As one of the core Apple iOS apps, the Music application or artist formerly known as the iPod app, does a fairly good job when it comes to music playback. While it received a new coat of paint, the app is largely the same in iOS 6. One of the great advantages of using an iOS device as your media player is that you are not tied to using one music player. Here are the best alternate music apps in iOS for iPhone and iPad.
Track 8 Review
While a good number of Apple enthusiasts, my podcast partner included, will chuckle at the mere mention of a Zune product, what often gets lost in the dialog is the beauty of the metro interface. The Zune is no more, but the software lives on in Windows Phone and now in iOS with Track 8.
The interface is beautiful and overall a pretty faithful reproduction. I’d be first to say that the beauty of iOS development is how Apple provides tools that helped to deliver a certain level of consistency to apps look and feel. Track 8 looks nothing like an iOS applications, so that might be a drawback for some. All of the music from your Music app is available here and presented by the familiar categories: songs, artists, albums and playlists. One glaring omission is the lack of support for podcasts, but then again even Apple’s own Music app has kicked Podcasts out into their own app. If you do listen to podcasts, might I recommend this show. There are no icons, instead relying on beautifully crafted typeface, which you tap on to get around. You can customize your background shifting from dark to light and change your accent color to one of 10 colors.
As you start to listen to music, sliding to the right will reveal large cover art that represents your listening history and most played. I swear it’s not me listening to Kelly Clarkson, but my 1 year old daughter. On the Zune software, you could pin songs to a Now Playing list. This would be a great feature to add to a future version of Track 8. You can still create Playlists within the Music app, which would be accessible in Track 8, but it wouldn’t get top billing alongside Artists, Songs, Albums and Playlists.
One major contrast between the stock Music app and Track 8 is how you navigate your lists. The Music app requires you slide your finger along the right side of the display to shuffle from A-Z. In this app, you tap on a category, which will bring up titles starting with A. Tap on the ‘A’ and it brings up the alphabet, so you can quickly and reliably zip on over to any letter. I’ve personally found the slider in the Music app to be a wonky solution, that is outclassed by this simple, yet effective method.
In playback mode, you’ll enjoy large cover art and simple controls often found in any music app. Swiping the album art will move you to the next track in your list. If you tap on the menu at right, the now playing art will slide down and reveal your current category or list. If you are in a playlist, those songs are listed, whereas in Music you are provided other songs from that artist and album. Songs in iTunes Match are represented by a cloud icon. Tap the arrow and you are back in now playing. Track 8 also offers Twitter integration, along with support for last.fm.
Another carryover from the Zune software is the active caching of background images for artists in your music collection. This adds a level of personalization that I’ve found to provide a more immersive music experience. The music sounds no different, but Track 8 makes your music player come alive with full bleed images of the artists you love.
This app isn’t without its faults. The history tab doesn’t refresh as often as I’d like and navigating back from a song within playlists can be cumbersome.
Track 8 is visually appealing, easy to navigate and a breath of fresh air when compared to Apple’s Music app.
Ecoute is another worthy contender when considering Music app alternatives. This app looks and feels as though you’re looking at the default player if it had evolved. You have the familiar categories across the top row, but sliding right reveals all of the others, so you don’t feel as though some are left out unnecessarily. Ecoute has a number of neat tricks that offers great appeal to power users. Tap and hold any of the categories offers the ability to Play or enter Shuffle mode. Like the stock app, you can also reorder categories. What’s great is that while you are restricted to 5 categories, plus search, sliding to the right allows access to others. In the Music app, you have to tap more and then tap on the category. That approach now feels a bit clumsy when compared to Ecoute.
As you navigate through the app, the song which is now playing occupies a small bar at the bottom of the display. Dragging the bar up will bring a full screen Now Playing.
For some reason, you cannot rate an app, although it displays the rating. The menu button at the top right will provide other tracks from the same album and not the playlist like Track 8. Sliding it down will dock the Now Playing, revealing the main interface. When you tap and hold the bar, it will bring up a tear drop audio scrubber, so you can move through different parts of by dragging. Repeat and Shuffle are also options here.
Album art is heavily displayed throughout Ecoute when browsing Artists, Albums and Playlists. One the larger iPhone 5 display, you can view 16 albums on the screen at once. In addition to the navigation bar at the top, there is always a search option displayed. The app has a decided focus on providing improvements to navigating your music and it’s hard not to appreciate it. Like the Music app, tapping and sliding at the right hand side of the screen will bring up a scroller that allows you to quickly jump through A-Z and overall I found it to be smoother than Apple’s app.
At the core of this app is how you browse your music, which is often by alphabetical order, but with the addition of vibrant cover art. Tap on any album cover will render a gorgeous pop up with tracks and the option to simply shuffle songs on that particular album. Like mentioned above, tap and hold will also allow for either.
The combination of appealing GUI elements and neatly performed navigation tricks makes Ecoute a winner, an app that could easily find its way to becoming your default music player on your iPhone or iPod touch.
Both of these apps work similarily in that they both work in unison with the Music app behind the scenes. If you launch either and start playback, you’ll still have the same controls in the lock screen or by swiping right when engaging multitasking. There is something comforting knowing that the ole standby is there, should you need it. If you are looking for alternatives to the music app in iOS, both Track 8 and Ecoute are feature rich, low-cost options with each offering visually stunning representation of your music collection coupled with intuitive navigation.