Smule's Magic Piano for iPhone brings the fun and beginner-friendly piano app to the small screen. Already a popular music-app pick on the iPad, Magic Piano offers up a unique touch-screen music experience, letting you play both classical and pop music hits by following and touching beams of light on the screen. If you don't like following along in Song Book mode, you also have the option to play freestyle in Solo mode, which lets you configure the keyboard into interesting shapes (circular, spiral, and other layouts) to add to the fun as you play.
Part of what makes Smule's music apps great are the social elements that let you hear music being played around the world. Switch to World mode to get a 3D view of the globe and listen as people play live from different locations. You get a couple of controls so you can either skip to the next user or you can give the current performer a little encouragement by touching the heart-shaped button.
Song Book mode is probably where you'll spend the most time, however, playing classics and hits you can buy using Smoola, Smule's in-app currency. While the app itself is free and comes with a couple of songs to experiment with, you'll need to spend a little cash to get hits from artists like Lady Gaga, Train, and Jason Mraz. Tiered Smoola packages let you choose how much you want to spend, but we got the Small Pack of 440 Smoola for $4.99 and were able to download most of the songs we wanted (at about 75 Smoola each). If you're really serious about Magic Piano, you can get the Medium Pack of 920 Smoola for $9.99 or the Pro Pack of 1,920 Smoola for $19.99.
It's important to note that if you don't know a song beforehand it's going to be hard to play it the way it was intended--Magic Piano shows the light beams as the notes should be played, but there is no indication of how you should play the song rhythmically. To be fair, it's even kind of fun struggling through an unknown song to see if you can make it sound good, but it's important to note that Magic Piano doesn't really show you how to play a given song--it just gives you the notes in order.
Another drawback is the small screen size. Though you'll be able to play along comfortably in Song Book mode, trying to accurately hit the keys of the various piano shapes in Freestyle mode is almost impossible. Still, our thought is that you'll spend more time in Song Book mode anyway, so that won't be a big deal to most people.
Overall, Magic Piano is a fun little music app that will appeal to anyone who wants to interact with a simulated piano. Though it costs a bit more to get the songs you want, it's satisfying to hit the screen just at the right moments to make a song you know come to life.