Unwired View’s Mobile Cloud Music Showdown – Locker Services, 5th Place: MP3tunes
Ed. – This article is part of our roundup featuring all of the mobile cloud music services currently available in the US. Click here for more.
MP3tunes is helmed by mp3.com founder Michael Robertson. Mp3.com was an early pioneer in the digital music space, as controversial as it was groundbreaking. But now that downloading music online is no longer a newfangled concept, can Robertson’s new product stand out amongst a cluttered market? We investigate below.
iOS, Android, WebOS, Windows Phone, some older devices
2GB (free), 50GB (39.95/year or $4.95/mo), 100 GB ($74.95/year or $7.95/mo), 200GB ($139.95/year or $12.95/mo). Premium versions feature no ads, access to cover art and premium support.
Software Stability/Ease of Use
The MP3tunes mobile software was easily the worst of any that we tested for this entire feature. Throughout our test we were unable to get the Android version of the mobile app to play even one song before crashing. The iOS app (called “AirBand”) fared slightly better, allowing us to select a song, and–after clearing out the erroneous “Connection Problem” message that would pop up literally every time we tried to play a song–listen to tracks we’d uploaded from our computer.
The interface is broken up into Artist, Album, Playlist and Settings tabs. Playlists cannot be added or edited on the mobile app. We found it to be quite annoying that the default settings required us to sign into our MP3tunes account every time we opened the app, but a quick perusal of the settings revealed a helpful auto-login feature. The stream quality could also be set manually to 26, 56, 96, 128 or 192kbps.
Once a song has been selected for playback, the “Now Playing” screen allows for a large album art display (which remains blank unless you have a premium plan), and even had an “I” button that displayed a short bio of the artist. The volume dial was unique, controlled by “turning” a dial much like a stereo. But the bar showing the progress of the track was almost useless, as it neither allowed scrubbing of the track or even a numerical value for how much of the song had progressed. It did, however, show the buffer level, which loaded surprisingly fast. Turning the device to landscape orientation brought up a Cover Flow-like display of the most recently played tracks.
We experienced decent playback speeds on the mobile app (when it didn’t crash). The best experience we had was with the iOS app, which would playback within 4-5 seconds, despite the aforementioned “Connection Problem” error message that would pop up, telling us “the connection was lost.”
Software Stability/Ease of Use
The desktop transfer software, called LockerSync3, was equally as infuriating as the mobile apps. It choked on our 20,000+ song library, and required multiple attempts over the course of two days to be able to fill the 2GB limit. We spent more time staring at a spinning beach ball than any progress of our uploads.
Feature-wise, “watch folders” can be set for the software to look for new music you add, that can then be AutoSynched to your mp3Tunes library. Synching can also be scheduled. Considering the lag we experienced with our library, we can’t recommend any auto-synching for those with large libraries.
While there was no playback from a desktop app, the Web player is quite possibly the best part about the MP3tunes service. The player loads extremely fast, is extremely responsive, and even shuffles through images of the artist currently playing (if not the actual album art). There is a “smart bar” along the right side of the player that recommends tracks similar to the one playing that can be purchased on Amazon. And the playback controls include scrubbing, shuffle and repeat options. Clicking the “infinite playlist” button ensures the music never stops, even if the currently playing album or playlist ends.
We can’t be certain of the speed of the actual transfer, because the application crashed several times and required restarts. But considering we only put 2GB of music onto the MP3tunes server, the fact that it took the better part of two days before we could actually play any music points to a less than satisfactory experience.
Conceptually, we could see ourselves enjoying the MP3tunes service. The app is streamlined, features album art prominently, and even has information about the artist currently playing. The most important parts of the service (storage and streaming) are free, and it’s available on many different platforms.
But ultimately, if the app doesn’t “just work,” then what good is it? We found our experience with MP3tunes to be mostly frustrating, and at times infuriating. Probably the most puzzling aspect of the service is how reliable and easy to use the Web application was, in direct contrast to every other piece of software the service offers. We know Michael Robertson has his hands launching new products and fending off lawsuits from EMI, but maybe he should focus a bit more on the mobile user experience, because until it improves, we certainly can’t recommend it. To anyone.
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.