Rdio is a global online music service, recently introduced to New Zealand, that lets you stream all the music you please for a fixed monthly fee.
Harley Ogier | Tuesday, March 20 2012
Product type: Online music streaming service
RRP incl GST: $8.90/month subscription (desktop only), $13.90/month (desktop and mobile)
- Browser-based (Adobe Flash) version
- Windows and Mac OS X desktop apps
- Mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7
- Playlists and favourites sync across all devices
A wonderful service, let down only by region-locking annoyances and a buggy WP7 app.
Rdio is a global online music service that the press release tells us was started by the creators of Skype. In late January this year, Rdio launched in New Zealand with surprisingly little fanfare.
I have a confession: I buy CDs. I don’t use iTunes, despite having a Mac. I don’t download music. Sometimes I watch officially-uploaded YouTube music videos with the browser minimised, in the least efficient example of music streaming possible. But mostly I buy CDs. This makes Rdio diametrically opposed to my usual music-consumption philosophy.
With Rdio, you don’t buy music. Ever. You subscribe to a service that gives you all the music you want, via one of two monthly plans. For $8.90 per month you get the service via your web browser (Flash required), plus the Windows and Mac OS X desktop clients. $13.90 per month gives you all that, plus access via the Rdio apps available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. Unless you never leave your house, the extra $5 per month is a no-brainer. We’ll get back to the mobile apps, though.
When I first tested Rdio, the web player’s Flash-driven design was simple but slick, the user interface easily navigable, and the whole thing quite novel. Since then, the web interface has been redesigned such that it strongly resembles Apple's iTunes software. It does provide familiarity for anyone switching from iTunes, and is still just as simple and functional, but has lost some of its originality in the process. At the time of writing it was possible to switch back and forth between the old and new designs, but don't expect that feature to hang around forever.
The desktop clients for Windows and Mac OS are almost identical to the website, but allow you to use any media keys (play/pause/previous/next) on your keyboard, and to import your music collection from Windows Media Player or iTunes respectively. When 'importing' your collection, the software matches songs and albums you already own with those same songs and albums on Rdio (where available), meaning you don't have to go through and manually search for each one.
Finding the music you’re after is a snap. Assuming, that is, you’re allowed to listen to it. Here is the only place Rdio fell flat on its face during my testing: thanks to the complexity of international music licensing, there is a tonne of content that we in New Zealand can see, but cannot play.
Some of the issues are frankly ludicrous; in one example, I was presented with two identical versions of an album. One I could play, the other I could not. One was the US release, the other our local release. The tracks, length and even album text did not vary between the two.
Other examples made more sense, but were equally maddening. Several albums I owned, bought on CD, were not available to be played in New Zealand at all. Sure, some were obscure international artists. Others were albums or singles from The Feelers and Shihad, both New Zealand bands. The same issue carries over to a multitude of other local artists, old and new.
Complaints aside, the library of music we can access from New Zealand is undeniably huge. It’s also widely varied in genre and country of origin. Streaming quality is good, and I experienced nothing worse than three or four brief interruptions (of a few seconds each) in a week of very heavy use.
The mobile apps for iOS and Android seem very solid. Sadly I did most of my testing on Windows Phone 7, the app for which is so buggy that I’d have avoided it entirely had it not spewed free music into my headphones.
The concept behind the mobile app is simple: you can stream music, as you do on the desktop, via Wi-Fi or 3G. Audio is heavily compressed over 3G to keep data costs down (costs will vary depending on your mobile carrier), giving you something a little better than radio quality. You can also ‘sync’ music to the device, which gives you an offline copy you can listen to when you’re disconnected. The best way to handle this is to sync your favourite music to your device over Wi-Fi, then pop the app in ‘offline’ mode and listen to that music without data costs or Wi-Fi-related battery consumption.
Should you use Rdio? Absolutely, if it’ll agree to play whatever you want to hear. Take the seven day free trial, and you can check that out yourself. Me? I’m a convert. My CD budget’s going to my Rdio subscription from now on.
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