iTunes 11 full review

iTunes 11

Upgrading to iTunes 11 is free, and we can't find any major errors. Apple's music and media-playing software also works with Sonos and other third-party systems that we've tested. Speed enhancements make it more reliable and better to use. The new interface is a bit of a jolt - we like it, but it will take a bit of time to get used to.

There's a lot of interesting new features to use in iTunes 11, so if you're up for something new to play with this is a lot of fun. Let's take a deeper look at some of the changes in iTunes 11. See all: PC Advisor Software Downloads.

iTunes 11: performance

To test iTunes 11 performance we converted a 47 minute 40 second mp3 file (The Best Of 2008 mix from the Hectic City blog) and used the Convert to AAC in iTunes 10 and 11.

iTunes 10 took 1:17.48 to convert the file, whereas iTunes 11 did it in 51.38, a good 26 seconds (approximately 50 per cent) faster at that particular task.

It also feels snappier to use, the interface moves more quickly and we experienced fewer spinning ball situations. This could be just because of the fresh installation, but we'd wager that being able to access larger memory blocks in 64-bit mode has a lot to do with it. We also found it responded faster when we edited information on multiple items (iTunes sluggishness at this basic task has been something of a bugbear of ours for years).

iTunes 11: new interface

iTunes 11 sports a completely new and more simple look. A new edge-to-edge design removes much of the clutter, particularly around the edge of the screen. The Play, Next and Previous buttons are no longer contained in round elements but flat symbols on the gray background, while the Volume slider no longer has icons - an unmarked slider is the volume control. The iTunes LCD display is slightly cleaner but now contains the Up Next icon, while the View mode buttons have been removed completely, leaving just the new enhanced Search button.

In iTunes 11 some of the elements from the iTune Sidebar have been integrated with the Albums, Artists, Gengres and Composers buttons – which now displays: Songs, Albums, Artists, Genres, Videos, Playlists, and Radio.

The Status Bar has been removed from the bottom of the Application Window in iTunes 11, so you no longer see how many tracks and storage space the iTunes library is taking up. This also removes the duplicate Genius, Shuffle, and Repeat, Eject and Airplay controls, though they are still in the iTunes LCD display (where they make more sense) or have been placed elsewhere in the interface.

iTunes 11

A quick trip to the View menu enables you to get the Sidebar and Status Bar back if you really want them. The Status Bar seems a bit redundant really and, although the new interface is not without it's learning curve, we quickly found ourselves happier using iTunes without the Sidebar.

Aside from the edge-to-edge styling, it's clear that iTunes 11 is taking a lot of its cues from the iOS interface design. There are lots of instances of Pop-Over menus (the box and triangle style from iTunes), another clear example of this kind of interface element is the Album Folder view, which expands beneath an album artwork to reveal the tracks contained within.

Album Folders reveal one of the nicest touches in iTunes 11: contextual background art. Rather than just having a grey Album Folder background, or a wood-based skeumorphic design like Newsstand on iOS, the Album Folder is made up by matching the colour of the album with the album art blended into it using a gradient feather effect.

Album view with its expanding Album Folders is now the default view, and it seems to be the one that we're working in more often. It's certainly more visually appealing than the Songs view (although that is still accessible and works largely the same as before).

If you're not happy with the new style of iTunes, then click Songs and choose View > Show Sidebar and you're largely back to where you were before. The only thing missing is that you only have the List view, not the Grid, Album List, or Coverflow view (For some reason these are still available in Playlists view, however.). Albums largely replaces the Grid view, and the Artists option is presented in Album List view (with a handy iOS-esque list of artists where the Sidebar used to be). If you're into Coverflow then you're out of luck as it's obviously been put out to pasture.

iTunes 11

iTunes 11: Up Next

Aside from the new visual style, the main difference in usability for iTunes 11 is the Up Next menu. This is accessed by clicking the Up Next icon in the iTunes LCD display and displays upcoming tracks.

