5 on Friday: Streaming Music Services

Streaming Music Services on my Nokia Lumia 928

The streaming music services on my Windows Phone.

When I got my Windows Phone, I had problems connecting to Spotify. It ended up being a problem with logging in via Facebook with dual authentication. Basically, I’m a fringe case. While I was working out my issue with Spotify (who has awesome and helpful support) I used the opportunity to check out a few other streaming music services.

It’s hard to review streaming music services, because everyone’s use case is so different. First, you have a variety of phones with their own apps and quirks. You have different listening styles, someone who listens to top 40 is going to have an easier time than someone looking for indie labels. You have audio quality snobs (not me). So it’s important to remember what your personal service needs to give you. My perfect service would have default music app integration, autoplaylists, and a rating system. It’d have a desktop client (I’m a software tester, web browsers are closed frequently). It’d work on my iPad and my Windows 8 Phone (but most importantly my phone). A bonus would be working on Playstation, Roku, or Xbox so I can listen through my home theatre system.

With those requirements in mind, I tried out the following five streaming music services. I’ve give you a little information about each one, the pros and cons, plus a rating. All of these services have free trials, so I encourage you to give them a try if they sound like they might meet your needs.

Rdio

Rdio LogoPlatforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Web, PC/Mac Roku, Sonos
Cost: $4.99 a month Unlimited Web, $9.99 a month Unlimited Web + Mobile, $17.99 a month for two subscriptions
About: Rdio focuses on social discovery, which is a tricky sell because there are so few people using Rdio. At least out of my friends. There is no way to rate a track, or mark it as a favorite. While the simplicity of the interface is nice and looks good, that’s just not enough to get me to switch. Especially when it lacks some of the indie label bands I like.
Pros: no credit card for free trial, clean and beautiful interface, no limit on offline downloads
Cons: no rating system, fewer artists than other services
Rating: 3/5 – I can see this service appealing to someone who appreciates a focus on good design and album art. But aside from that, it’s average.

Rdio Across Devices

 

Rhapsody

Rhapsody LogoPlatforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Web, PC/Mac, Many More…
Cost: $9.99 a month for Premier (offline on one device), $14.99 a month for Premier Plus (offline on three devices)
About: Rhapsody is a really solid service, and it should be. It is the oldest streaming music service on this list. While most of these services have come on the scene in the last few years or so, Rhapsody was released in 2001. Rhapsody is a service for those who want a micro level of control over their music collection. You can assign not only genres, but subgenres. Ratings are detailed, using a five star system instead of a favoriting system. However, that’s all on the desktop client. The web doesn’t have these features. The web also doesn’t allow you to create autoplaylists.
Pros: Autoplaylists, Custom Genres, Detailed Ratings
Cons: $9.99 subscription only allows offline listening for one mobile device, interface is outdated and cluttered, inconsistencies in web/desktop
Rating: 4/5 – Fix up the inconsistencies and this service would be practically perfect. It’d also be awesome if when you have the app installed on your device, if the software recognized it and allowed you to drag-and-drop downloaded .wma files into the default music app.

Rhapsody on a variety of devices

Xbox Music

Xbox LogoPlatforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Web, Windows 8, Xbox
Cost: 10 ad supported hours free a month, $9.99 a month for premium
About: Xbox Music was the streaming music service I had intended to switch to when I bought my Windows phone. As I’ve said before, I loved my Zune. I expected Xbox Music to be Zune tweaked and improved. Not so much. Xbox music has a clean and simple interface, but at the expense of functionality. There is no way to edit genres (and since Windows Phone 8 sorts by genres that’s an issue for me), no autoplaylists, and no rating system in the web interface. Things that the Zune software did well. Microsoft had a solid (although horribly marketed) system to build upon and blew it.
Pros: Solid catalog
Cons: Lack of control, no auto playlists, inconsistencies between web/mobile
Rating: 1/5* – Xbox Music gets 1/5 with an asterisk because for me it’d be slightly higher. It integrates into the main music app on Windows Phone 8, which means it can be used with other apps like Zombies, Run.

Xbox Music across devices

Spotify

Spotify logoPlatforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Web, PC/Mac
Cost: Free 10 hours of ad supported streaming, $9.99 a month for premium
About: There were streaming music services before Spotify hit the US. Services like Rdio, Mog, Rhapsody, and Zune. But they all lacked the one thing that has made Spotify the standard. Marketing. First they launched in a limited beta, making everyone want to know what they were missing out on. They connected to Facebook, to push “now playing” information to your friends. They used social media to propel themselves to the next level. Their software is average at best; it lacks features such as autoplaylists and genres, and allows you to enter as many duplicates as you want without warning. But the community, music selection, and available apps have made it the go to choice.
Pros: Your friends probably have it, lots of apps within spotify (This is My Jam, TuneWiki, Last.FM, etc), great music catalog, fantastic social integration
Cons: No genres, only “starred” auto playlist, doesn’t check for duplicates
Rating: 4/5 – This could plummet, and quickly, if other services step up their marketing game. Things like apps and friends exist because this is the most popular, not because it’s the best.

Spotify across devices

Google Music All Access

Google Play LogoPlatforms: iOS (third party), Android, Windows Phone (third party), Web, PC (third party)
Cost: Free for just the Digital Locker, $9.99 for all access
About: Google Music All Access (GMAA) certainly wins the award for “longest name for a streaming music service.” That little aside over with, it’s a really good service. It’s not just a streaming music service, but a digital locker as well. Meaning you can upload songs you already own there, as well as store your Google Play music purchases.
Pros: Combines a music locker with streaming, built into Google ecosystem, strong library, third party apps are really good
Cons: Third party apps are needed
Rating: 4/5 – Lacking an iOS app is what makes this short of a 5/5 rating. I’d normally blame Apple, but with other streaming music services having apps I don’t think this is the case. Especially since Google promised one “soon” in May. I understand not having a Windows Phone app. I understand not having a desktop app even (the web is kind of Google’s thing). But seriously look into it if you’re an Android user.

Google Music All Access across devices

My Streaming Music Service Choice

So after all these trials, which one did I end up going with? Truth be told, I’m still torn. Now that I’m away from iPhone, I really love the idea of having the streaming music integrated within my phone’s default music app. Music on Windows Phone 8 is a really well designed app, especially in light of the “improvements” to music in iOS7. But Xbox music is so bad. So I’m sticking with Spotify for now. Xbox Music, improve your interface and I’ll use your app. Rhapsody, get some of the music you’re missing and I’ll switch to you.

What is your streaming music service of choice? What would you like to see from these services?

7 Responses to “5 on Friday: Streaming Music Services”
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