capsule review

3 (Cubed)

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Let's not mince words here: Android's native music player is pretty lackluster. Its UI is severely lacking in sexiness, and it's not particularly feature-rich, either. While the world at large hopes that this will be addressed in each new incarnation of the OS, app developers have taken matters into their own hands and made some terrific music player apps available in the Android Market. If bling is your thing, then 3 (Cubed) by Filipe Abrantes is likely the music player you've been waiting for.

Put simply, the aesthetics of this player are second to none on the Android platform (or on any other). You can choose among several view modes: Cubed, Wall, Boring, and Morph Flow. The Cubed view gives the app its name, and it's a beautiful marriage of form and function. Swiping left and right spins the cube sideways and lets you flip through the letters A through Z. Swiping up and down rotates the cube on a vertical axis and lets you go artist by artist, displaying text and cover art as you go.

Click the artist you want, and a list of all available albums pops up. Click the album of your choice (you can also select Play All or Queue All), and all the songs from that album pop up. From there, you can select Play All, Add All to Queue, or just select the song you want to hear. You can also long-press a song to add it to your queue or delete it.

The Wall view puts all of your album cover art on a long, two-panel-wide wall you can scroll through. It's attractive, but it has no text over the albums, so if you don't know your album covers well, it will be hard to determine what's what. Morph Flow lets you flip though tiles with cover art on them, and it looks really good. The Boring view, as you might expect, is text-only--hence, boring.

In my opinion, the best view is a toss-up between Cubed and Morph Flow; both are really cool, sleek, and snappy. All views feature an alphabetical bar on the side for easier scrolling. You also have a couple of theme options like "Earthquake" and "Halftone," which put some funky visual effects on your album art; but I prefer the album art as is.

With all this talk about its aesthetics, you might think 3 (Cubed) is just a pretty face. Luckily, its beauty is not just skin-deep. Its graphic-intensive nature doesn't seem to slow it down much. The app is incredibly responsive, and animations are very smooth (tested with a Moto Droid running Android 2.1). 3 (Cubed) is packed full of features and options for customization such as sorting by artist, placing the playback controls (I go with "thumb mode"), and enabling it to work with headset controls, to name just a few.

3 (Cubed) comes with four sizes of widgets to choose from, letting you control your music right from your home screen. They're all very nice-looking and display the cover art of whatever is currently playing (or was most recently playing if your music is paused). My favorite feature, though, is the ability to enable lock screen controls while your music is playing, so you can pause, skip forward, and skip back without having to unlock your phone. This is a really handy feature and one I haven't seen available in the free versions of any other music players.

However, the app isn't perfect. One gaping hole is that you can't save the playlists you create for future listening. That's a pretty standard feature that was somehow omitted. You can create a queue, but there isn't any way to view, save, or rearrange it. Disappointing. The app could also stand to refine its touch-screen sensitivity, especially when in Cubed view. Too often I end up accidentally clicking when I'm trying to swipe, and vice versa.

Also, a little lag occasionally occurs. Not enough to drive you crazy, but just a bit longer than I'd like.

Another welcome addition would be an equalizer, something that the competing app MixZing offers in its paid version. It's not a standard feature at this point, but it would definitely help convert some audiophiles to this kind of app.

3 (Cubed) is easily the best-looking music player for Android. In fact, you could make good case for it being the best-looking music player for any mobile platform. Take its aesthetics; add its speed, stability, customization, widgets, and lock-screen controls--and you have a real powerhouse. It still has a few areas where it could improve, but to be fair, it's still in beta. While its interface has a bit of a learning curve (it's slightly less intuitive to use than other music players), the style and features of 3 (Cubed) make it very worthwhile.

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At a Glance
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