Choose the right mobile phone
What do you want most out of a phone?
In the same way that video killed the radio star, smart phones are seeing off the humble MP3 player. In the UK last year sales of MP3 players dropped by more than a fifth. It's not hard to see why, as smart phones usually make much better music players than dedicated MP3 devices.
Audio formats Smart phones can handle a wide range of digital audio formats and if a format isn't supported by your phone's native music-playing app -- the lossless Flac format, for example -- you can usually just download an app that does play those files. The large screens on today's smart phones mean they can display high-resolution album art, lyrics and other information related to the music you're playing.
Smart phones generally produce pretty good quality audio too, and many come with audio-enhancement software onboard. Many of HTC's Android and Windows Phone handsets, for example, have Beats Audio built-in that adds a bit more bass back into compressed MP3 tracks, while other companies use Dolby Headphone or other similar sound-enhancement technologies.
Lots of storage If you want to store your own library of tunes on your phone it's important to choose one with lots of memory. Today's mid-range and high-end handsets tend to have 8 or 16GB of storage space built-in. Apple's iPhones don't have memory card slots, but most Android devices and some Windows Phone models do, allowing you to add lots more storage for relatively little cost via cheap memory cards. A 32GB microSD card, for example, costs as little as £15 online.
More and more of us are relying on online services for our music listening pleasure, however, so it's important to pick a phone with support for the best music services. No matter whether you just want to buy tracks on a one by one basis, or sign up to a subscription service so you can stream music on the go, most smart phones have something to offer you.
On-phone music stores The biggest online music store in the world is currently Apple's iTunes. With iTunes you can buy and download music right on your iPhone. Unlike some rivals, however, Apple doesn't currently offer a subscription streaming service. You'll find similar music stores on other platforms. On Android, the Play Store has a music section where you can purchase individual songs or whole albums. Google also offers a free cloud-based locker service on its Google Music app. You upload a maximum of 20,000 songs from your PC to the cloud and then stream them to your phone via the app. Google currently doesn't offer a Spotify-style subscription service, but reports suggest it may launch one later in 2013.
Microsoft includes a music download service as part of the Windows Phone Store. As with iTunes and Google Play, you can purchase individual tracks or whole albums. On Nokia's Windows Phone handsets, however, you also get to use Nokia Music. This gives you access to streaming radio channels covering lots of different music genres. These streams are free to play and you can also skip forwards a limited number times per day if you don't like certain songs in the stream. Nokia has also just introduced Nokia Music+, which costs £3.40 per month and allows you to cache songs on your phone and also skip an unlimited number of tracks.
Subscription-based music streaming The music service that has most recently captured the zeitgeist is Spotify. It offers its users unlimited access to a massive library of tunes that can be downloaded or streamed to phones via the Spotify app. It's available on a wide range of devices too, as there are apps for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone handsets (there isn't a version available for BlackBerry 10 phones, at time of publication). Spotify costs £10 per month for the subscription that works with mobiles.
One alternative to Spotify is Napster. The company was recently snapped up by Rhapsody, the American music service. Like Spotify it gives you unlimited access to a massive library of music for £10 per month, but is only available for the iPhone and Android phones -- there are currently no BlackBerry or Windows Phone apps. Rdio is another streaming service in a similar vein. It was founded by the same people who set up Skype and has been running since 2010. There are native apps for Apple, Android and Windows Phone, but BlackBerry users can also access the services via their phone's browser.
If ferreting out new music is your thing then Last.fm is a must have, and we don't just say this because it's owned by CNET's parent company CBS. Last.fm is essentially a free streaming music service, but the clever bit is that it builds up a profile of the type of tracks and artists that you like and then uses this profile to suggest new music you might want to listen to. Last.fm apps are available across iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry OSes.
Wishlist of recommended services:
- Google Play
- Google Music
- Nokia Music