Guest Review By: Nick Stropko
I heard about SpiralFrog several months ago from a news story I saw, and I was immediately intrigued with the concept. A music download service that is supported entirely by ads seemed to be a fantastic way to achieve the Holy Grail: free, legal music downloads. Well, after several labels signing on, an upheaval of the Board of Directors, and months of waiting, I have been accepted as a beta tester for the fledgling service. Unfortunately, though the business model is admirable, this specific iteration needs some serious work before being released for mass consumption. The interface is confusing and poorly designed, there are several major bugs in the software, and it frankly doesn’t make sense. Though the promise of free, legal music is extremely tempting of music downloads, you may want to look elsewhere until SpiralFrog gets their service on track.
Take Note: This program is still in beta, so any and all features may change in the final version (or subsequent updates).
- Quick Look
- Owned By: Mohen, Inc.
- Download Format(s): DRM WMA 128-192 KBPS
- Cost: $0.00 (Ad Supported)
- Current Status: Beta Testing
- Operating System(s) Required: Windows XP or Vista
- Dependent Software: Windows Media Player 10 or 11
To begin, you download the “SpiralFrog Download Manager.” It is a pretty straightforward install, and in a short time you will be up and running. However, the Download Manager is not a program from which you download songs like iTunes, Rhapsody, or the Zune Marketplace. It leaves no desktop icon and no indication of its presence in the start menu. The only trace of it on your computer is an icon in your system tray, from which you can change basic settings (where downloaded files go, file names, etc). This can be confusing, as there are no instructions included with the email, and I originally assumed that this would be like the aforementioned services. However, after signing in to their website it became clear that you download music directly from the web (which begs the question: what is the point of the SpiralFrog Download Manager?). Unfortunately for some reason (it may just be my computer), SpiralFrog does not work with Firefox. Again, it may be my computer, so this is not definite.
Searching for and Downloading Music
After logging into the website, you can see your basic information (username, total downloads, days until next renewal—more on that later), and everything you need to search for music. You can either scroll through all artists, genres, etc., or you can use the search bar in the upper right corner of the screen to search by artist, song, album, or video by artist. However, from my experience, you must spell everything exactly right to get a result, which can get pretty annoying. Once you find an artist, it offers a biography, discography, recommended artist, and other such niceties. That’s great, but the trouble begins to brew once you start to download music. You click on an artist and an album and start downloading songs, but you can’t download entire albums at a time, which is a pretty large oversight. After your first song downloads, you get a message bubble from the SpiralFrog icon in the system tray telling you that your download is complete. Starting the next song isn’t a picnic; you must go back to the webpage and click the “Download Next” button above your queue. This makes absolutely no sense to me, since you cannot let downloads go overnight, and you must be constantly vigilant of when yourdownloads have completed. On top of this, if you leave SpiralFrog on too long (like an hour, for example) without clicking the “Download Next” button, when you come back and try to click the next song, it takes you to a 404 page. Your entire queue is erased, an extremely irritating experience; it happened to me three times during the course of my testing. Another annoyance is that some albums have the tracks listed twice, thus messing up the id3 tags. Also, after clicking the download button, it shows no indication that it has been downloaded or is in the queue—an annoyance considering the same track can be downloaded twice.
However, aside from the errors and bugs, the layout is rather nice, showing track lengths and allowing you to sample a song before you buy it. The colors are bright and easy to read, the text is well spaced out, and everything is fairly easy to understand. Additionally, songs that are downloading are not interrupted by browsing the sight, something usually expected in software but seemingly harder to do with a web based service.
As previously mentioned, SpiralFrog does not charge any money for downloading songs, instead subjecting you to a plethora of advertisements for financial support. When this was first announced, it was speculated that the ads would be long and obtrusive, detracting from the general downloading experience. However, I am happy to report that this is the one aspect of the website that they really got right. The ads around the website are similar to those that would be found on any other ad-supported webpage, and the monthly subscription is not as bad as it was speculated to be. Renewal of your account, like the rest of the service, is free, but you must go through a survey that lasts about five minutes – a minor inconvenience considering it is only required every thirty days. The survey pertains, among other things, to where, how, how often, and in what format you get your music.
This is probably the most disappointing facet of SpiralFrog overall. When I heard about such an innovative concept as SpiralFrog’s, I assumed that the music would be DRM Free, and probably in MP3 format. To my dismay, SpiralFrog offers up 128-192 KPBS WMA files. As if that weren’t enough, there is also Digital Rights Management in place, meaning you cannot transfer this to any DAP, only those that are part of Microsoft’s PlaysForSure. Perhaps SpiralFrog had to put DRM in the files to persuade record companies to support the extremely risky venture, but it is a dismaying fact nonetheless.
Though SpiralFrog is undoubtedly admirable for taking a risk and beginning a free music download service (a business model that has yet to be proven), if they ever do want to prove the model, they need to put some serious work into their website. It’s clunky, some design decisions make little to no sense and, worst of all, it employs DRM. Hopefully other beta testers will point out the obvious flaws, too, and contact SpiralFrog, because they are in no position for success at the time of review.
- Free music
- Over 700,000 songs
- Unobtrusive advertisements
- Unnecessary software
- WMA DRM
- Queue erases if left alone too long
- No directions on installation and install
- Low Bitrate
- Website bugs