Spotify, that digital music streaming service that has been all the rage in Europe, finally opened to U.S. customers this month. But is it everything we could have possibly wanted? The answer: yes and no.
Without sounding too unenthusiastic, Spotify is kind of awesome and kind of a disappointment. I had seen the service briefly once on a friend's computer in Finland, and it was wildly entertaining at the time. Naturally, as an American I was very jealous of something my European friends had but I didn't.
But that was over one year ago.
Since then and before this month, I've come across several other digital music streaming services to try out. Beyond the old guard of Rhapsody and Pandora (the latter of which I've only become slightly more fond of, mainly as a source for finding new songs beyond iTunes' top 10 charts), I also tried out Grooveshark and Sony's Music Unlimited by Qriocity.
Although it has a painfully long official name, the latter has impressed me more than anything else I've seen thus far.
In Grooveshark's favor, it does have a nice interface, access to thousands of songs for free and reportedly better social networking features than its competitors. However, I don't use the last offering (I still don't even get what Ping is all about), and I did not have an easy time trying to sync my iTunes library on this site to the point where I just gave up.
As for Music Unlimited, I liked this service enough to pay for it - primarily because it became available seamlessly on my PlayStation 3. (This was before the hacking crisis in April.) Sony's locker also retains more than six million songs from all of the major labels for unlimited playback. PC users have it even better as they can sync their iTunes libraries and playlists using the online platform, where as Mac users can still not. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category.
But for $9 per month, I still found it useful, especially for listening to music in the living room as well as for parties. (Music Unlimited's user interface really sold me, and it always gets lots of Oohs and Aahs from friends). Yes, it is the same as Grooveshark's "Anywhere for Free" plan for unlimited plans on smartphones on multiple platforms (i.e. iOS, Android, BlackBerry, etc.), whereas Music Unlimited is still only available for Android.
I wanted this service more for my TV and console than I do for a smartphone, and I likely won't ever buy a music subscription for a smartphone. There a few reasons for that. First, I don't have an unlimited data plan (and probably won't ever thanks to AT&T and Verizon) so constantly streaming music on a 3G connection when I'm out and about would be too expensive. Second, there are going to be times when I don't have an Internet connection, but what if I still want to listen to music? Thus, I'm probably going to be stuck buying tracks individually for a long time.
So, where does Spotify fit in? For desktop purposes, I liked it more than all of the above. It was incredibly easy to sync my iTunes library with Spotify. All I had to do was drag my Library icon over to the Spotify application and it was done literally within seconds. Not every track is available in Spotify, but certainly more than 75 percent of my collection was. Also, all my playlists came over as well. I don't know if I could have asked for anything to be easier. Thus, I can log in to a Spotify application on any computer anywhere now and access my personal library without having to stream directly from my home computer.
Like Pandora and Grooveshark, there are plenty of ads. However, if I'm just using Spotify to listen to music casually while working or finding new songs and albums, it's really not a hassle nor is it worth upgrading to a paid plan - at least not yet.
Although Spotify has double the amount of tracks on Music Unlimited, I found that I still don't have a purpose for paying for it at this point. If it comes out with some kind of PS3 or Smart TV app (which will likely happen), then perhaps I'll reevaluate. I've tried the Spotify app out on my iPhone, which works well, but as I said, I don't do much music streaming from my smartphone without a Wi-Fi connection.
Thus, maybe Spotify seemed so impressive back then because it was something I couldn't have - or the competition has gotten better before it even arrived in the U.S.