Back in my day we all used to buy music on CD (legal). Back in the following generation's day (early 2000s), the thing to do was to pirate music from file sharing sites (illegal). One phenomenon I've observed in the current day (2010 onwards) is that youngsters, rather than even bother to pirate music, simply play the appropriate YouTube video and, often, leave it running in the background on their device (legal but awkward). Yes, bandwidth really has become that plentiful, it seems. Mp3Tube is a utility that tried to take the same idea but makes it one step more efficient by downloading the music from that source (a legally very grey area!) - an approach which kind of works but which isn't without massive caveats.
Reading between the lines - and I have to, since the utility doesn't really explain how it works - Mp3Tube is downloading the 240p Flash Video stream of any videos you search for, storing them in its own little sandbox on your Windows Phone and then playing them on demand using a custom Flash playback module. There's no transcoding time from a downloaded video file, the download starts immediately and playback starts immediately. And YouTube, as far as I know, doesn't maintain MP3 (or similar) versions of any of its video files - so Flash Video it has to be.
So, in use, you'd search for a music video of your choice, then opt to download it with the tool bar icon. The FLV file starts to come down right away (notice that there's also a 'play' icon, for streaming the video file and playing the audio component, though downloading it for future offline listening is surely better in the long run), you're kept informed of progress and it's safe to switch away and then come back later with fast app switching, in order to resume the download.
Gradually, your downloaded list grows, with music 'files' grabbed from YouTube's servers. Again, this is all sandboxed in the usual Windows Phone fashion - I caught the currently playing Mp3Tube track here with my screenshot utility, showing the actual music 'file' location:
As you can see below, the major caveat of this approach is that the music isn't integrated at all into the Windows Phone Music system, i.e. songs won't show up. Really not surprising, since what you've actually got on your phone are a bunch of Flash videos.
In addition, 240p Flash videos aren't renowned for their audio fidelity - the music you're listening to from YouTube here is very low quality and in mono. Completely ruining the concept, and one showstopper too many, for me at least - quality over headphones is terrible, though I guess teenagers listening over the tinny Lumia or HTC phone speakers probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
One final function here is that there's a ringtone editor built-in. So you can pick one of your downloaded 'files' and use the sliders shown above to trim the section of the song you want as your ringtone, then tap on '+' and opt to save the result. The new tone appears as a 'Custom' item in the standard Windows Phone ringtone selection dialog in Settings - and here at least the mono, low grade nature of the music won't matter too much.
The approach of grabbing content from YouTube and transcoding it is a valid one, even if it's technically against YouTube's terms and conditions. It's not actually illegal, it's just not 'allowed', which is a distinction for some court to decide at some point. Or, more likely, for YouTube's developers to block at the server end.
Most of us, at some point or other, have used a YouTube downloader utility or web site service to archive off something we wanted to keep offline for posterity, so Mp3Tube isn't breaking new ground in that regard. Trying to do everything on the phone is novel but with the technology employed here, the quality isn't high enough to overcome the hassle of having to play music in the application because of the lack of integration with the OS.
I'd like to see Mp3Tube's developers concentrate on using a higher quality FLV stream or (better) a MP4 stream and then doing a local conversion into MP3 (or WMA or AAC or similar) and inserting the track into Windows Phone's own music library. Now then we'd be rocking.
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at