Subsonic, Cut the Cord!
Rating: 4 / 5
Stream and download music from your home computer to your Android phone. All your music - anywhere, anytime! Supports streaming, downloading, playlists, album art and searching. For improved performance, music you have listened to is cached on the phone. An offline mode is also available for when you are outside 3G/Wifi coverage.
- Access all your music anywhere you have an internet connection (3g/4g/wifi)
- Local caching (to listen to music off the net)
- Support for virtually any format (via transcoding)
- Album art support
- Extremely fast performance for large libraries
- Last.FM integration
- Podcast subscription support
- Quick categories (New, Random, Highest Rated, Recently Played)
- User accounts to limit access and administrative functions
- Requires "server" at home (some may be put off by this)
- Fine grain tuning of server must be done from web interface
- First few minutes of songs may be choppy (as music is downloaded)
- Playlist creation/management needs major improvement
- Weak searching capabilities (where is my genre?!)
- Where is my widget?!
The Android Subsonic client is not without some unpolished edges. There are things that can improve, and the author has shown that improvements are being made even in its short lifespan. If you have a large music library, save yourself the hassle of keeping your music synced. Who needs wires when you have a software server/client combination like this? Since using Subsonic, I have access to all of my music as I travel for business, work at the office, or hang around at the beach with the friends and family. Do yourself a favor, and get rid of the old habit of "syncing" your music with cables. Cut the cord! Let your Android free.
The Long Winded Proof
Certain habits can become burdensome without a person realizing this transformation has taken place. In the early 2000s, many of us shrugged off the hassle of carryings cds and moved to mp3 players. Now, some of us music hounds spend a fair amount of time trying to decide which mp3s will "make the cut" and jump onto our phones when we are away from home. I am a firm believer, like many, that software and technology should either entertain us or improve our efficiency. And, sometimes, you hit the rare diamond quarry that let's you do both. Subsonic is that diamond quarry.
Now, a finely cut diamond doesn't just come out of the ground. It takes a lot of work, a lot of shaping, and a lot of marketing (seriously they suckered all our women!) to get it to the consumer. I feel that this third ingredient is lacking for Subsonic and it's creator. Had I not randomly stumbled onto the Subsonic website a few months ago, I would still be twiddling my fingers an hour or so each week trying to decide what music to pop onto my phone for the upcoming week. Ah, yes, folks. This beautiful service that is Subsonic is for music collections, not paltry "music downloads" or "mp3s"; this software really achieves its intended purpose for massively large music catalogues. I must warn those who dare to enter; if you can sync your entire collection onto your phone right now, there is nothing for you here.
It would be a disservice to the readers to imply that the Android Subsonic client is just some magical tool that installs and connects to your music library, at home, without any setup. In point of fact, Subsonic for Android is just a client that connects to your (or someone else's, for that matter) Subsonic server. The Subsonic server software itself is easy to install, and the author of the software provides alot of great information on the Subsonic home site
. There are many different ways to configure this software, and the functionality is beyond the scope (and goal) of this review, but I provide some simple functional points, for its benefit:
- Standalone server application(easy) or integrate with existing web server like Apache (advanced)
- User Account management lets you give finer grain access to library (share with friends!)
- Management of Podcast subscriptions
- Management of multiple library locations (directories) on your machine
- Support virtually any audio format via the use of transcoders
- Support virtually all popular image formats for album art
- Browser based music player!
I will not go into the details of the server software here, since our focus is the Android client, but I will say one thing: This piece of software, even without the phone client, is awesome.
The server side software might take a few minutes to get setup, but configuring your client is a breeze. Enter the url, your username and password, and you are set. You can save up to 3 locations (servers) for quick access. The settings also give you the ability to switch between a dark or light theme, depending on your preference. Finally, you can clear out the music cache (everything you have downloaded or listened to thus far).
Look and Feel
I was toying around with the subtitle of "Function over Form" as nobody can deny the Android Subsonic client is very barebones. This is not a bad thing, but it is not a good thing either. The interface is plain and simple, but intuitive. The author uses very basic icons, and a clean white/gray look (you can switch between two "themes" to toggle a black background). If the color scheme (yes, I am going there) was a bit more polished and thought out, one could describe it as elegant. Note, though, that the app has gone through a few updates since I have used it, and it only gets better each time. If the author is focusing on functionality enhancements over aesthetics at this point, that is fine with me.
