Groove 2 by Zikera is a perfect blend of beautiful design and enhanced music playback functionality. The developers describe it as “a music player that studies your listening habits and creates a wide variety of instant mixes like your own personal DJ.” I have found this claim to be highly accurate and I haven’t had to manually create an iTunes playlist since.
This universal app brings both a gorgeous visual design and an impressive set of features for listening to synced music on your device. If streaming radio isn’t your thing, then you will be very satisfied by the Groove 2 experience. It’s definitely worth downloading. Read on to discover why…
Groove 2 is a most welcome improvement of Groove 1 (a freemium iPhone app). In essence, the app serves as a controller for the stock iPod or Music apps with an enhanced smart playlist generator and the power of Last.fm. To say Groove makes great playlists is an understatement. Playlists can be generated at random or from individual artists, albums, songs, and genres referred to as “Tags”.
The power of Groove comes from a clever two-part syncing functionality. The first sync checks your on-device music library and creates a database of every synced song, excluding album artwork. The second sync queries Last.fm for metadata for every track and creates a database of spelling corrections, proper formatting, album art, and tags. This process is lengthy on first launch, but creates an experience for music lovers that no other app matches.
Essentially, developers took the iPad app, added more features and made it universal. If you had Groove for iPhone you will need to buy the new one. iPad users will be happy to know that there is no additional cost to upgrade.
Where it Excels
Groove 2 is the first app I’ve seen to get iTunes Match done right. I’m not exaggerating. This app handles iTunes Match better than the stock Music app. Where Apple’s Music app is slow and lags, Groove 2 is quick and responsive. I can specify a maximum playlist length in the library so that Groove doesn’t download too many song over cellular connections. Since Groove syncs with the music library, it searches somewhat quicker than the Music app does. Songs seem to download and start faster. Without Groove, I doubt I would renew my iTunes Match subscription.
The beauty of Groove 2 lies in the app’s stability. Groove doesn’t actually play music in the app; it controls the Music app. When you view the player controls in the switcher bar, you’ll find the icon of the stock Music app instead. The implications of this are huge. Groove doesn’t have to be running in the background for your music to keep playing. Yet it picks up exactly where it should when you open the app again. Additionally, whatever equalizer mode you choose in the iPhone’s Music settings apply to tracks played through Groove. You can change tracks just by swiping left or right on the Now Playing bar, which is a feature I used to have to jailbreak to get.
All metadata and album art is pulled from Last.fm. Those of us with over 10,000 songs on iTunes Match will feel the full extent of this feature; the initial sync takes a long time for large music libraries. Still, every song receives tag treatment from Last.fm data, so smart playlists are smarter than iTunes Genius. This functionality gives Groovy Mixes the accuracy of Pandora and Last.fm Radio.
Artist information is also synced from Last.fm. When you open details for an artist or genre the Last.fm summary appears at the top. You can scroll through the information and read more about what you’re listening to as you’re listening to it. I have learned a great deal about the genres I like from reading as I listen. If you like to scrobble your tracks to Last.fm, you can enable scrobbling by tapping the album icon in the Now Playing bar and then tapping the action arrow.
Groove 2 can generate a variety of playlists. A Groovy Mix is the equivalent of a Genius Mix. Tapping the icon from the main window will generate a random Groovy Mix based on a randomly selected artist from your music. In addition, a Groovy Mix can be made from any song or artist in your library. Other smart playlist options include Favorites, Surprise Me, and Three of a Kind, which puts together three songs each from three artists that go well together.
This app is great for finding a forgotten album or a random playlist. The Featured section of the app picks out different albums, artists, genres, and playlists that you might want to hear. Every time you launch the app, a new selection appears in the Featured section. Here you may also see Artist Duos, a smart playlist of tracks from two complementary artists.
What if you already have playlists from iTunes? What if you have many saved Genius Mixes? Good news! Groove 2 will let you listen to those too. The Playlists section displays every playlist found in the Music app as well as every playlist available on iTunes Match. Groove also keeps a history of every playlist, smart mix, or surprise mix that you’ve listened to, so you can easily pull it up again. You can easily save mixes as favorites to display them in a different tab.
Room for Improvement
While I love this app, I have a few complaints. The big one is that syncing with my library takes a long time. I understand that with 20,000 songs, getting metadata and artwork is going to take a while. I just wish they’d let this process continue as a background process so I can keep using my iPhone or iPad while the sync continues. Instead, the sync stops when the app is in the background or the screen is locked, and only resumes when the app is open again. The only way I was able to let the sync complete was to disable auto-lock on my iPhone and leave it charging while the sync finished.
Second, I’d like to see iCloud integration. Since both my iPad and iPhone use the same iTunes Match library, why not cut the sync times in half and allow me to use the same data in both places? Also, I’d like to have my playlist history and saved playlists available on both devices, regardless of which one I added it on.
Finally, I’d like to see more Last.fm integration. The app is powered by Last.fm, but doesn’t allow you to mark tracks as Loved. There are plenty of other social integrations for sharing song titles, but there needs to be more Last.fm specific features. The scrobble option is hidden away in the Now Playing screen, and I’d like to see that added to the Settings pane as well. It took me a long time to find out where the switch was for scrobbling.
Regardless, whether you’re someone with hundreds of songs on your iDevice or thousands (especially if you use iTunes Match), Groove 2 gets the job done. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the best music app for iOS.
Groove 2 is a universal app and is just $1.99 in the App Store.
What is your favorite music app?