The way we consume music has changed a lot in the last few years, as more and more people transition to streaming their music instead of buying it outright. If one service has become emblematic of that shift, it’s Spotify. With over 230 million users, 100 million of which are premium users, Spotify is the most popular music streaming platform around… unless you count YouTube.
With a comprehensive and straightforward user experience, regardless of which platform you use it on, Spotify is the first choice of many when searching for a streaming solution, but how does it stack up?
Editor’s Note: This review was updated March 4, 2020 with information about Spotify’s new Duo subscription option.
How to get Spotify
It’s easy to get Spotify, whether you pay for it or not. The service offers apps for every kind of device and operating system, whether it be Windows, Android, macOS, or iOS. Simply go to Spotify’s website, or the device’s appropriate app store, and download the app. However, to use the service, all you have to do is create an account, or link a Google or Facebook account. You can even just stream from Spotify’s website, if you’d rather not have one more app to manage.
How much does Spotify cost?
With any streaming service, music or otherwise, the money question often factors prominently into the structure of the service. Spotify offers free and premium services, and depending on the devices you use, you may never need to spend a dime on it.
On Windows or MacOS, you can use the complete service for free. Listen to as many songs or podcasts as you like, create endless playlists, and take advantage of Spotify’s often impressive discovery algorithm—all it will cost you is the time it takes to occasionally hear an ad or two.
Once you get into the mobile apps, the free experience becomes a little narrower in scope. You can only play liked songs playlists on shuffle, and you only get so many skips per day.
Spotify’s premium offering will run you $9.99 per month, and takes all those restrictions away. The mobile experience falls more in line with the desktop one, and a number of additional features unlock. Additionally, Spotify is rolling out a new Duo subscription, which gets you two premium accounts for one subscription that’ll run you $12.99 a month—a pretty good deal if you’re down to share. Duo’s only available in Canada currently, but no doubt it’ll eventually come to other countries.
What can you find on Spotify?
Spotify’s music selection is pretty staggering—according to the company, it includes more than 50 million tracks. Whether you’re looking for today’s top pop hits, or a niche band from your hometown that only released an EP a few years ago, there’s a good chance you can find it. Even major acts notoriously protective of the rights to their music have made it to the service, like Prince or The Beatles.
Non-English music can sometimes be a little harder to find, but most major acts will likely be on the service. Here in Canada, there’s an exceedingly wide variety of Francophone music, and up and coming international acts like Mdou Moctar were readily accessible too.
On top of music, Spotify also recently added support for podcasts, and the selection is similarly expansive. Chances are, if there’s a show you download from iTunes or Google Podcasts, it’ll be available to stream on Spotify. All the big podcasts are there, whether you’re looking for mainstream hits like Serial or WTF with Marc Maron, live play podcasts like Critical Role and the Adventure Zone, or explainers like Twenty Thousand Hertz and Reply All.
For a brief hopeful moment, Spotify even started adding comics to its stable of content. However, the service’s addition of six Archie motion comics turned out to be promotion the CW’s Riverdale, done in partnership with Nerdist. You can still watch/read them, but don’t expect to see Superman or Captain America popping up anytime soon.
If you’re jonesing for some comics goodness, there are a host of scripted Marvel podcasts available to stream, including the excellent series Wolverine: The Long Night.
What’s it like to use Spotify?
Given how much content it offers, using Spotify is remarkably straightforward. In the desktop app everything is laid out plainly. Three main navigation options sit on the left—Home, Browse, and Radio. Beneath that, you can scroll through the various parts of the Your Library and Your playlists sections. And that’s about it for navigation—let’s have a look what you’ll run into in each section.
The Home section offers a bog-standard landing page for any service like Spotify. On it you’ll find popular, official playlists featuring big hits in popular genres like hip-hop and country, as well as the biggest hits for the country you’re streaming from. Scrolling down past that, the Home page offers a smattering of algorithmically generated playlists made of songs you’ve liked and listened to a lot, as well as lists of what you’ve been listening to recently. Past that, there are new playlist and artist recommendations based on the kinds of music you’ve been listening to.
Whether you’re using mobile or desktop, the Home page essentially offers a summary of your Spotify experience, with a little of what you’ve and a little of what you might be looking for.
The Browse tab is similarly straightforward. Across the top of the page, there are options to look for music based on genre, release date, popularity, and more. The main Browse page displays an assortment of categories off the bat, from genres like rock, hip-hop, and K-pop, to moods like chill, dinner, or summer. The mobile app rolls everything Browse has to offer into the search tab, but it functions basically the same, with thumbnails for genres and moods. It’s all pretty self-explanatory, at least until you get to the Discover tab.
Discover is one the more interesting features of Spotify, and it gets better the more you use it. Essentially, Discover is where all the algorithm-based recommendations Spotify comes up with live. On the page, there are all sorts of lists of artists and albums generated based on what you’re listening too. At the top of the page rests the crown jewel of Spotify’s recommendation system, the Discover playlist. Each week, the playlist refreshes with singles culled from your recommendations, all rolled together in one place.
Through my very long time using Spotify, the Discover playlist has grown from seemingly random recommendations to an indispensable tool for finding new music. However, this really depends on listening to a wide variety of music over a pretty lengthy period of time. In my experience, there are are just as many people who view the discover playlist like I do, as people who who listen exclusively to Lamb of God, Iron Maiden, and a smattering of Euro house music, and finds Discover completely useless.
