December 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Review: Winamp Music Player for Android

Winamp's llama logo -- in honor of the animal much beloved by Winamp creator Justin Frankel -- received a special Android makeover to mark Winamp for Android's emergence from beta.

For many of us, the venerable Winamp software brings feeling of nostalgia, because it was the first software we ever relied on for playing music on a computer. Back in 1997, a call to Winamp developer Justin Frankel’s contact information was answered by his mother (true story), so apparently, Frankel was growing up right alongside digital music. That’s old hat though; Frankel sold Nullsoft, the company that created Winamp, to AOL for an estimated $100 million in ’99.

But the Winamp story didn’t end there. As music fans’ attention moved to later entries like iTunes, Spotify, MOG, Pandora and YouTube to name a few, AOL kept quietly improving Winamp over the years. This week, AOL unveiled the official release version Winamp for Android, offering users of that mobile OS a promising new way to listen to music on their devices, whether from their own collections or online radio.

Winamp for Android has one big advantage over Apple’s own iPod app for the iPhone, and most other playback apps too: It can sync tracks wirelessly to the device over your home network, so you don’t have to fuss with a USB cable, making it easier to keep your music fresh (Winamp’s guide). These features go the extra mile from playing music on your device to making it as easy as possible to get the music on there in the first place.

Here’s how it works.

First, the Winamp desktop software (Mac or PC) imports your music collection by scouring your hard drive or importing songs, but not playlists, directly from iTunes (the latter works much faster). Following the simple instructions in the app, you can connect Winamp on your desktop to Winamp on your Android device, and voila — your music collection starts to transfer over to your Android, no wires required:

Even better, you can set Winamp to sync automatically, every time you connect your Android phone to Winamp, which makes it incredibly easy to send new playlists, purchases and downloads to your portable player, sans USB.

As neat as this wireless syncing is — and as much as we wish Apple would implement it for iPhone — getting music onto your Android phone is only part of the story. What matters next is how Winamp for Android works once it’s on there.

Scan this code with your Android phone to install Winamp for Android.

Aside from bells and whistles like scrobbling what you play to Last.fm and streaming internet radio stations from Nullsoft’s thousands of Shoutcast stations, Winamp for Android sets itself apart from other music player apps with its unique utilization of space: It keeps your play queue in a sort of shade which you can slide up at any time to have access to your playlist, without losing access to playback functions. The player also includes all the stuff we’ve come to expect from music playback apps, like artist bios, discographies, photos, and shuffle mode.

Yes, this llama is a bit long in the tooth, and as snazzy as Winamp for Android is, its desktop software sure does look old-school (see image above), which users of the original Winamp might actually prefer. For everyone else, AOL offers skins so you can vary the look, as well as access to the thousands of Winamp plug-ins developers have created over the years.

If you’re looking for a better music player than whatever your Android phone shipped with (in the case of my Nexus One, the rather barebones MP3 Music Download app), Winamp for Android warrants serious consideration — especially if you don’t like messing around with USB cables.

Jared Stander and Eliot Van Buskirk contributed to this review.