It’s kinda ironic to be sitting in Norway and writing reviews that are US only. Proxies are nice tools to get around IP restrictions, but it’s also an extra hassle to go through if you’re relying on the service for daily use. Spotify is one of few services that actually started in Europe and is slowly spreading out, so for once I can write a review without having to fake my location.
Spotify is one of few services that come from Europe and is often mistakenly looked upon as revolutionary because it let’s users stream music from a giant library of songs. While the free, ad-supported concept is indeed special, subscription/streaming services aren’t really new. Spotify’s paid version is basically the same as Napster and Rhapsody. You download software, log in, and go nuts with listening to music.
Requirements and software
Spotify is coming to the US in the future as well as other countries, but for the time being you can only use the service in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France and Spain. Spotify allows for “travel use”, which let’s free users log in from other-country IPs for up to 14 days and premium users for as long as they want. This means that if you manage to sign up for a premium account, you can use it from anywhere. As for software, Spotify is software based and you need the client to use it- no online Napster-like streaming. There are also mobile clients available for Android, Symbian S60 and iPhone OS.
Spotify Free is ad supported and will randomly pop up audio commercials as well as advertisement banners in the software. The ads can get very annoying as there isn’t a static part of the software that will display them- it will randomly resize windows to fit banners in different places. Basically it seems the point of the ads is to annoy you into going premium. Spotify Free also requires an invite, which people with premium accounts get. Premium accounts are €10/£10/99KR per month and gives you access to offline mode, mobile use, “travel access”, higher sound quality and removes ads. Day pass, which is €1/£1/9NOK, removes ads but nothing more.
Spotify also allows you to buy tracks if you’re in the UK, Sweden, France and Spain. Music purchases are provided by 7digital.com and not part of Spotify per say.
One of the biggest downsides of Spotify is the utter lack for a way to find music. You can search for music by artists, album or track, access a few lists of music and use a radio feature which lets you create a filter of decades and genres to make a stream, but that’s it. There’s no real browsing, no recommended tracks (though last.fm scrobbling is supported) and nothing that let’s you discover new music. With Spotify you basically need to know what you’re looking for as it won’t try to show you.
The artists and album pages are also rather simple. For artists you can access a bio (if available) as well as artist radio, similar artists and of course the music they have available. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing because it’s very fast and easy to navigate, but they could have done more with it- links to the artist on last.fm, for instance, to try to make it a bit easier to find similar music. Since you can’t access genres or anything like that, it’s often a bit hard find similar artists beyond the ones linked on the artist page. Album pages have absolutely no links to anything else (like similar albums on Napster) so again you’re stuck with having to know it’s there to find it.
The main focus of Spotify is to create playlists, which you do very easily in the sidebar. You can share links to your playlists, sync them between computers and devices etc. This would work better if they had something like a playlist central that some services have, where you can browse playlists and see what playlists an album is on etc. Again this comes down to lack of ways to find music on Spotfy.
The chart below shows the number of songs available for 20 different artists for each of the music services I’ve reviewed. As I review more, the chart will be updated.
Spotify streams using Ogg Vorbis q5, 160kbps. If you have a premium account you can set it to stream as 320kbps instead. Premium accounts can also use the service offline where it will download the tracks locally for when you don’t have Internet access (or if you don’t want to use bandwidth). You can’t use the downloaded tracks to play somewhere else though; it’s still Spotify-only.
Spotify is also available on three mobile platforms; Symbian S60, iPhone OS and Android. The Archos 5 Android tablet is able to use the Android version albeit there is a bug with the playback screen. Mobile use requires a premium account so there are no ads, and you’ll also have access to offline mode. It syncs playlists form the computer, so essentially you can create a bunch of playlists on your PC, make them available offline (up to 3333 tracks) on your device and use it as a normal music player. This makes it comparable to Rhapsody To Go, although since so few MP3 players can use it it’s more useful for people with smartphones.
Spotify is a nice service that let’s you stream music either free with ads or for a monthly fee, as well as use the service on various mobile platforms. The lack of a way to find new music is one of the biggest drawback, and it still lacks some major labels to be able to compete with other services, but the service itself is solid and very usable. Since Spotify is currently available in countries where other services are not, it has gotten a lot of attention and a solid user base already. Whether it will be that popular in the US is a bigger question as there are alternatives there that does a better job of helping you find music, not just play it.