updated 12:25 pm EDT, Thu July 14, 2011
Spotify Premium gets our test in the US
With the US launch of Spotify, many are experiencing the music service for the first time. As such, we'd like to give a run-down of the feature for those who aren't familiar with it from Europe. Read on for an overview as well as how it stacks up -- and what's missing.
On the desktop, the focus on streaming and always-available catalogs leads to Spotify having a very different experience than a local aggregator like iTunes or Songbird; it's expected that you'll be hunting down tracks to play online, not necessarily managing your own library. The focuses are on finding music, queuing it up, and sharing with friends.
Locating an album or a track is all about searching. A What's New Section helps you see what titles are new and what your friends are doing in your feed, but after that, you need to already know who or what to find. As such, it's not a very good initial experience if your musical tastes venture beyond the Top 40.
Once you've run a search, though, you'll be happy to see just how much you have access to: 15 million tracks makes it about as large as services like iTunes, so there's a good chance even an independent artist is available. We found both favorite electronic artists like Laurent Garnier or Karsh Kale and even Canadian independent groups like The Choir Practice. Spotify likes to compress results into a compact section that's not as easy to visually parse as iTunes but is a lot faster: it's intelligent and will show you the relevant albums right away, even if there's other search hits.
Playback works much as if you were playing something offline, whether one track or an album. The player is minimal but also fairly sleek and always lets you jump back to whatever's currently on. What we most like is the rapid queuing and playlist building: it's easy to start a new queue or playlist and then just right-click tracks to add them as you go along. If you use iTunes, Spotify will automatically scan your library and count it alongside streaming tracks, identifying which ones for which the service doesn't have an online equivalent.
The social side works both in an ad hoc, short term way as well as with more permanent profiles. At the least, you can always click a share button to post a link to a Spotify tune either within Spotify itself or through Facebook, Twitter, and even Windows Live Messenger. Profiles are more interesting are more interesting: anyone on Spotify can publish playlists, and as long as the songs in it are available on the service, any other friend will see playlists you've made public. You can "send" tracks for them to show up in an inbox.
On the whole, the service is very accessible and straightforward. What we don't like, though, is the lack of deep management for tracks you either have locally or have favorited. Browsing is very simple. And Spotify needs to work much more on discovery: it needs genre browsing, staff recommendations, and other elements that would reach more than just the absolute mainstream.
We also couldn't see MP3 shopping as of yet.
Still, there's a lot to like, and there are definite advantages over services like Slacker, where label rights often prevent on-demand from working as seamlessly as it should. Combined with the fairly broad device support, which ranges from iPhones and Android devices to Sonos boxes and even Onkyo receivers, and it has an ecosystem that some of its stronger rivals don't have yet