Mobile Cloud Music Showdown – Subscription Services, 1st Place: Rdio
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.
Yet another phoenix rising from the ashes of the digital music vanguard (their founders also founded P2P network Kazaa), Rdio came out of beta in late 2010 and has been gathering users and influence ever since. And while it is obviously our No. 1 choice, how in the world did it beat out hypemaster Spotify? Take a look at our review to find out.
iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry
8 million 256kbps DRM-free tracks, unspecified lower quality over cellular connections.
The Shuffle Test
Ed.- we took 10 songs shuffled from our iTunes library and checked how many each service had.
9/10 – Roxy Music – 2HB (Y), Big Star – Life Is White (Y), Sufjan Stevens – Jacksonville (N), The National – Slow Show (Y), Daft Punk – Da Funk (Y), Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (Y), Big Punisher – Dream Shatterer (Y), John Legend – It Don’t Have to Change (Y), Desaparecidos – The Happiest Place on Earth (Y), The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (Y)
The Rdio mobile apps are feature-rich and typically display album art whenever possible, so we were unsurprised to see some slow response times. But while it occasionally lagged, the software was very reliable, only crashing once across all the platforms we tested. We loved the desktop app for Mac, and while there was no Windows app, the Web player works with any OS.
Software (User Interface)
Loaded with features and options, Rdio’s interface can be a tad overwhelming at first. The iOS app, in particular, has nine sections to choose from on its main screen, or “Dashboard.” But while the Android and Windows Phone 7 apps were a bit more streamlined, they were also missing (useful) features, which we never like to see. The Android app was missing the “New Releases,” “Top Charts” and “Recommended” buttons, and WP7 was missing everything but “Heavy Rotation,” “Activity,” “Collection” and “Playlists.” The WP7 app’s “Collection” section was also awkward to browse (no fast-scrolling), and it didn’t let you add songs to directly from the app.
Aside from the clunky (but pretty) WP7 app, we liked how the “Now Playing” screen remains prominent in the others. It stays minimized at the bottom of the screen (and displaying artist, song and album with art) while browsing the app.
“Heavy Rotation” shows you what is getting the most play, whether it be from your account, your network or all of Rdio. If you built a queue on the Web but need to leave to run errands, just click the “Web Queue” button on your mobile app and it magically appears. “Recent Activity” acts much like Spotify’s “Feed,” notifying you when those you follow add music to their collection, update playlists, review an album or even sync music to their mobile.
We also liked the Web interface, which has a player on the left column with art, controls and info. Rdio is also one of the few services that offers a “match” service that scans your iTunes collection for songs in Rdio’s library and adds it to your collection. While Rdio doesn’t have the largest library, they did well on our shuffle test, and matched about 14k of the 20k+ songs from our library with relative ease and speed.
Over Wi-Fi, the streaming speed was excellent, with playback starting in under 2 seconds. Over 3G, speeds were still solid, yet the sound quality was significantly reduced. Oddly, playback over 4G was easily the worst, constantly skipping (though it was mostly likely due to network issues).
One playback issue that puzzled us stemmed from an attempt to play a song that was “currently unavailable for full-length streaming in your region.” We attempted to play The Cardigans “Celia Inside,” but the mobile app didn’t tell us it was unavailable (we had to investigate on the desktop app to figure it out), and instead forced us to listen to “Blah Blah Blah” from the soundtrack to Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Recommendations (Finding New Music)
This area is where Rdio really shines. It has by far the most options for finding new music, and their social media integration is rivaled only by Spotify. Users can follow friends, random Rdio users, record labels, magazines and even organizations like the Polaris Music Prize; the recommendations carry more weight when they’re coming from your favorite publications and record labels.
One advantage Rdio has over Spotify is that users can see other users’ listening history, browse through their collections and add songs from their profiles to their own. This can be construed as a disadvantage for self-conscious users ashamed of their own listening habits, but for our purposes we see it as a major plus.
The “Recommendations” button suggests albums based on your previous listening habits. Some sample suggestions: MoZella’s “MoZella” from Adele, Prodigy’s “Product of the 80s” from Nas, and Toya’s “Crazy Fool” from Jill Scott. Not feeling the current crop? They can be “reloaded” with a push of a button. Artist radio stations can be started from any artist selected from search, and while there weren’t any obvious miscues, we feel they repeated the same artists too frequently for our tastes.
Other options include the “New Releases” tab, which lets you view the current week’s releases, those from the previous week as well as the week before; “Top Charts” shows the most popular albums, songs and playlists on Rdio. And although it’s only available on the Web or desktop apps, the ability to collaborate on playlists with your friends is always fun.
Songs can be “synced to mobile” from either the mobile app, desktop player or Web app. Those songs are then saved to your mobile device (the next time you open it) for offline playback, but if you want offline playback from the desktop player or the Web app, you’ll need to buy the tracks or albums individually. We were a bit peeved that there was no separate section for songs saved to your phone; they show up in your collection along with everything you matched from your computer, as well as songs added for later streaming. However, artists with music saved on the mobile device will have a small orange phone icon next to their name.
$4.99/mo (Web and desktop player use only), $9.99/mo (mobile apps and media players like Sonos, Roku).
The reason Rdio is so great is because of the myriad options to find new music. No one even comes close to offering the breadth and quality of options that Rdio delivers, and while their software is far from perfect, it has a short learning curve for something with so many options.
The reason it edges out Spotify for the top spot is because while it seamlessly integrates social media into its experience, it isn’t wholly dependent upon it. Yes, you can see what new records Spin Magazine likes, or peek at what tunes your friend listened to at the beach last weekend, but you can also see which songs are most popular on Rdio or listen to “Mobb Deep Radio.” They also offer more flexibility and functionality with their social integration than other services; they offer Last.fm a bit of competition by making users’ listening history available for perusal.
We’ve reviewed several great services over the past few weeks, but if we had to choose only one subscription service to pay for, it would be Rdio.
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.