I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m working at writing a new article or any other kind of work, switching windows and doing something else makes me lose focus on what I was previously doing. This problem usually interferes with another thing that I love doing while working, which is listening to music.
Most of the time, switching albums or artists while I’m working gets to be quite distracting and time-wasting. I jumped at the opportunity to review today’s app, Tracks, because it provides a very quick and distraction-free way of managing iTunes, among a few other things. Want to check it out?
Tracks works as multiple things. At its core, it’s a quick way for you to browse through your iTunes library, right from your menu bar. But it also does a few more things, like providing you with keyboard shortcuts for switching tracks, giving you notifications for the tracks being played and a few other more things that we’ll get to later.
The one downside of it, is that Tracks only works with iTunes, so if you use any other app to listen to your music library, this won’t be of much use to you. Tracks goes for $2.99 on the Mac App Store, and given its full set of features, we think the price is justified well. But how about you see it for yourself?
Tracks steps into the territory of several other apps, and puts a few features of them together to create quite a complete app with an impressive list of features:
- iTunes library navigation
- iTunes Store navigation (including previews)
- Last.fm Scrobbling
- Growl Notifications for what’s currently playing
- Keyboard shortcuts
Some of these don’t really need an explanation, the Last.fm integration works pretty much like it does with any other app (you just need to connect and authorize your account), and the Growl notifications are also just a matter of getting them turned on or off. We’ll get deeper into the other set of features though.
Since you can get the rest of the features from a bunch of other, cheaper apps, what really makes a difference with Tracks is the library and store navigation features. I’m glad to say that for the most part, they are really well done. The search is not as fast as Spotlight, but it gets the job done and it’s very well organized.
You can search for any given term and get shown all kinds of media from your library, even if it is a TV Show, a podcast, or just music. You can search for any given term, although some fields might be given priority on the search results (in fact, Tracks gives priority to results that have good ratings and higher play counts in your library).
Your search results are shown in sections, usually divided by albums in which the matching results lay. Navigating with your keyboard or cursor to any result and activating it will get it to play immediately in iTunes.
As we’ve mentioned previously, Tracks can also help you implement customizable keyboard shortcuts for controlling your iTunes library. These include showing the app’s search component, pausing/playing iTunes, showing iTunes, skipping tracks, managing iTunes’ volume, and rating songs.
Also, there’s the iTunes Store navigation. It works a little bit different than library browsing. To use it, once you’ve got a search going on, you’ve got to go to the end of the results and activate the “Search in iTunes Store” field. Then the results from the iTunes Store search will be displayed to you just like if you were browsing your own library. Activating any of the results will open iTunes and bring you to a page where you can purchase the item.
There are quite a few apps that can do somewhat similar stuff to what Tracks does. One example is the free and very popular app Bowtie, which at its core is an app that can display what’s currently being played in iTunes on your desktop; but it also does a few more things like notify you via Growl on what’s playing, give you customizable shortcuts for controlling iTunes, and also scrobble your played tracks directly to Last.fm.
Likewise, you may find better or cheaper alternatives in apps like the free Last.fm Audioscrobbler (for scrobbling), and the more expensive CoverSutra (for everything Tracks does, plus a cover-display system similar to Bowtie).
Tracks generalizes the market of several apps into one, and at a moderate price. If you’re going to use Tracks for its main feature, which is its iTunes library navigation, then I’d say few apps could rival it. Its algorithms for displaying results are quite accurate, and overall the navigation is very well implemented and serves its purpose of changing music quickly.
However, if you’re not too sure if you’re going to use the navigation feature and instead you’re looking into Tracks because of its smallest set of features (scrobbling, keyboard shortcuts and Growl support), then I’d say you might be better off going for a smaller free app that can do all those things, like Bowtie.
In the end, it all comes down to your needs as a user for an app like this. What do you think?