Up Next is rarely empty, as clicking on a track in Songs plays that track, and displays the upcoming songs after it; clicking a track in Albums selects that track and all the tracks that follow it in the album.

Up Next keeps adding tracks as it plays through the playlist). This makes sense when you think about it, because choosing a track in iTunes would always move to the next track after playing it.

You can manage the Up Next list on a more granular level, however. If you drag and drop tracks to the Up Next icon it will play that song next (and any you add after it). You can also click on the Arrow icon next to a track and choose Add to Up Next.

Cleverly, when that track has finished it will return back to the list you had in the first place.

Users with Sonos systems might have already experienced a different approach to the Up Next style of playlist creation. Clicking a track plays it, then clicking more tracks adds them to the list. The iTunes approach is more confusing at first, as you wonder where all these tracks are coming from; but crucially it is sticking to the same playing process as previous versions of iTunes (ideal for casual owners who might not even notice the Up Next button or how it works).

The Up Next window is interactive. You can remove tracks from it, re-order tracks, and a contextual menu next each track enables you to start a Genius playlist, add tracks to Playlists, go to the Artist or Track in iTunes, or view the track and similar ones on the Store. There is also a Time icon in Up Next which turns it into a Previously Played playlist (again, an option that is no longer immediately available via the Sidebar).

iTunes 11: MiniPlayer

Another marquee feature of iTunes 11 is the wholly redesigned MiniPlayer. In previous versions of iTunes, the MiniPlayer displayed just Shuffle controls, Volume and the iTunes LCD display; it is now fully interactive and enables you to search, select and play tracks. And it's even smaller than before.

The MiniPlayer displays a small album art and the track currently being played, and when you hover the mouse over it the track name changes to display Menu, Shuttle controls, AirPlay, Up Next and Search icons. Two notable omissions from the MiniPlayer are sliders for Volume and scrubbing through tracks. Volume isn't that important but scrubbing seems like a bit of an omission, but Apple clearly has to decide what stays in and out and we think the new MiniPlayer offers far more than it takes away. (As a side note you can always tap the Album art in MiniPlayer to open a track Album Art window which has Volume and Scrubbing sliders.)

Tapping Up Next expands the MiniDisplay (either up or down, depending on the location of the MiniPlayer on your desktop) whereas search enables you to look for Artists, Albums, Songs, and Playlists (but not Podcasts, Films, or TV Shows.

The MiniPlayer is deceptively easy to use, and is one of the better examples of Apple's design ethos of breaking down complicated interface interactions in an intuitive way whilst getting rid of clutter.

Your mileage with the MiniPlayer will depend on your familiarity with your music library; it's at its best when you know exactly what you want to play. It's less good for random browsing and picking, although we imagine that's really what you should be using the main iTunes Application Window for.

You enter MiniPlayer mode by clicking the MiniPlayer icon (now located on the top right next to the Full Screen icon). It is also possible to view both the main Application Window and MiniPlayer view by pressing Option+Command+3.

iTunes 11: Search

iTunes 11 introduces a slightly new search engine that delivers more results than before. Search returns results for Artists, Albums, Songs, Music Videos, Playlists, Podcasts, Books and Apps. There is a larger selection of results in the main Application Window than in the MiniPlayer (which doesn't access Podcasts or Music Videos). You can filter by All, Song, Album, Artist, and Composer.

Search in iTunes 11 is good at is returning the right content if you enter the right term (or just a few letters). Like Spotlight it reacts instantly and worked ludicrously fast on our test iMac (2009). What search doesn't offer is any kind of boolean power searching, so you can't search for Kinks AND Ray Davis for example, to produce all tracks by the band or lead singer. You also can't search by date, genre, rating or any kind of complex search. Most users won't really care, because you just want to look for a track or artist, but it seems an oversight not to include some of the more powerful functionality that you get in Spotlight from iTunes Search. Although you can set up Smart Playlists to group together this kind of information.

NEXT PAGE: iTunes 11 iCloud features, Playback synching, apps... and what's missing >>