Offline mode on Spotify sucks out loud and on purpose

By | 9th March 2018

Taking your music offline is an age-old tradition, and Spotify is spitting in its face.

Ever since the Walkman days, music lovers have taken their music anywhere and everywhere they could. We take our music out for a run, we bring music into the shower, and we always bring music when we travel, be it by plane, train, or automobile. And since we bring our music where our internet sometimes cannot follow, that means that offline modes for our music apps are important. Offline for Spotify is an abomination, and call me crazy, but I believe it's intentional.

Let's begin with what you have to do to turn on Offline mode. Turning on Offline mode is a three-tap process at a minimum. From the home tab of Spotify:

  1. Tap Your Library.
  2. Tap Settings (the gear icon in the top right corner).
  3. Tap Offline mode to toggle it on.

And to turn it back off, you have to come back to the settings, as opposed to apps like Google Play Music, where Downloaded Only mode can be activated directly from the hamburger menu and can be disabled simply tapping the Downloaded Only banner at the top of the most screen in the app. You can't trigger Offline mode for Spotify in Android Auto, so if you want to only listen to downloaded music in the car, you have to turn it on before you plug up in the car.

With Offline mode enabled, three of the five tabs of the Spotify app won't work. Radio doesn't work without internet, because radio stations can't be saved for offline playback. Browse doesn't work without internet because you can't choose to download what you haven't seen yet. The home tab doesn't work without internet because ... I actually don't get this one. At the very least, the Home tab could show your recently played and some recommendations from your downloaded music in the Home tab, but no, the tab is just disabled.

This leaves you with the Search tab, where you can listen to recent searches that you've downloaded, and My Library. Even in My Library, though, things aren't made any easier in Offline mode, because you still see your whole library. If you go to Albums trying to see what albums you can listen to offline, be prepared to hunt for those little green downloaded icons underneath the album names, because albums with zero offline songs are still down in your Albums list. Same with Playlists; a playlist with zero songs downloaded for offline still shows in your Playlists list. The Songs list isn't much better, because rather than hiding all non-downloaded songs, your Songs list is the same as the online version, except most of the songs in it are greyed out.

If you're trying to find something to listen to quickly in Offline mode, it better be something in Recently Played, or else you'll be digging through the filter settings in each section of your library for Downloads, a filter that won't automatically turn on and off with Offline mode the way most apps handle offline mode. This is compounded by the fact that even though Spotify caches while it streams, that cache can't be played offline the way other music apps do: you have to explicitly tap Download for every album and playlist you want to listen to offline.

For most users, it's just easier to leave Offline mode off and just pick an album or playlist that you know has already been downloaded for when you're trying not to blow your data cap. And that is exactly the point of this exercise in frustration: Spotify doesn't want you to use Offline mode.

If you're using Offline mode, you can't listen to any radio stations or non-downloaded playlists, meaning you aren't listening to anything new and you aren't being dazzled by Spotify's algorithms. Spotify may lull people into subscribing with their large library and low student pricing, but the way it keeps those subscribers is by wowing them with great new music every time they start a Playlist Radio station or tune in time after time to Discover Weekly. Spotify needs you to keep Offline mode turned off so that it can keep serving up its best features, and so Offline mode being a hobbled mess may be less of a bug and more of a feature.

Do you even bother turning on Offline mode in Spotify, or do you just try and avoid any un-downloaded content while you're out and about in the world? Have you just tossed your data concerns to the wins and decided to not care about offline for Spotify? Or do you download so much of your library that finding something to listen to offline isn't finding a needle in a haystack?