July 2, 2012
- Large music catalog
- Free 7-day trial membership
- Best design among streaming jukebox apps
- Buffering and connectivity problems interrupt music
Subscription for iPhone/iPad: US$9.99/month
The basic idea behind Rdio—that you can subscribe to a nearly unlimited web-based jukebox of music that you can stream at any time—isn’t unique. Spotify, MOG, and Sony Music Unlimited all offer roughly the same thing. But while the core offering is similar, Rdio excels in a number areas, including the design of its app and its free trial offering. It’s not perfect—the app has problems dealing with inconsistent bandwidth—but if you’re shopping for a streaming music app, you need to give Rdio a look.
What It Costs
Like its competitors, you subscribe to Rdio for a small monthly fee. Unlimited streaming to desktop or laptop computers is $4.99/month, while adding iPhone, iPad, or devices from Sonos and Roku costs $9.99/month. Users don’t hear ads on either subscription level.
While those plans are essentially the same as its major competitors, Rdio distinguishes itself thanks to a free trial. Users can sign up for a seven-day free trial to test the service, something Spotify and MOG don’t offer. There are no ads in the trial period, either. After the trial ends, you need to either subscribe or just listen to 30-second samples of songs. For families, Rdio offers family plans that provide discounts on multiple memberships.
When you’re ready to sign up, you can create your account using either an email address or your Facebook account. That you’re not forced to use Facebook, as Spotify and MOG require, is a huge benefit to those who don’t want to route all of their lives through that social network.
Extensive Music Catalog
Once you’re signed up and using Rdio, you’ll find a huge catalog of music to explore. Rdio offers over 15 million songs, the same number as Spotify and MOG (by comparison, iTunes boasts around 20 million). Needless to say, unless your tastes are fairly indie or obscure, you’re likely to find the vast majority of what you’re looking for, though some major acts like Metallica and the Beatles are still MIA on all streaming music services.
Like it competitors, Rdio has some artists/albums that are exclusive to it. You’ll find albums by Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Mile Davis, the White Stripes, and John Coltrane that aren’t available on other services. For pop music, Rdio’s catalog appears to be a bit more complete, but not by much.
As with all streaming services, to use Rdio you search for a song or artist, review your results, and then tap a song to hear it.
If you want to enjoy music without being connected to the Internet, Rdio lets you save songs on your iPhone for offline listening (just as MOG and Spotify do). Songs can only be downloaded for offline playback when your device is connected via Wi-Fi, though; no 3G/4G syncing here.
One of my favorite features of Rdio is its iTunes Genius-like ability to analyze what you’ve listened to and then recommend new music based on that. Among the big three streaming services, Rdio is the only one that provides this and it’s a big advantage.
As with all of these services, how they perform on a strong Wi-Fi or 3G/4G signal is only half the story. You expect them to do well there. It’s how they work, and how the music sounds, when bandwidth is inconsistent that tells the other half of the story.
As with the Spotify and MOG, I tested Rdio on my train ride to work, which is a challenging environment. In some areas of the trip, signal strength is very strong, in others weak, and in a few, non-existent. Spotify largely failed to be usable in this environment, while MOG was shockingly robust. Rdio falls in between those two extremes.
If your connection is weak, it can take a few seconds for a new song to start playing after you tap it. When inconsistent bandwith rears its head, songs can stop to buffer, start playing again for a second or three, and then stop due to buffering again.
That said, I did experience instances in which my network connection dropped completely and the song didn’t stop playing, which was impressive. In one of these instances, the connection was gone for 30-45 seconds and the song kept playing. This didn’t happen every time, though.
In other instances, Rdio really struggled. Sometimes, after having been offline, I’d come back online and try to play a song. Rdio would take a minute or two to start streaming--and even then playback was a choppy. Some people have reported great feats of bandwidth and buffering from Rdio in urban settings--like the subway--but on rural commuter rail trains, it’s less heroic (that said, it’s still better then Spotify).
The Bottom Line
Rdio is an interesting mix. From a user experience standpoint, it’s clearly the best of the three major apps. Its design is clean and light and makes using the app pleasant, unlike Spotify’s angular plainness and MOG’s darkness. It has a large music catalog and its recommendation feature is terrific.
On the other hand, it falls in the middle of the pack for listening on the go, where bandwidth is inconsistent. It deals with variable bandwidth much better than Spotify, but less well than MOG, which means while it will probably be usable wherever you are on the go, you may run into some issues.
None of the streaming jukebox apps is perfect, but Rdio is very good. And since it offers a free trial of the service, I recommend trying it for before you buy. You may find a lot to like.