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Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity Review

For those of you who don’t know what Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity (seriously, who thought of that as a name) is, it’s a subscription based music service by Sony, with quite complicated branding. It’s PSN, it’s Sony Entertainment, no, it’s Qriocity, all at the same time. I don’t even know how to pronounce that properly, so luckily that isn’t a requirement for a text based review.

The deal is, you pay $13 (AUD) a month, and get unlimited streaming of any song in their library. It sounds like a pretty good deal on the surface, but is it really? Let’s find out.

Music Range
Well, it’s Sony, so anything Sony related is in there. That said, all the major label seem to be represented, meaning that it will have 99% of the music most people want (since, by definition, what most people want is mainstream music.) It won’t be able to cover some unique indie bands, and I have found at least one that I would have liked to have, but most of the time, the music I want to listen to is there.

One thing I have found with their range is it’s sometimes too comprehensive. Do we really need 3 or 4 versions of the same album appearing? Or maybe a double or triple album that bands sometimes release to make it easier for new fans to buy the old CD’s.

Stanley Climbfall apears 4 times. Two contain identical bonus tracks, the other two do not. What’s the point in having the non bonus track ones?
Hawkology is actually the first three albums in one. The idea is new fans can get the old albums at a discount when buying old albums. The three albums that are in the Hawkology are available separately (not shown in screenshot)

I will give Sony a plus here though, because it would cost heaps of money to sift through everything and extract actual duplicates, as it could upset some people if there happens to be something in one version of the album that isn’t in the other (maybe an extended track or something,) and I’d rather have more content with a lot of overlaps than it missing one of my favorite songs.

Now, if there are one or two artists that you can’t find, you can upload your own music in a Google Music like style with a program, creatively named, Music Sync. The downside with it, the music can only ever be from one computer. Install it on another computer and all your uploaded songs from previous computers dissapear. It seems strange that they would do this, rather why not just give users some space to upload any songs that they want and be done with it?

Anyway, it seems as though the programs smart enough that it will identify songs that aren’t available from the Sony library, and only uploads them. It also uploads any iTunes playlist if you’re still that (is anyone?) If only they could make a good user interface to match.

Interface
There is no desktop software other than the Music Sync program, it’s all web based. Web and flash based. I personally don’t have anything against Flash, and I can’t say I’m eagerly awaiting the day that HTML5 is the dominant web standard, though on the same token, I don’t loath the day. I’m indifferent what technology is used, as long as it works. If Flash is used and it works well, then that’s great. If HTML5 is used and it works well, that too is great. Given that HTML5 is still upcoming, and it’s probably easier to find Flash developers, it’s not a surprise that the whole site is built around Flash.

My verdict on the overall interface? Well, it works. It’s not absolutely amazing, but it also doesn’t involve lengthy processes and debugging to try and get it working. There are plenty of small annoyances (biggest one so far? leave a song paused for more than a few minutes, and when you come back to playing it, it will start from the beginning), but given the service that it offers, I’m willing to overlook these small things for now. I imagine that Google would do a much better overall if they integrated a subscription service into Google Music (which I can’t imagine happening soon, the major labels won’t even let Google sell music like iTunes, though that could be partly Google’s fault with not wanting to compromise.) So whilst it’s the only service like this (others aren’t available in Australia,) it’s going to get all the money from people that want to use it. The problem they will have is when others do start poping up: due to it’s design, it’s much easier to swap services than it is to swap email addresses (having to let everyone know, forward emails, auto-reply, etc.) or cloud syncing services like Dropbox (having to move over all your files, and working out the deal with shared folders.) You don’t own anything on there, so you move services and you’ve got everything you already had.

So, yes, not an amazing interface, and it has it’s downfalls, but it works. I just can’t get out of my head that Sony is mainly a hardware company, and their software has always been sub-par compared to companies where software comes first (look at what they did to Android! The interface on the X10 is heaps slow and buggy, where as stock Android on the X10 is really good.)

Mobile App

One of the best features is they have released a mobile app for Android, and given what I just said about Sony and making software, it’s surprisingly good. Considering most people would at some stage want to listen  to music on a portable device, and lots of people are starting to use their phones as that portable device. There isn’t really anything much to say about the mobile app. It’s heavily based on the website (though with fewer annoyances, such as the pause issue,) and it works. I still like doubleTwist better, but I was genuinely surprised at how well the Android app worked.

What it’s missing

That definitely is not the right album art.

  • With the Android app, the ability to cache a couple of albums would be awesome. Firstly, it’s going to chew through data, and most phones in Australia are on sub gigabyte data caps (Sony do realise this with a data warning when you start the app, and an option in the settings to stream only when connected to WiFi). It’d be awesome if, when I got up in the morning, connected to WiFi and gave it two albums to cache so I could listen to them on the train. An alternative to this reason would be to make deals with Telcos to make data for Qriocity unlimited, but I doubt that’s going to happen. Second reason, dropouts and congestion. Even if someone has a data plan big enough, mobile data in Australia is much to be desired. I know on a train trip I regularly take there’s about 5 to 10 minutes of no reception, so caching would really help there.
  • Improve the web app. As I said, it’s OK, but not great. It’s really relying on the fact that it’s got millions of songs readily accessible for people to use it. It’d be awesome if they not only had an awesome library, but an awesome media player.
  • Less important, try and cut down on duplicates without removing any content. If the same album appears four times, and they are all identical except one has a couple of bonus tracks, remove all of them except the one with the bonus tracks. No songs are lost, and it’s cleaner overall. That said, I’d much rather have a lot of duplicates than Sony accidentally removing a couple of songs.
  • Also, try and get the right album art for all the albums. There is at least one album I’ve come across with album art that had nothing to do with the artist. It’s not a biggie, but it makes the whole experience seem a little less polished.

Would I recommend it?
Well, I’m not entirely sure. It really depends on who you are. If you love to discover new music (it does have suggestion features built in to find similar artists, but I haven’t tried it) and want to listen to whole albums before you buy it, then it may be for you. If you, like me, listen to most music on a portable device without enough data for regular streaming and have a smaller range of artists, though buy most of the albums from each artist, then you may be better off buying an album a month. That way you own it for ever (well, if you buy it on CD and don’t lose it,) and you don’t need to rely on a data service to be able to listen to music.

Whilst I’ve found it quite good whilst using it on my computer and phone when I’ve had WiFi reception, without the ability to listen to it on the train or in the car without getting “bill shock” when my mobile phone bill comes through, I’m probably not going to renew my accidental subscription when it expires. If they implemented caching on the Android app though, where I could select albums to cache without playing them, then I will reconsider the service.