The streaming music world is a vast and wonderful space, one filled with popular services like Rdio and Spotify. And now hip-hop icon Dr. Dre hopes to fill a need (and his pockets) with Beats Music, which relies on curated playlists to set itself apart from the competition.
The big difference between Beats Music and the other services is that Beats is purely a pay-to-play service, coming in at $9.99 a month. The fact that Beats doesn’t offer a free, ad-supported service is kind of mind boggling. While Dre and company see massive success with their Beats hardware, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of long-term commitment users have with Beats Music considering there are more established and free options available.
That said, Beats Music has an intuitive but gimmicky user interface, and equally gimmicky features.
Launching Beats for the first time gives users a Mad Libs-like form that attempts to indicate what mood you're in so it can suggest appropriate music. This is actually a pretty nice experience, because it requires little effort on the user to input individual artists or genres. Once you’re done, a personalized set of playlists launches you into the music that, hopefully, fits what you’re looking for.
In my experience the questionnaire did me proud, as I hoped it would do considering the service has a 20 million-track catalog at its disposal. What I also found nice and refreshing was that the playlists were updated several times throughout the day, which always provided me something new but familiar to listen to.
A lot of those tracks can be found in some awesome pre-made curated lists from names like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. I found some great new songs and artists just by shuffling the tracks, and was pleased with the snappiness and ease of use.
Although gimmicky, one feature I had fun with was “The Sentence.” You input a sentence into the app, then it recognizes some keywords that it then uses to give you a custom playlist. It’s fun to mess with a couple of times just to see what happens, but it’s almost too much work and not quite dependable enough to use time after time.
A truly great feature I liked, though wouldn’t use too often, is the ability to select the quality of streaming. The default is 64 Kbps, but it can go up to 320 Kbps. There is a noticeable difference in quality, but depending on your headphones/speakers and your data plan, you might want to stick with the low-end side of things. Listening to a couple of hours of music a day at 320 Kbps certainly will kill your data service quickly.
Beats Music’s debut was a bit shaky, but recent app updates have fixed many of the major issues early adopters ran into. Luckily, I tested the service after the bugs were fixed, so I didn’t run into login problems or freezing. I did, however, have a hard time getting used to the interface design when browsing the service’s different options.
There are sections like playlists, search and custom libraries, but each has their own layout and presentation, which includes different fonts. I hated this because it felt like a teenager customized my settings and I had no way to correct it.
Creating custom playlists is easy enough, and finding artists or songs similar to what you’re listening to is a breeze. The app loads quickly and operated without issue.
Beats Music is a fine product that could benefit from some improvements, but at $9.99 a month, I can’t see it beating out free services provided by its competitors. Those with AT&T do get a break, however, with the option of $14.99 family plan for up to five people and 10 devices.
Pay to play
Beats Music has a $9.99/month subscription fee. The service is available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone and the web. Fans are able to stream their own music or download music to listen to offline.