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The INQUIRER Android Experiment: Episode two

The Droids are alive with the sound of music
Tue Jan 07 2014, 16:22
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IT WAS a most musical weekend. I made a rash promise for my first challenge that I would create some music and upload it to Soundcloud. I haven't quite finished it yet, though I promise to post it when I do.

However, music is a subject close to my heart, having worked in the industry for a long time, so over the weekend I've been looking at different aspects of the music experience on Android.

Of course, trying to talk about music playback on Android without mentioning Google Play Music (free) and Amazon MP3 (free) would be remiss. However, I've already hit on something of a snag. While both offer excellent stores for buying digital music, and adequate players for playing it on, what of your existing music collection? In both cases, there is presently no facility for uploading your precious Kylie discography to their servers. There continue to be rumours that it's coming, but then there have been rumours of a followup to World of Goo - one of the finest games ever - for years and that hasn't happened either. In short, at the moment it's use Windows or prepare to start your music collection again.

And you will note I said "adequate players". Neither player is anything special. Compare them to an app like Poweramp (free with optional pro features), which at its best can stand up against desktop players, or Jukefox (free), which takes things to the next level by intelligently categorising your music into playlists automatically, or Cubed, a dark horse of a player that's so beautiful you just want to give it a big hug, and you realise just how far the cloud players have to go. If only they would open up their APIs so we could access our cloud music through the player of our choice. Maybe one day.

And so I have a problem, since I spend a lot of time organising my music. I had 75,000 mp3s at last count, most in 320kbps format. The capacity for these things isn't there on Android devices, and if there was, apps designed for management of them is certainly not. Jukefox for example boasts that it is for "large collections (more than 20 albums)". Bless. I had to laugh.

I've been a DJ for 20 years, though never a very good one. My attitude, even in my heyday, was squarely one of "get drunk, play records, mix badly, threaten to sacrifice kittens if anyone asks me for a request". I have been a laptop jock for a decade of that, so it matters to me whether or not I can do the same on Android. Trendy bars in Hoxton seem to have their share of iPad jocks, and I'm pleased to say that I have managed to do the same. The Griffin DJ cable is now compatible with some Android packages. I'm using DJ Studio (free and premium versions available) and it more or less does what it says on the tin. It's no substitute for vinyl, but the tactile nature of a touchscreen is a lot more realistic than the mouse and cursor experience I've battled with in recent years. The cable, incidentally, allows you to split the output from your phone so you can prefade music in your headphones, which is essential for the beatmatching that I am terrible at anyway.

If you're feeling more adventurous, I might add that the iRig range, which includes a guitar preamp, professional microphone and mixing desk, has gained Android compatibility in recent months. You can try the iRig App (free) now, with premium options available when you're feeling brave as a bedroom composer.

My efforts have been more synthetic, and I shall return to them when my composing challenge is complete. In the meantime, my first full working week of the Android Experiment begins in earnest. The Asus Transformer Pad is still winning for me as my device of choice, but this week I am expecting loans of a few new devices to try. This is important to me, because, as well as being a new operating system, Android presents a new range of hardware. It's not all about the apps, you know.

Here's to more adventures in the world of Android. If you'd like to join in, recommend apps or hardware, or set me a challenge, you can post comments below in Disqus - I do read them! - or tweet @INQ with the hashtag #INQAndroid. µ


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