Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Greater Music Subscription

Music purchasing is something that, well, few people do with all the easy pirating that internet users have access to. However, those of us that support our music artists (or just don't want to get caught illegally downloading their tunes) usually spend way to much money on our DRM jewels. I'm fortunately NOT one of those people.

Many years ago, music subscriptions were born. A flat rate for unlimited music downloads that were available only on certain devices. I remember my first subscription-based service was the long lost URGE from Microsoft Windows Media Player. Since then I've used Napster, Zune and now Rhapsody for my subscriptions. After going through them like a pair of poorly made Wal-Mart jeans (except Rhapsody), I figured it was time to compare the three music subscription giants off of my experiences.


Napster has been around for a long time, so their library is pretty large at nearly 7+ million songs. With all the smartphone users out there, I'm going to break down the experience I had with the Napster Android App, but after I break down using the service with a “Napster Compatible” mp3 player.

I while back I had used a Samsung MP3 player with Napster. The device worked pretty good...to a point, and the service wasn't bad. Here's the pros and cons:

Pros: Easy syncing, installation and downloading for music. Library (at the time) was pretty big.

Cons: The device sucked. Unfortunately, a lot of the second hand MP3 players aren't that great. So it's really best to stick with a solid Zune, iPod or high-end smartphone.

Now for the Napster Android app. This is where I completely lost all hope and respect for Napster. I recently subscribed for the 30 day trial of Napster (just for kicks) and downloaded the app onto my Galaxy Tab & MyTouch 3G Slide. Here's a breakdown:

Pros: The user interface is beautiful. Offline playback is..sort of available.

Cons: Everything else. Library is difficult to build and save. Force closed after every other song, and signed me out constantly (not because both devices had it downloaded either. One was always logged out). With so much bugginess, I quickly went to Twitter to check if I could tweet at them with any problems I had (yeah, right). Unlike Twitter-socialite Rhapsody, Napster has mediocre social media support. So after 3 days and reading several reviews with the same problems, I canceled the free trial and continued to use Rhapsody. Not to mention, the music selection isn't the greatest when compared to Rhapsody's 10 million song library.

Overall, Napster is a complete fail on the mobile app and on library size. Oh, and it's $9.99 a month, which is typical for subscription music services. Figured I should throw in the cost.


Zune is a totally different story, but doesn't end well. I had a Zune for while when I was at my first college. I had the original 30 Gig Zune with the $14.99 a month music subscription. It was absolute heaven. After getting an iPod touch for free with my Mac, I pawned the Zune off to my stepdad and realized I made a huge mistake. You see, iTunes sucks and is wicked expensive. The iPod is nice, but the cost of music isn't worth it. Not for me, and I refuse to download from Limewire, or Frostwire...or where ever people pirate their music.

After a few months, I sold the iPod touch and bought another Zune, this time a smaller 8 Gig one that I could take hiking with me and just strap it on my arm. I got to experience the newest Zune marketplace, and the latest interface with this device.

Pros: The Zune device is sturdy, now even more beautifully designed (with the HD one, which I've played with quite a few times at the Microsoft Store). The Zune marketplace is downright amazing. It's designed so well, and is so easy to find music you're looking for. Plus, I've never found another music provider to read your listening habits so well. Zune is excellent at finding music you may like, based on what it sees you play. Oh, and Zune lets you KEEP 10 songs a month as DRM free MP3's. Which means, you can download your favorite songs (10 per month) to keep forever, even after your subscription ends. This is 120 songs a year! Not bad, and kind of a nice perk!

Cons: only one: limited devices. You're stuck with only Zunes. And because it's Microsoft owned, the hope of an Android or iOS app is hopeless. Yes, the Windows Phones will have it, but I'm pretty loyal to my Android. I want one device for everything, I don't want to have to carry an mp3 player. What is this, 2008?

In the end, Zune is fantastic, and at $14.99 a month, the music selection is top-of-the-line with genius music suggestions. But limited device compatibility makes it fail in the end.


Rhapsody, my favorite music subscription provider. I've had Rhapsody for about a year now, or since I've owned my first Android phone. Their app was a little rough at the beginning, but they have always been quick to update it and work out the bugs (within a week, or even a few days). Now, the newest version of their app is almost flawless. Offline downloading is perfect, but now offered on most music providers. What this means, is you don't HAVE to stream the music off your phones 3G or Wifi (since you don't sync the music with a computer). You can now save the playlists or albums right onto your phones SD card. Nice!

Now, Rhapsody has had one downfall, and that was the lack of using the service on multiple devices. Some of us have a tablet now, whether it be an iPad or a Android tab, so naturally we want to be able to play our music library on both our phones AND tablets. Rhapsody only let you use one mobile device, until now. They recently updated, allowing up to 3 devices to use one service. You do pay a little more ($14.99 instead of $9.99 a month) but it's worth it in the end, and still the cost of one only CD.

Pros: nice interface, and over time has evolved into a very easy-to-navigate app. Plus, you can easily build a digital library online, and access it on all your devices or any browser. When in the browser, you don't need to download any extra programs. Just play the music from a flash-based player.

Another big pro is their customer service, which I recently experienced via Twitter. I had some issues with my payments not going to the right credit card, and after posting some angry tweets, Rhapsody's twitter account direct messaged me and offered to help. They wanted more info and to email them at a Rhapsody address. This was a legit address, probably the one of a social media manager. Within an hour, he had sent my rather long email to the highest level of customer support. The next morning (mind you this had started at 11pm on a Thursday) I got an email from a level 3 support rep and had the problem fixed within minutes. That right there, set the bar real high when it comes to customer support. I was extremely impressed, and after having all this help, I deleted the angry tweets out of the respect I gained for them.

Cons: There's really only one: the app doesn't size to an Android tablet screen. So it's one of the few apps left out there that have a big black border around the edge of the screen.

Overall, Rhapsody is a fantastic music provider with a massive 10+ million song library, easy to access music, flawless apps on both Android & iOS, and fantastic customer service.


By now, as I wrap up this excessively long blog post, some of you may have some questions. One question being: How does this mobile music streaming 3G wifi crap work? It's simple, instead of filling your computers hard drive with music, and losing space on your smartphone, you “add music” to an online library. Basically, it's bookmarking your favorite songs, albums and playlists that you create. To access it, you HAVE to have an internet connection through WiFi or 3G (or 4G). Most providers, like Napster and Rhapsody, realize you're not always going to be around a connection, so they allow you to save the playlists by downloading them onto your SD card of your phone. If you use an iPhone, it's the internal storage that it saves the music too. The music is a special file type, so it can ONLY be played on the Rhapsody or Napster apps, but it helps when you're hiking, mountain biking, or just on a road with no service. What's really great about it, is you can access that library on ANY computer because it's all online. Just log-in, and BAM, you have your library.

Now you know my opinion on these three major music providers, based on years of using them. So go on, those of you who want flawless music with beautiful album art, virus free and no legal issues attached, pick a provider that works. Drop that crappy iTunes $1.29 a song B-S, and enter the world of the 10 million song library. I highly suggest getting Rhapsody, as it's simply the best one, and offered for both Android phones & iPhones (or the iPod touch, if you choose). Or, if you're a Windows phone kind of person, don't hesitate subscribing to Zune!

One more thing: when using Yahoo's search engine for music, Rhapsody subscribers get instant music play from the search results. Try it out! I know, who uses Yahoo search, right? (I don't...)



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