July 15, 2011
Spotify USA has arrived and after using the service for 12 hours, I’m prepared to give my early assessment of the music sharing streaming that took Europe by storm and finally hit our shores today. First, let it be said that I will concentrate my review on what I found using the Spotify Premium service, although I will also touch on the Free and Unlimited plans as well. Also, it’s important to know that I went into using Spotify having never used the service elsewhere. In other words, I will not address the subtle differences between what we are getting here in the U.S. versus what is available in Europe. Introduction So, what makes Spotify special? In a word, Spotify brings flexibility to music streaming. Meaning, if you like listening to streaming music from your desktop, Spotify Free is the package for you. Want to listen to your music regardless of an Internet connection and on your iPhone/iPod touch or iPad? Spotify has that covered with its Premium package. Finally, if you dislike the occasional ad but have no use for music streaming on your iDevice, then Spotify Unlimited is likely the package for you. Spotify understands that people listen to music very differently. As such, it has attempted to address everyone’s needs by making available three separate packages, all at what I consider reasonable prices. A Quick Look At Each Package Spotify Free is currently available by invitation only (more on that later) and gives users full and unlimited access to all the songs Spotify has to offer. To date, that number is 15 million and counting. Other features include the ability to listen to your iTunes music directly from within the Spotify application and interact with others using the service’s social network features. This includes alerting your friends about your musical tastes through Facebook, Twitter, or email. In addition, Spotify Free users can login to their account before making a trip abroad and access the service for up to 14 days for free, even if you are in a non-Spotify country, assuming you have a Wi-Fi connection. Spotify Free is supported by ads that come and go while using the service. Spotify Unlimited, which is priced at $4.99 per month, offers all of the features of the free version without the advertising. Plus, when abroad, you can take your music with you for an unlimited amount of time. This assumes you purchased Spotify from inside one of their launch countries. Finally, we have the $9.99 per month Spotify Premium package. Naturally, this plan gives users everything that Spotify offers including those functions mentioned before. What makes Premium special is what it gives to the iDevice owner. Using an offline mode (both on the desktop and mobile), users can actually download songs from the Spotify service for later use. This means downloading music using Wi-Fi before you leave home and then listening to those songs later without the need of a costly 3G connection. Spotify Premium members can also play music through a number of third-party devices such as the Squeezebox Touch or Radio and the Sonos wireless music system. The Details Like with iTunes, Spotify revolves around a separate application either for Windows or Mac, and doesn’t require a web browser to work. At the top, you’ll find three tabs – What’s New, Top Lists, and Feeds. The first gives you a visual look at what albums are new to the Spotify service. Currently, this page includes anywhere from eight to 12 album covers. Simply clicking on the album gives you a listen of the songs it contains. Click on those and your music begins. Top Lists includes links to the top 100 tracks and albums on Spotify at that time. See something you like? Simply click on the artist or song name and you’re good to go. Finally, the Feeds tab includes music shared by your friends on Facebook as well as the latest Spotify news. Next, on the left hand side of the screen are additional tools. Here you will find your Play Queue, which lists the songs that are currently in your music queue (either within the service or in your own music collection), plus a running history of the songs you’ve already listened. Adding music to your queue is as simple as right clicking on a song or album and selecting Queue. My advice is to add songs to your queue at the beginning of your day and then forgetting about it until the Queue is depleted. Next, is your Inbox, which lists songs that other Spotify users have sent to you. Premium users will next see Devices, which actually provides no benefit except to remind you how to take music with you on your iOS or Android device. Library is perhaps the most interesting and powerful section within the Spotify application. It is here you’ll see a running list of all of your local music (sorted by artist), plus music you’ve starred, imported, bought or added to a playlist. This list includes songs that are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) and therefore, can’t be played from within the Spotify application. These are marked with a salmon color and are easily deleted from the application without actually deleting the file in iTunes. Since music files are no longer protected by DRM, I was quite surprised to see how so many of my existing iTunes purchases were in this format. Sad to be me, I guess! Local Files are just that, music files that reside on your Mac or PC. Starred is where your important music files are collected. In other words, those songs you’ve starred somewhere in Spotify, either within the application or iPhone app. Finally, you have the iTunes tool. It is here where your iTunes Playlists are located. Playlists, Playlists, Playlists You will soon figure out that one of the most important features of Spotify is its ability to create Playlists. Whenever you see a song you’d like to add to a Playlist, simply right click on it and select Playlist > and the name of the Playlist. Best of all, you can create an unlimited number of Playlists, which can then be carried immediately to your iPhone app. Offline Mode As stated previously, Spotify Premium allows you to download unlimited songs for offline viewing. This is accomplished by adding songs to a Playlist and then indicating that all the songs in that Playlist should be available for offline viewing. This seems like a lengthy process until you realize that you need to put the music somewhere in order to access it later. Adding it to a Playlist serves this purpose. Search Finally, a little bit about Spotify Search. Unless your song is mentioned on the application’s What’s New or Top 100 page, you will need to find it using the search button at the top left hand corner of the application. To search all of Spotify, make sure you’re within the What’s New page and type in the name of the song or artist. From there, you will see a lengthy list of songs that may or may not match your criteria. In addition, you can narrow the search to those songs only in your Library, by following the same steps above, except making sure you’re within your Library. The Freebie Many people are requesting invitations to join Spotify. However, those invitations are only necessary for the free service. Currently, existing Spotify Unlimited or Premium users are allowed to send five free invitations to whomever they want. Our advice is if you want to try out the service and don’t want to wait for one of those invitations, spend a few bucks and try the service out for a month. If you don’t, there is no telling when you’ll receive your invitation or when Spotify Free will be available for everyone. Final Thoughts As a service, Spotify works flawlessly, both via the application and iPhone app. As Steve Jobs would say, it just works. However, I do feel the Spotify interface could be greatly improved. For one, it doesn’t include that much information. For example, although we see the Top 100 albums and songs, they aren’t broken down into separate categories (Rock, Pop, etc.). Plus, the What’s New page is definitely lacking. Finally, there is the issue of the application’s search capabilities. Yes, Spotify will no doubt find the song you’re looking for, but it might not make it as obvious as it should. Whatever algorithm Spotify uses for search needs reworked. Better yet, I’d like to see fewer search results not more. Still overall, Spotify is worth a look and comes highly recommended. While many will most likely be quick to select the Free product, I’d suggest spending the $9.99 (for one month anyway) and see what Spotify Premium has to offer. You’ll be happy you did. Next… The iPhone App Tomorrow, I’ll offer my opinions on the Spotify iPhone app. What do you think? Leave your comments below.