Mobile Cloud Music Showdown: Unwired View Reviews the U.S. Subscription and Locker Services
Ever since our digital music collection first outgrew our iPod, we knew that the days of storing music locally were numbered. As bandwidth widens and server space gets cheaper, moving our music collections from Macs and PCs to the cloud was inevitable.
But in 2011, it can be a bit confusing…what does it mean, exactly, to have your music in the cloud, and how do we get it there? The options can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help; we’ve thoroughly reviewed and rated of all the cloud music on-the-go options currently available in the US.
For the (admittedly narrow) focus of this feature, cloud music refers to a music library stored on a remote server, reducing (or eliminating) our need to be tethered to our home computers in order to listen to and find new music. The number of companies that offer a cloud-based music service is growing rapidly, and no two services are alike. Those looking to try out that “cloud music thing” can easily be overwhelmed with options and pricing, so we here at Unwired View decided to do the hard work for you. Over the past few weeks, we have researched, scrutinized, tested and rated all of the cloud music services that currently offer the cutting edge of online music: on-demand streaming of tracks on mobile devices. This guide intends to serve as a one-stop shop for information on every service, with the added bonus of ranking those we liked best.
So where do we start? Those that want to ditch the USB tether to their computer in favor of the cloud effectively have two options: the “locker” service and the “subscription” service. “Locker” services serve as remote storage of users’ own data; music is uploaded to the user’s locker on the server and accessed remotely. “Subscription” services allow users access to a remotely stored library of songs that are downloaded or streamed to local devices.
You may notice such popular services as Last.fm, Pandora and Slacker are all missing from this feature, despite their excellent reputations and mobile platforms. The aforementioned services–while excellent ways to hear new music–differ from the apps we review here because they do not offer on-demand playback. We chose to focus on services that allow users to choose their own music, rather than being limited to only “radio” services. The sure-to-be insanely popular iCloud and iTunes Match services from Apple are also missing, because despite the massive publicity, they aren’t yet available.
Our goal was to quantify what the typical user experience with each app is like. Sure, a feature like “Artist Radio” may look good on a feature list, but it’s not worth much if it follows up a Jelly Roll Morton recording with the latest from “Selena Gomez and the Scene.”
Currently only US-licensed services are covered. Also, as we are a mobile site, services without mobile applications were not considered.
Our grading criteria were focused on storage space, software reliability/ease of use, streaming/upload speed and reliability as well premium features. Price was also considered, but most important was how these categories affected the overall “average” user experience. Determining whom the average user is was admittedly a difficult task, considering our own freakish levels of music and gadget nerd-dom, but we did our best.
We have reviewed the following U.S. based cloud music services:
We will be posting a new review each weekday, so keep coming back for more.
#5 – MP3tunes
#4 – Best Buy Music Cloud
#3 – mSpot
#2 – Google Music (beta)
#1 – Amazon Cloud Player
#7 – Grooveshark
#6 – Rhapsody
#5 – Napster
#4 – Zune Pass
#3 – MOG
#2 – Spotify
#1 – Rdio
Our test phones:
Apple iPhone 3G S (AT&T 3G, iOS)
HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon 4G LTE, Android)
HTC Trophy (Verizon 3G, WP 7)
We tested the services using the largest CDMA (Verizon) and HSDPA (AT&T) networks in and around New York City. Wi-Fi speeds were tested on a 20Mbps up/1.5 Mbps down cable connection through an Apple Extreme “N” Base Station. We did our best to account for service variations when testing various devices, but certain discrepancies were unavoidable (no 4G WP 7 or iOS handsets just yet).