Bandcamp (for iPhone) review

Bandcamp's app is laser focused on playback to a fault, and while it instantly connects your iPhone to the music you've already bought through the service, it comes at the price of critical features.
Photo of Bandcamp (for iPhone)

Not long ago, bands flocked to MySpace as the preferred way to show off their music to the Internet. Now there’s a Bandcamp, which serves as a homepage and storefront for many emerging recording artists. It’s a great service, and I’ve discovered a lot of new music through it, but the iPhone app (free, App Store) is disappointingly limited. What I wanted from the Bandcamp app was something more akin to iTunes: a single, mobile-optimized app to download my purchases and explore the panoply of artists that make Bandcamp a unique and interesting service. Instead, the app streams and caches albums you’ve already bought; no purchasing, and no music discovery.

Startup And Listening
The Bandcamp app keeps things very simplefrom the moment you fire it up for the first time. You’re greeted with two boxes: a link to Bandcamp’s weekly free-form music show and a prompt to login at the top.

Once you login to your Bandcamp account, which unfortunately requires opening the mobile Web browser, the top box displays the music you’ve already purchased on Bandcamp. You can jump directly to the most recent purchase by tapping an album cover, or explore every purchase on a separate screen. New users can quickly create an account through the mobile site in your browser where you’re prompted to login. Tap an album cover and the first track will start playing automatically. During playback, Bandcamp makes good use of the app’s minimalist aesthetic with large controls and tap-able tracks. The view is dominated by a gigantic rendering of the album’s cover art for whatever song is playing, which I quite like. Scroll all the way down to see lyrics or more information about the artists, if they have included any. There are also controls for you Bandcamp fanpage, which shows off all your purchases, and sharing buttons.

Player controls appear at the bottom of the app, showing you what’s currently playing. Conveniently, the app fully integrates with iOS 7′s music player controls. You can pause, skip tracks, and adjust volume from the Control Center or from your phone’s lockscreen.

Slim Listening
Tracks started playing within a second or two of tapping on album on my iPhone 5c . The app appears to download entire albums rather than going track-by-track, and recently played tracks will remain available even offline.  

Unfortunately the only control you have over what is available offline is the order in which you listen to albums, and how much space you allocate in Bandcamp’s settings for audio caching. The minimum setting uses 200MB of space, while the maximum setting will use all available space until only 200MB remain on your phone. You can also opt to use only 50 percent of the available space. Don’t worry about overfilling your phone; you can empty the cache with a tap.

This is a completely different approach from other music apps. Spotify lets you listen to individual tracks and albums for free but charge you for offline listening. Slacker and Pandora are focused more on music discovery and streaming. Songkick doesn’t do any of those things, but I mention it because it scans your phone’s music and finds concerts by those performers and I think that’s cool.

Bandcamp’s app is a deft solution to the cumbersome process of getting purchased songs from Bandcamp to your iPhone. The Bandcamp app makes tracks instantly available, but the lack of options for managing which tracks are available offline is pretty annoying. While it’s far from perfect, iTunes Music Match lets you stream music from your collection and download specific tracks and albums for offline play.

Audiophiles who download exotic lossless files like OGG or FLAC from the Bandcamp website will probably balk at this app’s  approach.

Half An App
The Bandcamp app accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: the tracks you buy from the service are instantly available, all while keeping a small footprint on your AndroidiPhone. But that comes at the price of user control for audio quality and availability. It’s also a missed opportunity for Bandcamp to increase its userbase and to implement music discovery tools. That said, I’ve found myself using the app to listen to my music quite often, just for convenience’s sake.

What I’m hoping is that this is the first step for Bandcamp. Now that they’ve got attractive, well-designed apps on both iOS and Android, they can add more features and flesh out what currently feels like half an app.


Verdict
Bandcamp's app is laser focused on playback to a fault, and while it instantly connects your iPhone to the music you've already bought through the service, it comes at the price of critical features.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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