the stock Music app.

Nicely optimized for album-listeners

Tapping any album artwork from the main screen starts playing the first song and then every consecutive song rather than displaying a list to pick from. Emphasis is put on album-listening as a whole. Even the shuffle feature (called Crate Diver) pulls out random albums instead of shuffling songs that most apps do.

Organization and serendipity features

I like how organization and management features in Albums are completely independent.

Albums has Collections. You simply create a collection of albums that you want to group - for whatever reasons. Like listening to all your 8-bit and chiptune tracks while playing video games? Like listening to all your classical albums when studying? You can simply create a Collection to group them and keep them together. Want to remove an album, swipe and delete. It’s simple and intuitive and it’s great that way.

Crate Diver is also a pretty interesting feature. It helps you when you are indecisive. There’s a music crate at the bottom of the screen. You just swipe up from it and completely random albums fly out onto wooden shelves. These albums are mere suggestions. They don’t create new playlists or anything like that. Tap an album you like and it starts playing. Come back to Crate Diver and it’s completely empty again.

Can be used with the stock app

Albums is a minimalist app. It provides a simple and attractive interface for album lovers. The good thing is that it integrates with iTunes (even iTunes Match!) and has all your music already. It’s not a third-party app or service. It has the music you have already synced to your library. It even updates your play counts!

You can use the Music app alongside Albums. When you want to listen to individual songs or anything like that, use the built-in app. When in the mood for albums, start up Albums!

The Bad

Sort of feature-bare and simplistic

Albums is very simplistic and minimalist. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I like the way it is not tied to anything else (except for iTunes integration, which is awesome).

However, it is missing several key features that an iTunes-integrated music app should have. For example, there is no way to sort albums by rating. You can sort albums by artist, but you can't see any more metadata if you want. There's the manually created and independent Collections feature, but no way to sort by genres set in iTunes. You cannot even rate songs or albums from the app. You can do this in Music, of course, and you can use both apps together.

Additionally, Albums does not show progress in a song that’s currently playing and neither does it let you skip around inside a song. You have the Next and Previous buttons, but you cannot fast forward etc. There’s no way to scrub, basically.

No iPad version

While I don’t listen to music on my iPad at all (and many people don’t), Albums could have had a good iPad version. I can see it happening. If you’re an album-junkie with a large-storage iPad, you’re stuck with the iPhone app on your iPad.

But in this FAQ, Adam says that there can be an iPad version at some point if there is enough interest for it, though.