Spotify Premium: Review starts here

I’ve just given myself the gift of Spotify Premium.  This is my ‘as-it-happens’ review

I’ve been using Spotify off and on for most of this year.  In all of that time, it’s been a fun service to use firstly because it has been free (ad supported) and secondly because it gives me access to a million tons of music I would never have otherwise heard in the days of CDs and ‘physical music’.

Can’t fault the ad-supported version.  Yes, the frequency of ads increased over the year but even then it was a relatively small price to pay for all that free background music.  In the course of Spotify’s first year, it’s been my pleasure to help out rather a lot of people get free accounts (via this link here) many of whom, lets hope, go on to be fully paid-up Premium subscribers in turn.

So what’s the Premium experience like then?

Let me point a picture of me-as-Spotify-user first.  I’m 46, male, white.  Professional.  Critical technophile (meaning I love & hate technology in equal measures).  I don’t have a lot of music CDs.  I don’t follow any particular bands.  Live gigs bore me after 45 minutes.  These days, I’d rather hear lots of random stuff I don’t know than stuff I do know.  I’m as likely to listen to spoken word these days as music.  I don’t go to festivals :-)

There you have it: grumpy old bloke sets out to try out Spotify Premium.

Signing up for Spotify Premium

First thing is that I hate being signed up to a rolling subscription when I only want to try.  If you try to upgrade to Premium, it will assume you’re signing up month on month (leaving the onus on you to cancel).  My way around this was to ‘gift’ myself a 1-month Premium Code via a Spotify Premium e-card. £9.99 one-off card payment.

It worked – now I’m Premiumed up for one month. Thank you Sam. You’re welcome Sam. (BTW don’t bother seaching Google for an obvious phrase like ‘spotify premium gift card’.  It’s as if they don’t want you to find their e-card. Doh!)

Spotify iPhone app

Downloading the iPhone app is quick and easy.  Ignore the 1 star reviews from the muppets who have downloaded the app expecting to be able to use it with a free Spotify account.  Don’t blame the app because you couldn’t read the small print, folks.

Now, there are two things you’re going to want to test with your Spotify app: the offline playlist capability and the streaming on-the-go 3G connectivity.

Spotify offline playlist downloads

On the face of it, this feature is supposed to make Spotify available to you when you don’t have enough 3G bandwidth to stream it.  In theory, it sounds good but in reality how long a playlist takes to download will depend on the WiFi bandwidth you have available..

At home on my 450kbs broadband connection, downloading a 100 song offline playlist took several hours.  I can’t see myself having enough time to download playlists on a regular basis.

Another consideration here is that there doesn’t seem to be any indication of the size of the files that are being downloaded.  How much will my 8Gb phone take?

And finally: on the iPhone, it appears that playlists don’t download unless you open the app and start them (or let them re-start).  If I exit to do something else, the downloading stops.  I think it carries on when the phone auto-locks but, without any detailed progress indicator, I can’t be sure.

Spotify 3G streaming

At home in Devon even on a lousy 450kbs broadband, Spotify Premium streams pretty well on the laptop – with only the occasional drop-out.

At home, where the 3G coverage is also patchy or non-existent, the iPhone app gives up trying to stream altogether and reverts to any saved playlist.

Sitting in London with a chunky 3G signal the Spotify app works perfectly on the iPhone.  Right now, I’m listening to Elvis – the 68 comeback special. :-) I have no idea if / whether streaming Spotify tracks ends up costing on my O2 iPhone contract.

Spotify Premium verdict?

The downside

The usability of the Spotify app is only as good as the mobile 3G coverage and the WiFi access you have (see above).  If both are lousy you’re not going to get the most out of Premium because the fallback (downloading playlists for offline listening) can be a long-winded and impractical business.

In reality, though, fewer and fewer of us are stuck with both crap 3G and crap broadband all the time – and it’s a situation that will only improve.

