iPad Apps: Best App for Naming That Tune

Q: I'm an iPad owner that is overwhelmed by the number of applications available. Where should I start if I'm looking for something that can help me identify songs and artists?

Shazam-EncoreLarge.jpgSHAZAM FOR IPAD

Free | Version: 2.0.0 | Shazam Entertainment

Tip-of-your-tongue sufferers, rejoice. This App Store veteran first found fame as an iPhone app. Now it's here to help iPad-owning music lovers figure out what's playing. Fire it up, situate your device reasonably near a radio, inside your favorite soundtrack-powered store, or anywhere else that's got a song playing. Then click the upper-right Shazam icon. The app proceeds to match a brief sound snippet to its enormous collection (requiring an Internet connection to do so) and, ping: the song title, usually, appears. Shazam's finding skills work remarkably well, though with limitations: it's not so good at classical music, ambient beats, and, predictably, polka.

FIND MORE: The app also works as a decent browse and discover tool. Top of screen, center, is a Tag Stream button, which, when tapped, shows what other app users are currently liking and listening to. Tap any songs you like to add 'em to your own tagged list and, in many cases, you can also play 30-second snippets or buy the song in iTunes.

OTHER TREATS: A Similar Tracks feature digs into the Shazam catalog and offers us suggestions; results are pretty good with a few notable clunkers. (Coldplay is related to Marlene Dietrich exactly how?) A lyrics lookup tool is great fun. It works most of the time, though it is hobbled by one serious shortcoming: there's no way to add what the app finds to your iTunes collection.

HONORABLE MENTION: SOUNDHOUND

Free lite version | $4.99 | Version: 3.4.1 | Melodis

Where Shazam's main mission is ID'ing songs, SoundHound takes this business of discovering new music seriously and plasters your screen with all sorts of What's Hot Right Now suggestions. It also helps scoop up fun finds related to the music you already own, by showing YouTube videos, linking to ringtones, and listing tour date info. All this might turn off those who just wanna figure out what song's playing, but frequent forgetters might still want to add this app to their memory-nudging kit. It performs a couple tricks Shazam doesn't: you can hum or sing a song and it'll try to find a match, and you can type in lyric phrases -- it does a pretty good job with that, too.

PARTY TRICKS: Tap that big orange-y box and start humming. You don't even need to know all or even any of the words. Tested using one of humanity's most tuneless voices, it actually worked. Some reviewers moan about the freebie limit of five searches (after that you have to pay $1 for five additional searches or $5 for unlimited finds), but you can always test it out for free.

NOW PLAYING-PLUS: For all its links to other music services (iTunes, Pandora), this is an app that wants you to spend time inside its four walls. A lyric lookup tool uses an in-app browser to send your query to a number of specialty sites; music videos are also presented inside the app. You can even tap into and control your iTunes collection.

Tools mentioned in this entry:

More questions? View the complete Toolkit archive.

Excerpted from Peter Meyers' Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders. Copyright 2010 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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