The HTC Dream Android phone (elsewhere known as the G1) arrived in Australia recently, and I've had mine for about a month now. I have been an enthusiastic user of palmtops, organizers, PDAs and smartphones since the late 80s, and this one is very nice, though the battery could last a little longer, and it sometimes feels more sluggish than it should.
This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which has moved on to a new format in 2010. We'll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each week.
The iPhone broke exciting new ground in the smartphone space, and Android - an operating system developed by Google - follows strongly in that tradition. At this stage, in terms of both hardware and software, the iPhone unquestionably comes out on top. But it is Android's philosophy of openness that interests me most, and could open up very interesting possibilities in the future.
Some time ago Joel Falconer reviewed six applications for musicians on the iPhone. How does Android compare as a gadget for musicians?
For me, the best use of a device this size for a musician is as a media player. And this area clearly demonstrates the difference between the iPhone and Android philosophies.
The iPhone comes with iTunes preinstalled, and will not allow any other media player to be released for the iPhone. Android comes with a music player called "Music", but quite a few alternatives are available in the Android Market.
iPhone fans may ask whether any of the alternatives are as good as iTunes. At this stage I think they make a good point. Apple really are at the top of the music game.
Music is Android's native media player. It plays audio, but not video. You can select your music by artist, album, song or playlist, or just shuffle through your entire collection. As you would expect from Google, the search feature is fast, and quite good.
Once you are viewing a list of music, you can scroll through it by sliding your finger, similar to the iPhone. While listening to a song, you can set it as your phone's ringtone from a simple menu entry. The player supports album art, but only if it's inside the MP3s id3 tag.
I understand that in the United States that Music includes access to Amazon's music store, but there is no sign of that on the Australian phone. If you've used it, please let us know how smooth and useful the experience was.
Scrobble Droid. I'm a big fan of the Last.fm social music site, and especially of "scrobbling" my music - having my media players automatically add the music I'm listening to to Last.fm's database. Scrobble Droid adds that functionality to my Dream, but only when I play music through the preinstalled Music app. Another app, aLastFM Player gives me direct access to streaming music from Last.fm from my Android device, including radio stations for artists, friends and recommended songs, and my playlists.
TuneWiki is an alternative media player that displays the songs lyrics while it is playing. Within a few seconds, song lyrics and album art are automatically downloaded from the TuneWiki's database in real time, and in most cases, the lyrics sync with the song, making it easy to sing along. Users can add lyrics to the database if the words to your favorite song are missing.
TuneWiki isn't just a novelty program. Most of the features you need in a media player are present, and it could easily become my music player of choice.
Hang on a minute, I haven't noticed this before. It looks like TuneWiki may be becoming ad-supported. Under the lyrics of the song I'm listening to was an ad in all caps letting me know I can "GET BABES NOW". Now it's advertising ring tones, and now it isn't. Now it's asking if I "Want2 flirt". The ads seem to come and go, but they give me second thoughts about using this app too regularly.
Dog Catcher (Beta) is an excellent pod catcher for Android. I'm a fan of podcasts, and probably spend more time in this program than any other.
I love that I can set it only to download podcasts when the device is plugged in to power (to save battery life) and connected to wireless (to save money on data costs). The program keeps track of where I am up to with each podcast, so that if I stop listening to one podcast to listen to another, it continues on from where I was up to when I return.
Other useful media apps are the preinstalled YouTube app, vTap, which searches several video providers on the Web, LukLuk, which can play audio and video files either from your microSD card or their own online network, and Video Player, which does basically what it says.
Useful for both Android and iPhone is the Shazam music discovery engine, which can identify a song when it hears it, and tell you where you can hear or purchase the song online. MixZing is a different type of music discovery solution. It's a full-featured MP3 player, and recommends songs from its database as you are listening to your music. It sounds similar to the service provided by Last.fm, though I assume Last.fm's recommendations are more accurate due to its larger user base.
I can't imagine recording anything serious on my HTC Dream, but it is a useful device for listening back to a practice session, or capturing lyrics and arrangement ideas when I don't have time to jot them down. Here are some useful recording apps for Android.
DroidRecord is about as simple as it gets. Run the app, and you have a list of previous recordings, and two big buttons: a red one labeled "Record", and a green one labeled "Play".
Livo Recorder describes itself as "a recorder or a Tivo-style 'monitor' to keep an audio history that is ready to capture or extend any time." Unfortunately the demo had expired long before I started writing this article, and I only seem to be able to access the free apps in the Google Market at this time.
Rehearsal Assistant allows you to record your rehearsal, and then record your spoken thoughts and observations about it later. You can stop and start recording many times through the session. Once finished, you can email the session to others.
Note Everything is a handy notebook program. You can create three types of notes: text, paint and voice. Voice notes come with record, play and stop buttons.
Musical Lite contains a metronome, pitch pipe, scrolling three-octave piano, and two-octave full-screen keyboard. The quality of the app seems very high, although playback on the keyboards feels a little laggy (probably the fault of the device, not the app), and you can play only one note at a time. The full version of the app adds a tuner, 128 instrument sounds, and more. Unfortunately I am unable to test it at this time.
Guitar Chordz is a handy guitar chord program, and contains diagrams for major, minor, seventh, and major seventh chords. The "More shapes" button is useful, and shows alternate ways of playing the chord as you move up the neck.
The chord charts are color-coded, with the colors representing which finger to use. When you tap the chord diagram, the chord is played for you. The program also contains a simple guitar tuner, playing the tone for each note in standard guitar tuning.
RockOut is the most fun Android app to play music with. The application contains two guitars (one mellow and one distorted). You strum the strings with your finger, and hear a realistic guitar sound played. The screen is divided into three sections, one for each available chord. The app feels very responsive, and each chord is sampled twice so that you can play upstrokes and downstrokes. The pro app promises a lot more features, but I'm unable to try it at this time.
Hit It! Lite lets you play the drums on your Android device either by tapping the little pads for each drum (including kick, snares, toms and cymbals), or by shaking the device. The app is fun, but the timing is not particularly accurate, perhaps because the Dream needs a beefier processor.
HS Tempo and Tube Tempo BPM both measure tempo in beats per minute as you tap the Android device's screen.
And that brings us to the review of the music apps available for Google Android devices. In summary, the third party application market for Android is still quite young and immature, and there is no doubt that these apps will improve, and more are on their way. But at this stage, the iPhone's couterparts offer better value . . . assuming you own an iPhone!