June 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Exfm for iPhone: With Friends Like These, Who Needs iPods?

exfm reviewWhen it comes to discovering music, the old “tell a friend” maneuver still works wonders — even if it’s what you do after a machine recommends a song to you. Exfm’s new iPhone app leverages that tendency to the nth degree, for free. It also lets you listen to oodles of full tracks, make a note of the ones you like, or buy them from iTunes, among other things.

Exfm, which is also a Google Chrome browser extension, indexes the free MP3s you or others encounter on music blogs and other tastemaker sites, saving them to your online profiles. Basically, you can “note” songs found while browsing MP3 blogs and play them later on your iPhone or other iOS device — as well as playing those songs noted by everyone you’re following.

That’s not all, by any stretch. Exfm the app can act as your default music player for listening to the tracks on your iPhone — and unlike Apple’s iPod app, it can scrobble those plays to Last.fm in real-time. (If you don’t scrobble, trust us, this is a nice feature.)

You can share whatever you’re listening to, whether it comes from your iPhone or exfm’s music blog cloud, with friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr (that’s three for the price of one, compared with iOS 5′s imminent Twitter-only platform integration). In addition, songs display album art when you play them back, even if they came from some blog you’ve never heard of, shared by a friend you’ve never seen (or perhaps one you have).

Welcome to the social music revolution – no credit card required. When you open the free app, you’re presented with an activity feed that displays the exfm users that you follow, as well as a new Tastemakers feature that you won’t find in the Chrome version. Because you can’t search for music directly within the app, the Tastemakers feature offers a fantastic way to get started right away by pulling track suggestions that other users have “noted” — even if you’re not following anyone yet. Hitting the music note by these tracks to “note” them then adds these to your own catalog.

You won’t be friendless and follower-less for long. The app gets social fast; I had my first follower within minutes of installing, and the overall design discourages wallflower-esque behavior.

We were already impressed with exfm Chrome browser extension, which can catalog all of the MP3s you come across in your browsing — and continues to search for songs in the background on sites you’ve visited, to add them to your library. And again, you can listen to all of that stuff using the app.

All in all, the app combined with new social functions in both the app and the Chrome extension expand on exfm’s already-awesome, and already free product. We like apps that aren’t just services repackaged for the small screen; despite exfm’s origin as a Chrome extension, this iPhone app takes advantage of the way people use smartphones differently than they use their desktops, and brings even more functionality when used in conjunction with the Chrome extension.

We appreciated seeing AirPlay included, and after failing to work the first try, it played these web-harvested songs like a charm over living room speakers (via Airport Express or Apple TV). Multitasking is also included, so you can go about your other business on your phone as you listen.

One more thing to “note,” as it were: This app may not have much to offer listeners who tend to take their musical recommendations from more mainstream channels. Suggestions err towards niches. And as a social app, it emphasizes styles that typically rely on word-of-mouth coverage, including electronica, hardcore, and super-hip indie rock permutations, which crop up more than one tends to see elsewhere.

Whatever your inclination, the discovery options are probably wide enough to accommodate it. This is after all, a library built together by people who love music, sourced from great free content on the web. What’s not to like?