If you’ve ever taken a trip on the London Underground (or any subway service for that matter) then you’ll no doubt notice that each train is littered with small ads, providing both an effective means of marketing whilst giving us commuters something to read when we’ve accidentally left our headphones at home.
Sandwiched between the various online dating sites (apparently everyone in London is lonely) and cosmetic surgery boutiques was an ad for a new online music service called Bloom.fm. The ad, promising features such as 22 million tracks, offline playback and a radio service similar to that of Spotify and Rdio, was enough to pique my interest. After spending a few days with the iPhone app and service, I can honestly say it is making me think twice about continuing my Spotify Premium subscription.
First thing’s first, Bloom.fm is a UK-only service for now, similar to how some other music streaming services started. If you’re in the US then, at least for now, you’re going to be missing out.
The app is gorgeous and puts almost every other music app to shame. The app uses a completely unique interface, with large round or hexagonal buttons to keep with the service’s theme.
The primary feature of Bloom.fm is radio, similar to Spotify, Rdio and, more recently, iTunes. Whereas Spotify’s radio service is started by selecting a song or playlist, Bloom.fm uses a vast array of genres and sub-genres, allowing you to drill down into the specific type of music you want.
On lower subscription plans, you can only skip to the next track and even the scrubber is disabled so you can’t go to a specific part of the currently playing track. Higher subscription plans enable these features and also let you skip backwards.
Depending on the subscription plan you opt for, Bloom.fm offers the ability to cache a certain number of tracks for offline use. Interestingly, Bloom.fm doesn’t advertise it this way and, instead, suggests that tracks are like library books. On their Bloom 20 plan, you can “borrow” up to 20 tracks for offline use and return any of them at any time to borrow another. They have plans that go right up to an infinite number of tracks so there’s something for everyone. Each track that you borrow is denoted with a little drop of honey next to it.
This method of borrowing is a necessity when you’re on the lower subscription plans. Unlike Spotify or Rdio in providing an almost unlimited amount of music that you can stream, Bloom.fm reserves this for only the higher plans. Should you search for an artist or album to listen to, you’re given an iTunes-esque 30 second preview. If you want to listen to the song in full then you must borrow it, saving it for offline use but using one of your allotted slots.
You don’t need to borrow music when listening to radio, just for songs you’re searching for. Unfortunately, you’ll likely hit your limit on the lower subscription plans after borrowing just two or three albums.
This seemingly forced method of borrowing would be cause for concern if Bloom.fm was priced the same as other music streaming services. In fact, Bloom.fm has a number of price points that provide a number of borrowed tracks. Prices start from free for ad-supported radio, all the way up to £10 per month for unlimited, ad-free borrowing, streaming and music discovery. This top-tier forgoes the requirement of borrowing, letting you stream music directly and enters in direct competition with the same price point as Spotify and Rdio.
It’s the middle price points that might be of interest to many. Bloom 20, providing 20 tracks, is just £1 a month. A 200 track service is also available at £5 per month, still half the price of any competing music subscription service. You do have to borrow music to listen to it though, whereas with the alternatives you can simply stream. Even on Bloom 20, there’s nothing stopping you borrowing 20 tracks to listen to then changing them at any time.
Both Spotify and Rdio charge £9.99 per month for the ability to save tracks for offline use and neither of them offer multiple subscription plans. Because of this, Bloom.fm may be much more attractive.
Searching within Bloom.fm is a joy to do and the interface evenly matches form and function. A great way of searching is by using the iPhone’s camera to scan a CD’s barcode, letting you find the artist and album without tapping it in with the keyboard.
To see how Bloom.fm’s catalog compares against Spotify (as I already have a Spotify Premium subscription), I spent a few hours searching for some of my favourite music and, surprisingly, I didn’t find a single track which Spotify had that Bloom didn’t. In fact, some music I have in iTunes that isn’t available on Spotify was even available through Bloom.fm. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on whether you’re into indie rock or Tibetan monk chanting so you’re experience may differ.
Unified Music Library
Bloom.fm integrates with the iOS music player and automatically lists any local music you may have stored on your iPhone. Should the artist of any of these tracks be available through Bloom.fm, it can still provide a recommendation of related artists. If you use iTunes Match, Bloom.fm will still only display tracks actually saved on your iPhone — a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
This seamless integration between your own purchased music and anything you stream through Bloom.fm is something other services still haven’t got quite right. Spotify offers the ability to access local files but only ones that have been synced via Spotify’s desktop app. You’re also able to view just your borrowed tracks, allowing for easy returning should you want to change your music.
Playlists are available within Bloom.fm and they’re easy to create and add tracks to. They can even be modified, changing the order of tracks and including an option to borrow or return tracks. Any tracks you borrow and add to the list that you return are still kept in the list for you to borrow at a later date, they don’t just disappear once you return them.
Buried within the Library is a history of every track you’ve listened to, date and time stamped and complete with options to borrow them for offline use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to a song then a day later wish I had made a note of it.
Continuing the app’s trend of a great interface is the Now Playing view. Its light colour scheme makes it easy on the eyes and elements are streamlined yet not too small that they prove impossible to use. There’s options to borrow a track directly from the Now Playing screen as well as discover similar artists, giving you some alternative options before displaying a discography.
There’s unfortunately no way of refreshing the artist selection or fine tuning the options, so you’ll only be able to choose from the six alternative artists that have been suggested.
One small issue I had was that the track title moves far too quickly in the title bar so if it is just a little too big to display, it constantly bounces back and forward like a game of table tennis.
Every now and again, an app comes along that completely blindsides me. Bloom.fm is one such app and it has completely knocked my socks of. Its great user interface, multiple price points and great radio service have had me seriously reconsidering my Spotify Premium subscription. The pricing plans and borrowing system will take some getting used to as you can’t simply use the app to stream music like Spotify, but you can borrow tracks and listen to them offline, which you can’t do with Spotify unless you subscribe to their Premium service.
To allow everyone to make an informed decision, Bloom.fm offer a free trial of their Bloom 20 plan. No credit card required and you’re simply dropped to their free service once the trial has expired. If you do wish to subscribe, don’t do it through the App Store as an In-App Purchase, the prices are more expensive and it’s cheaper to subscribe directly through the service’s website at Bloom.fm. It’s here you can also see their subscription plans and decide which might be best for you.