As mentioned earlier, the Android subsonic client is very simple. It does what it sets out to do, connects to your Subsonic server. The application is divided into 5 major areas, or sections:
The home screen gives you quick access to 4 major functions. It lets you quickly select among 1 of 3 saved Subsonic servers or the locally cached files. It gives you access to the basic application settings, to setup the aforementioned server addresses and credentials. The home screen also gives you access to a very basic "help" screen. The most useful feature, that was added in the latest update, is a "quick category" list. This listing allows the user to access music on the server that fall under the following categories: Newest, Random, Highest Rated, Recently Played, Frequently Played. These categories are a welcome addition, since there is no real playlist management built into the application.
What Could Improve
The application does not make use of the Android stock buttons (at least, not on my Droid), and I see this as a possible improvement. The server configuration and selection could just be "hidden" by making use of the standard Android menu button. Granted, this might not be available on all phones, but I think more focus on the "quick categories" mentioned above could improve the navigability of the application. A "Shuffle Library" or "Genre" menu item would do wonders here.
This is a basic access point to all of your music, on your Subsonic server. The list loads quickly, even with hundreds of artists, so you can't ask for more in the performance department. I especially like the fact that the initial grouping follows your server directory setup (other music players, take note!). Scrolling through the artist library gives you access to a quick scrollbar. You can select an artist and drop down into the listing of albums, complete with album art. Long pressing an album gives you the ability to immediately play the entire album. Alternatively, you can drop one level lower and work with the individual tracks. This allows you to play, queue, download, and delete (if locally cached) selected songs.
What Could Improve
The basic navigation of your library is present, and you can not fault it for giving you quick access to your music. But, I would like to see the "long press" menus provide options for "queue" and "random/shuffle play" for an individual album/folder. Also, the quick scroll bar is only accessible on the initial list, but not on the album or song list (I believe the order depends on your directory structure). 90% of the time, this last point is not an issue, but with some anthology/compilation albums, it can be a hassle to scroll all the way down through a large amount of song titles or albums. Another nice-to-have would be an option to "add to playlist" for albums, artists, and songs.
There is not much to say here. You get a basic text search which, from what I can tell, only searches song titles. Nonetheless, the search is fast, and the title list that is provided allows you to select/download/queue/play just like a normal album song list.
What Could Improve
It is hard to truly request improvement here because if the basic Music navigation suggestions above were implemented, then the current search would be completely sufficient. It is really a matter of design choice. Either improve navigation options or improve search. There is no real reason to do both, in my opinion.
You get a nice image of the album art, and the pertinent information for your track. You can skip forward or backward, pause/play, and view your currently queued songs. A nice thing about the queue is that it proceeds to download all the tracks on your queue, even if the music is paused. That was brilliant. Again, basic in features, but it does what it advertises. There is noticeable "skip" when you initially load songs, but this is more an environment/configuration issue (slow connection or too high bitrate).
What Could Improve
My only suggestion is to allow queues to be saved as playlists. This single option would be much appreciated, and extremely useful for quick "mixes" when you have a get together.
A very nice feature of the Subsonic client is the ability download songs from your Subsonic server to your Android device. This occurs by default as you listen to music, but you can also access the functionality from any list of songs. The beauty of this feature is that you can select "Offline" as your "server" and play these downloaded tracks from your device. You can clear the cache of music via the application settings as well.
What Could Improve
Nothing. Just having this functionality is a huge nice-to-have-and-glad-i-do. Weak or no signal? Switch to offline mode. Want to listen to the same few albums? Play them from your device. Just awesome.
For all the nitpicking I have done, I have to say that the Android Subsonic client does what it intends to do, and, most importantly, it does it well. It allows you to unshackle your Android device from your desktop (not that Android users had that problem, unlike another, ahem, platform). The navigation is easy, if a bit clumsy. In the short time I have had it, the author has updated several times, and each time has brought improvement. I can not fault it for the suggestions above, as these are ideals I would want in any media application. Subsonic has one goal in mind, and the rest is just a big fat plus in my book.