July 18th, 2011

Ghaleon

Spotify - My First Impressions.

I recently got a chance to try out Spotify, a cloud music service that's been around elsewhere for quite some time and has just now launched in the US. After playing around with it, I am highly impressed and very tempted to make the switch from iTunes to Spotify. Read on for my first impressions.

Admittedly I don't have a lot of experience with streaming music services, preferring to buy my music so I'll have the benefit of being able to play it offline or on a mobile device. Currently I have a love/hate relationship with emusic, and the less said about that, the better. Long story short, I've been looking for a cheap alternative with a comparable library to replace it. Sounds like wishful thinking, but with Spotify it seems like my wish has finally been granted.

PRICING

Want cheap? How does FREE sound? Imagine downloading iTunes and instantly having access to every single song on the service without paying a cent, to play and enjoy as if you already owned them? That is the Spotify experience. As I type these words I am halfway through an album, streaming to me from Spotify, that I didn't pay a single cent for.

How is this possible? Spotify's free access tier is ad supported, which means banner ads will occasionally pop up on the client and occasionally you'll have to listen to a short ad. The audio ads play infrequently and when you're listening to music you're likely not even looking at the client. From what I understand, some further restrictions will apply to the free tier once the US version of Spotify has gotten off the ground. This may include a limit on the amount of time you can listen to free music per month, as well as limits on how many times you can play a specific track before you're cut off from that track.

If these limits do not appeal to you, Spotify offers very reasonable prices for two higher tiers of service. Their "unlimited" costs $4.99 per month, and your money will remove all playback limits and do away with all ads for a seamless, ad-free experience. Go one tier higher and you get their "premium" plan which costs $9.99. In addition to unlimited and ad-free music, the premium plan gives you enhanced sound quality, Spotify on your smartphone, and an offline mode that allows you to listen to your Spotify music even if you're not connected to the internet.

I currently pay $15.89 a month for emusic, which gives me an allotment of credit which can be used to purchase a handful of albums per month. If I'm out of credit and feel like downloading something new, I'll have to either buy more credit (at an inflated price) or wait until my next billing cycle. Compare this to Spotify, where I can have unlimited access to their entire library for a fraction of the price whenever I want it.

At this point I've finished listening to the album I was playing earlier and have started on another. I still haven't paid anything. As you can see, Spotify is a very attractive service with an excellent pricing model that gives you a LOT for your money.

CLIENT FEATURES AND INTERFACE

Unfortunately I do not own a smartphone or a tablet, so I don't have access to the mobile app. This section will focus strictly on the PC client.

While the Spotify service itself is amazing, the client leaves much to be desired. For one, Spotify does not have a proper storefront and you're unable to browse for the music you want. It has a section that lists new albums and top played tracks, but there are no categories for browsing by genre, location, or studio. You can search for artists, tracks, or albums, but you have no option to simply browse and see what strikes your fancy.

Spotify also lacks a good recommendation system. The closest it comes is the ability to browse a list of artists who are deemed similar to the artist you're currently looking at. The service will not helpfully recommend tracks or albums you might like on its own initiative. While this will not be a problem for those who already know what they want, it makes the process of discovering new music harder than it should be.

Spotify also lacks easy sorting options for your tracks. The moment I started the client it synced with my iTunes library and pulled all of my local music from there, so I had thousands of tracks in my library to begin with and no way to easily browse them all.

It's this issue that makes me want to hold on to iTunes, as that player makes it super easy to manage a large music collection. With Spotify you'll either have to scroll down a huge list of all your music or you'll have to create playlists for every one of your albums individually and organize them by hand. It's a long and painstaking process, and my collection isn't even that large. I can only imagine how big of a pain it must be for music lovers with massive libraries.

I could be forgiving if Spotify were a new service, but it's been around for years. It blows my mind that such serious flaws still exist this late in the game, and makes me hesitant to trust Spotify to do what's best for their customers.

Aside from that, the client has some interesting social features. You can share tracks and playlists with other Spotify users. It also features Twitter and Facebook support. Another interesting social feature is collaborative playlist, which are shared playlists that you and your friends can freely modify. This is a great way to trade music with your friends and share the music experience.

OVERALL OPINION

Spotify is an amazing service that has the potential to dethrone iTunes as the music service of choice in the USA. However, a feature-deficient client may drive some people away. I don't think people are going to jump for joy at the prospect of having to organize their music collections by hand to get something even remotely resembling the convenience offered by iTunes.

If you're interested in checking out Spotify, definitely go for it. At the very least set up a free account and use it yourself. If you need an invite, this form should get you one in a few minutes. I think Spotify is the best service I've used so far, I just wish that the client you're given to interface with this service were more user-friendly.
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