A major downside to Spotify has got to be the inability to run the app in background mode while I do other things with my iPhone.  After all, iTunes can do it – so why not Spotify?  Is it a deal-breaker? I’ll let you know when my trial month is up.

The upside

On the upside, Spotify does something that’s so different from any previous mode of music ownership: it encourages me to listen to lots of new things.  With Spotify, the musical world expands.  With my real-world CD collection (or paid-for mp3s), it seems to contract, encouraging us to listen more and more to the same things.

And Spotify’s search facility is everything you’d expect of a software that learned from iTunes, YouTube, Google and everything that paved the way before it.

All in all, I keep thinking “I don’t want to own music!  I just want to listen to it” – and Spotify lets me do that for £10 a month on my handheld device of choice.  I think that’s probably worth it.

Comments

  1. Chappas says:

    erm, the offline playlists function is there because not every network offers true unlimited internet, & maybe i dont want to kill off my data allowance when i listen to loads of music every day. Why stream the same song over and over when you could download it once.

    as for the downloading, ive got a 20mbit connection which gives me between 5-9MB/s actual [accordin to speed test anyway] and it takes about ten mins to download 100 songs.

    oh yh, and on the symbian version which is the one im using the downloading does continue in the background : lets not blame the app for our jarg internet & phones limitations folks.

  2. Sam Deeks says:

    Thanks, Chappas! You’re right, not every network offers true unlimited internet (mine seems to be pretty patchy in terms of 3G and pretty slow when WiFi-ing at home, too).

    Good point about the Symbian version… I think the iPhone playlist download continues in the background too…

    I’m not trying to be ‘down’ on Spotify. I’m just documenting my experience. If it turns out that Premium Spotify doesn’t work for me on the iPhone because of a combination of a) crap 3G coverage and b) lousy home broadband bandwidth, then it’s worth reporting. I’m a punter, like everyone else.

    Spotify works great at home on my broadband (even thought it’s only 450kbs). That’s cool – nice to have music without ads. What I’m really testing here is the iPhone-friendliness of Spotify Premium.

  3. Matt Treg says:

    An alternative user model.

    I work on my home computer a bit at the weekends, while I’m doing so I’m constantly looking for new stuff that looks interesting and drop whole albums into individual playlists to bookmark them. Then, whenever my ipod touch is charging or I’m just about the house, I download them to listen to on the move (no iphone so no 3g). So I get to listen to new albums on my itouch every day, keeping the ones I like and getting rid of the ones I don’t. All with no ads. I love it. Well worth £10 a month.

    It does suck that it can’t run in the background but I think that is an Apple limitation, isn’t it?

  4. Sam Deeks says:

    Good example, Matt – thanks for commenting.

  5. David James says:

    Thanks for the review Sam.

    I’ve recently tried out the Spotify Premium service. Mostly because of the offline playlists for my iPhone.

    I totally agree with your verdict in regards to the downsides.
    Though, it’s kinda Apple’s fault for not allowing applications to run in the background. This is going to be fixed with iPhone OS 4.0 which will be released this summer.

    So hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy our music while doing other stuff on the phone.

    All in all I’m very pleased with the Spotify Premium service. And I hope the music industry will take note of Spotify’s hopeful success, cause I haven’t spent a single dime on music for 10 years, and now I may end up spending 120£ a year.

  6. Astro says:

    Whether Spotify Premium is worth it really does depend on where you live.
    For example, I live in the country side where my broadband speed is about 1/16th of what I pay for. Edge network connectivity is very rare, let alone 3G. Although my home computers stream music via Spotify very well for what they have to work with, I can’t justify spending £9.99 per month unless some new features are introduced. I studied at university in Brighton last year. For twenty-four hours per-day I had fantastic 3G connectivity. That is the perfect time to have Spotify Premium. Walking to and from university, studying, shopping or doing whatever I wanted I could have an endless (for as long as my battery would allow) stream of new music.

    I will definitely consider it in the future as network coverage increases and connectivity speeds rise but, for now, the free version is faultless.

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