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.
mSpot launced more than a year ago, announcing their beta-only version at the same Google I/O conference where Google announced their acquisition of Simplify Media (which ultimately resulted in Google Music). Since then the service has matured, and in the meantime the market became flooded with competition. So how does mSpot compare to all the newcomers?
5GB Free (allows one mobile device), 40GB $5/mo (up to 5 mobile devices).
Software Stability/Ease of Use
Aesthetically, the mSpot apps take on the appearance of the OS that they’re running on; there isn’t much unique about their design. But if they put all their resources into making the app stable, then the user is well-served. The app only crashed on us once that we can remember, we never experienced lag from the software and navigation of the interface was always smooth.
The “Now Playing” screen was well-stocked with options including, shuffle, loop, add to queue, play/pause, FF/RW and a much-appreciated track scrubber. The “start radio” button on the Android app, which immediately creates a playlist from the song playing, is absent on the radio-less iPhone app. The album art from uploaded tracks is retained, albeit in a lower resolution. Once played, songs are temporarily cached locally for offline playback and can be easily differentiated from the streaming tracks by looking in the “On My Phone” playlist.
Pressing the “i” button during radio playback shows you the last 5 songs played on the station. Songs can be “tagged” by clicking the heart icon, saving it for when you log onto a PC, where you can then purchase songs you’ve favorited. In a post-App Store world, this is a major oversight. Over-the-air transactions are key for such a service, and a PC tether requirement for purchases virtually eliminates impulse purchases.
mSpot has a curious method for limiting the number of devices a user can use with a free account; when a user attempts to sign in on an unauthorized device, the software gives you the option to de-authorize the previous device and authorize the one you are using. So even with the free version of the service, you can use an unlimited number of devices–just not at the same time. Those with the 40GB plan can have up to 5 mobile devices simultaneously.
Radio is currently in beta for Android devices only, so iPhone/iPod users are out of luck. On the Android app, there are two types of radio. The first, “Premium,” which features radio stations curated by Mspot, complete with metadata (artist, track, album, etc) for each song as it plays. The “Internet” option connects the app to any number of radio stations broadcast on the Internet. The stations don’t allow for tracks to be skipped, but the “Premium” stations usually have album art for the currently playing track. Some tracks, like John Legend’s “Everybody Knows,” even have a small “L” icon in the top right corner of the album art which displays the lyrics when pressed. The “Internet” radio section is farmed from various sources across the Internet and is therefore decidedly less polished. Some of the categories listed in the Internet radio section weren’t even populated with actual songs; “Hits,” “Jazz/Blues” and “Chill,” and others were empty when we looked.
Songs averaged a respectable 3-4 seconds from first click to playback, whether on 4G or Wi-Fi. Playback of cached tracks was nearly instant, though we suspect this had something to do with the fact that our songs were uploaded at the lowest possible (48kbps) quality.
Software Stability/Ease of Use
The desktop application is a system preferences pane that opens in the background upon startup. As long as your system and Internet connection aren’t ancient, it shouldn’t affect computer usage or bandwidth, as most users rarely utilise upload bandwidth (hardcore filesharers might want to pause their Bit Torrent streams before uploading, however). The small capacity ensures a quick upload, as the storage limit for free accounts is 5GB. Music can be managed through the Web player, but it cannot be deleted or uploaded via the mobile app. The app was extremely stable, never choking on our large library or slowing down and affecting other programs.
The Web app is streamlined, with no excess. The main window is just a long list of your tracks (with sortable columns) and a navigation bar along the left side that looks curiously like iTunes’. Your iTunes and Mspot playlists are viewable, and new playlists can be created. The player controls are spread out along the top of the player window, with album art prominently displayed in the top left corner. “Tagged Songs” can be viewed and purchased via iTunes and Amazon links. The player loads quickly, and playback is almost instant over a strong connection.
The length of time it takes to upload your library to Mspot is partially aided by the small amount of space that they offer. In addition, those hoping to pack as many tracks as possible into their libraries can have Mspot transcode songs to make them smaller and upload faster. Users can select “Good,” “Better,” and “Best” options from the upload editor on the Web player, deciding what level of sound quality to transfer speed is right for them. But the transcoding takes time as well, so while we know that it let us fit more songs we’re not sure if we saved any time over uploading full bit rate tracks. At any rate, the stability of the software contributed to the overall ease of file transfer, and we were ready to go within a few hours.
mSpot had the advantage of a significant head start, launching their service more than a year ago. Since then, the free storage plan jumped from 2GB to 5GB and the software is out of beta. Our user experience with every piece of mSpot software was positive; the interfaces were clean and the backend stable, and we weren’t bogged down by unnecessary features. Conversely, we would have liked a more integrated way to purchase music to add to our collection, and while 5GB of free storage is great, it still pales in comparison to some competitors. For those who have neither an extremely large collection or a desire to impulsively buy music online, however, mSpot is made to order.
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.
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