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  • Songbook review

    Given the recent thread about Windows apps for scrolling lyrics/chords/tabs and backing tracks... this seems like as good a place as any... especially since the two software forums are only Windows/Mac-specific...

    This is what I sent to the developer:

    Songbook 1.9 for Android works very well, for my purposes, on our Nexus 7 with Android 4.2.

    The app will accept and correctly display pre-edited plaintext files of tabs, and of lyrics with chords displayed above. The user will have a global choice of typeface colors and backgrounds. Song names default to file names.

    If those files are edited with the Chordpro control language, the user can globally select typeface colors and background colors -- and also font style (Bold or Fixed) -- and Songbook will also be able to transpose, and to display the actual instrument-specific tabs and/or chords used in that song. Displayed font sizes can be controlled either globally, or within individual songs using Chordpro language. Each song can be listed with at least some minimal metadata (using Chordpro) like "title" (instead of filename), "key" and/or a user-defined sub-title option, like "genre."

    Songs can be displayed in either portrait or landscape orientation, and the user can choose to scroll (and can control scrolling rate), or not. Given our usable screen size (which is smaller than 7," more like 3-3/4" x 5-1/2"), the combination of scrolling, scroll rate, and typeface size can make charts legible from various distances; "guitar" or "piano" distance is easy, while "drum kit" distance benefits from larger font sizes. Scrolling has pros and cons, though, since a chorus (for example) could have scrolled off screen prior to subsequent iterations (solvable by editing).

    The app offers a good set list capability, and movement from song to song within a Playlist is easy. Song lists can be sorted in various orders (title, subtitle, key), or manually ordered/re-ordered. Songbook offers an Internet search for on-line tabs, and there's also an instrument-specific pull-down list of chord diagrams (user selectable: guitar, bass, piano, mandolin, banjo, etc.).

    Versions are available for several platforms: Android, Windows, iPad/iPhone, Mac, etc. (see developer's website) and the companion desktop versions may be useful for editing and file management -- although I've not tried that yet. Transfer via USB is relatively seamless, even without the companion desktop app. Once songs are loaded on the device, Internet connectivity is not required (except for new tab searches). Songbook supports on-device editing, but aside from minor tweaks to a pre-existing file, that would seem painful.

    Songbook can link charts to music, presumably to backing tracks. Since I don't need that feature, I haven't tried to evaluate that.

    The on-device Help system is weak, although the developer's website does offer slightly better insight. Commands and options are not always completely intuitive; for example, the Edit Playlist options only allows set list delete or rename, and doesn't include the re-order capability... whereas a long press on any song title within a Playlist pops up an option to delete that song or to re-order all songs in the Playlist. Another example: if the chord band is displayed at the bottom of the song, the scroll rate and transpose menus are disabled, but there's no Help statement to guide the user's expectations.

    I received a pop-up message several days in a row on start-up, shortly after initial installation, asking me to "Please license in the Google Play store..." but that seems to have solved itself.

    The developer responds politely to questions, although not necessarily quickly.

    I compared Songbook to Lyric Pad, The Chordinator, and MobilSheets apps (trial versions). Since editing charts into Chordpro -- to take full advantage of the language -- can be very time consuming, Lyric Pad (which is not Chordpro compatible) offers slightly better presentation of existing plaintext charts. The Chordinator is Chordpro compatible, but seems not as full featured as Songbook. Neither Lyric Pad nor Chordinator trial versions implement their Set List capabilities, so I wasn't able to evaluate/compare that.

    MobilSheets is a different animal altogether. Songbook is plaintext/Chordpro compatible, and won't handle images (e.g., JPGs of scores or lead sheets) or PDF files. MobilSheets, on the other hand, is currently designed specifically for images and JPGs (and can use the device's camera to capture images), so is much better suited for management and display of scores and lead sheets. Songbook seems well suited toward our use on strings and drums, whereas MobilSheets is a much better solution for our pianist who plays from scores.

    Overall, Songbook is quite usable, and I'd expect it will improve as it matures over time -- especially as user input increases.

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    Old guy, just trying to play through the arthritis...
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