Android's default music player works, but it's nothing to write home about. If you're looking for a more feature-filled player, here's a rundown of four of the best music players available in the Android Market.
As Android's popularity grows, it's commonly compared feature-for-feature to the iPhone, and one of its biggest shortcomings (in the eyes of many users) is its lacklustre Music app. For the most part, it works just fine: it reads ID3 tags fairly well; you can search your library by artist, album or song; it contains support for a number of playlists and contains basic functions like Shuffle and Repeat. Beyond that, it doesn't offer much. Luckily, quite a few other music players have surfaced, each with their own distinct niche and set of features. Here's a look at four of the best alternatives and what they have to offer.
If you're a fan of iTunes' Genius feature or any other recommendation-based music service, MixZing is the app for you. As soon as you start playing music in the app, MixZing creates a playlist based on that song, filled with recommendations from your own library, which you can vote up or down to fine-tune the playlist.
Recommendations Engine: Everything you do in MixZing works together with the recommendation engine. When you first start playing a song, it will gather information and create a playlist based on that album. It will then add 20 recommended songs to your queue, which you can choose to add or remove from the playlist from the Now Playing window. Just hit the queue button in the upper right-hand corner, then scroll down to see your recommendations. Hitting the green plus sign will permanently add a song to the playlist; hitting the red "x" will remove it (you also have access to these buttons from the Now Playing Window when MixZing is playing a recommended track). Then, when you go to the playlist through the Playlists menu, you'll see your added recommended songs. Check out the video above for an example of how to do this.
You can also view recommended tracks that aren't in your library by hitting the "More" button and hitting "New Music". It will start playing track previews of songs similar to the music you were playing before. It also presents you with the plus sign and "x" buttons: hitting the plus sign adds the song to your Shopping Cart for later viewing and purchasing (when this feature is out of beta); hitting the "x" skips it.
Equaliser: A feature you don't see too often on the Android platform is an equaliser. MixZing has one accessible from the Now Playing menu. It only has a few very basic presets, so unless you're an equaliser enthusiast, you might want to leave it alone. The more you crank up different bands, the more of your phone's resources this feature uses too, so if you don't have processor or battery life to spare, you might want to stay away.
Other features: Within the Now Playing window, you can view info on the currently playing artist by clicking the button in the upper left-hand corner. MixZing also offers 10 free downloadable songs accessible from main menu's menu (that is, go to the main menu and hit the Menu button). MixZing's Pro version is a little pricey at $US6.99, but it gets rid of ads, adds a lock-screen widget and a tag editor. Both versions are available in the Market.
While MixZing's recommendation engine carves out a specific niche in the music player market, Meridian is more of an all-around, feature-filled media player, adding a few cool features that make it more friendly than Android's default player.
Additional File Types: Most Android devices have a pretty wide range of supported formats, but Meridian adds FLAC and APE support, both of which are missing from Android. It's not something everyone will use (APE isn't that popular, and I doubt a lot of people are wasting precious SD card space with lossless files), but if you're one of the few that will, it's a nice change of pace.
Gestures: In the Now Playing window, you can change tracks by using the regular button controls, but Meridian also supports a number of swipe gestures. You can swipe left or right to skip 10 seconds back or forward, and you can swipe up and down to change tracks.
Ratings: Meridian has support for a five-star rating system, and although it doesn't carry over from other media players, it's still nice to have. After rating songs, you can then go to the Songs section of the library, hit Menu and filter out songs below a certain star rating. This is useful if you want to, say, shuffle through your library but want to exclude songs rated 3 or lower.
Search and Lyrics: In the Now Playing window, you can hit the small search button to bring up a few different options. You can search for the song's lyrics, which is handy, but you can also search some pre-generated terms in the app of your choosing. The terms usually contain the track's tags, like artist or album, and after picking your term you can choose what app in which to search with them — so, you could search info about the album in your browser or find it in the Amazon MP3 app.
Other features: Meridian contains a handy ID3 tag editor, if you want to change the artist, album or other tags. It also has an On-The-Go-type playlist, to which you can add songs from the Now Playing window. It's available in a number of versions in the Market: The Conservative version is the most stable, while Pioneer has a few more features. The $US2.99 Pro version includes a homescreen widget, lyric file support, album art downloading and a few other small features.
Previously mentioned TuneWiki is perfect for those that like to explore their music. From the app, you can search for songs on YouTube, view info about the artist, listen to internet radio and interact with the TuneWiki community.
Lyrics: Whenever you start playing a song, TuneWiki shows a small box with the lyrics, scrolling and highlighting them karaoke-style. You can also view the lyrics in a full-window view by tapping them. If you prefer to hide the lyrics, you can do so by hitting the menu button, hitting More and choosing Hide Lyrics.
YouTube Integration: Hitting the video button in the Now Playing view will prompt TuneWiki to search YouTube for the currently playing song. Thus, from the Now Playing view, you can go straight to watching music videos, live bootlegs and other videos of that song in TuneWiki's own YouTube player. You can also search for videos manually from TuneWiki's video page, accessible from the main menu.
Internet Radio: TuneWiki has support for both Last.fm and Shoutcast radio, so you don't need a separate app to listen to your custom radio stations.
TuneWiki Community: The TuneWiki community has a ton of interesting features that make this app stand out, like viewing a local map of other TuneWiki users and what they're listening to, viewing the TuneWiki charts and hot playlists and manually searching for lyrics. If you want to follow TuneWiki users and share music with them, you'll need to create an account, which you can do from the app's settings page or at TuneWiki.com.
Other features: TuneWiki sports an album art manager from which you can search for and add album art to albums that are missing it, which is especially handy for those idle times when it's just you and your phone. You can also "blip" the song your listening to Facebook, Twitter, SMS or email, though I'd suggest taking care not to use this feature too excessively. Like the other apps, TuneWiki is ad-supported and has a $US4.99 pro version that gets rid of the ads.
Previously mentioned Cubed doesn't fill a particular niche like the other apps in this list; it's mostly a music player with a few added features and an exceptionally cool interface. Your album list is displayed as a cube that, when you swipe up and down, spins around, scrolling through your albums. You can also swipe left and right to scroll through the alphabet instead of through your albums (which makes the process a bit faster). It's a Now Playing-style app, such as Foobar2000 or Windows Media Player on a desktop computer: When you start playing a song, it adds it to your queue, and then the next time you tap a song or album, Cubed adds those songs after the ones currently playing. If you're not used to this style of playing, it can be confusing at first, but you get used to it.
While it isn't the most feature-filled of the bunch, it still has a few features that separate it from Android's default player, though, like album-art fetching and a Concerts plugin available on the Market that lets you know when artists in your library are coming to town. It's also still in beta, so it likely has a few features in the pipeline that we'll see added to the app in the near future.
These are the four most popular apps available in the Market right now, but they certainly aren't the only four. If you use something else, let us know which app is your favourite music player (and why) in the comments.