If you already know exactly what you like, and you’re not looking for anything other than that, Discover probably won’t do much for you. You can always just use the search function to find the bands you want—it works well and shouldn’t let you down. For everyone else, a little diligence in building out a listening history can pay dividends.
The Radio section works much like other music streaming radio functions, and it can be just as useful as the Discover page for finding new music. The page displays playlists of music similar to the songs and artists you’ve recently listened to. So if you’re in the market for stuff that sounds like other stuff you’re already listening too, this is a great place for that.
The Your Library section is exactly what it sounds like. Every song on the service displays a little heart icon next to its name, and clicking it sends the song to your Liked Songs page. Spotify recently renamed this page—it was Your Songs—for some reason, but it still functions the same. The Albums, Podcasts, and Artists pages function basically the same as the Liked Songs page, only for albums, podcast, and artists—go figure.
Also in the Your Library section is the Local Files page, which lets you listen to your downloaded music from outside Spotify through Spotify’s interface.
The playlists section plays host to all the playlists you’ve created, as well as the ones you’ve added to your library.
Creating a playlist is easy—click the New Playlist button, enter a title, and you’re good to go. The button is on the left in the desktop app, and at the top of the Your Library tab of the mobile app. From then on, all it takes is right clicking a song, or tapping the three dots next to the name, and adding to your playlist.
Adding someone else’s playlist to your library is just as easy, just go to the playlist, tap the three dots by the name, and hit either Add to Library in the desktop app or Follow on mobile. Additionally, you can even save a playlist to the home screen of your phone for even faster access on mobile.
If you’re more interested in creating a playlist that draws from more than one person, you can also create collaborative playlists, which are open for additions from other Spotify users. Likewise, you can add songs to other people’s collaborative playlists, too.
Using Spotify across platforms
As I mentioned earlier, Spotify works on just about every device under the sun, from your laptop, to your phone, to your Playstation 4. If you’re a premium subscriber (more on that in a bit), the mobile app can do everything the desktop one can, and often the two can work in tandem. Whatever version of Spotify you’re using, a Devices Available button sits just to the right of the playback controls, and lets you swap between whatever devices are currently running the app using your account.
You can only play music one device at a given time, but this isn’t inherently a bad thing. If you’re standing across a room from your computer playing music, you can use the app on your phone as a remote to change the song. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it can be handy if you’re feeling lazy—or if you want to prank a someone in another room.
Is Premium worth it?
Depending on how you plan to use Spotify, upgrading to premium can offer a pretty significant improvement in your experience. Premium brings a swath of additional features, like 320Kbps streaming, downloading music for offline listening, and of course, you can stream as much ad-free music as you like.
If that sounds a little light for $9.99, frankly, it is. If you’re primarily a PC user of Spotify, getting rid of the ads is probably the biggest reason to get premium. The real value comes from the mobile side.
|Streaming Service||Max Mobile Quality (kb/s)||Max Desktop Quality(kb/s)||Supported Formats|
|Amazon Music HD||320||3,730||FLAC|
|Tidal||320||1,411||FLAC, ALAC, AAC|
|Google Play Music||320||320||MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, or ALAC|
The free version of Spotify on mobile, in a word: sucks. You can stream music just fine, but get very little control over which songs you hear. Playlists and your liked songs list are locked to shuffle mode, and you can only skip songs a handful of times per hour. The limited skips wouldn’t be so much of a problem if you were just listening to an album you really like, but when it’s all on shuffle, you never know when a song you’re just not in the mood for will pop up.
A premium subscription brings the mobile experience more in line with the desktop app. The app allows for all the normal controls over music and song selection, along with the additional features mentioned earlier. In fact, those features, particularly being able to download songs, are especially useful on mobile.
Being able to download songs (rather than stream them over a mobile network) makes Premium extremely useful for anyone without an unlimited data plan—especially runners and other outdoor exercisers. It’s rather uncommon for computers, even laptops, to spend a lot of time without a steady internet connection, so the streaming vs. downloading issue is less pertinent with the desktop experience.
|Digital Service Provider||$ Per Stream|
|24/7 Entertainment GmbH||$0.01050|
|Amazon Digital Services Inc.||$0.00395|
|YouTube Content ID||$0.00028|
Source: The Trichordist
Additionally, if you’re someone who values the artists they like, Spotify notably pays more per-stream when the person listening is a premium user. Given how much (or how little) Spotify’s per-stream payout is on average, that can mean a lot. Take a look at how it stacks up:
Should you get Spotify?
These days there are a lot of streaming services competing for your attention. ITunes is rapidly converting to Apple Music. Google Play Music still, somehow, exists (and it’s very good). Even Youtube offers a service for if you’re looking for something of a more visual persuasion. However, Spotify still offers the best deal around. Its playlist sharing and collaboration features are more extensive, and more straightforward than its competitors. It offers no-ad streaming to Premium users, along with a host of other convenient features.
To me, the question isn’t whether you should get Spotify—that’s a given—it’s whether springing for Premium is worth it. If you’re primarily a PC user, a lot of the additional premium features don’t really bring a lot to the experience. It really depends on your tolerance for ads.
If you’re primarily a mobile user, the value proposition of a premium subscription gets whole lot better. The free version of Spotify on mobile is frustrating on a good day, and Premium elevates it to excellence. While needing to pay to get the same experience on mobile as you can get for free on PC doesn’t feel great, it’s hard to stay mad at a service as good as Spotify Premium.