App Attack: MOG vs Napster vs Rdio vs Rhapsody
One of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of owning a smartphone is access to music. The advantage being that you no longer have to carry an mp3 player with you in order to listen to your music on the go. The disadvantage, your smartphone typically has less memory than an mp3 player, and you have to share that space with apps, photos and movies.
Services such as Amazon’s Cloud Player or Google’s Music Beta are an extremely helpful way to access all of your music at any moment, but only if you’re willing to wait for the insanely long time it takes to upload all of your music to the cloud. However, if you don’t have the patience, or (and this is important), you don’t mind not owning music you’re paying to listen to, then subscription based music services, such as Mog, Napster, Rdio or Rhapsody, may be just the ticket. But which to choose?
Each service offers a free iPhone and Android app, which will cost you $10 a month to use. Each service allows you to stream music on their website, and a few of the services offers a desktop app for Windows (Rhapsody and Rdio) and OS X (Rdio). In addition, Rdio is available on the Roku and Sonos, and Naspter can be found on select Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. In terms of library size, each services offers millions of songs and are constantly updating their libraries.
All four apps provide the same basic features, including access to your music catalogs (both online and offline), new releases and charts (top artists, songs and albums). From here, though, you’ll find some great features missing from one app, but not from another.
Pandora fans, will love the artist radio stations (available in all four apps), which gives you the ability to find new artists based on which artist station you listen to. Rdio and Napster take this premise one step further and offer a recommendations feature. In this feature, you can enter an artist and a list of recommendations will populate. The most noticeable difference in this feature though is the quality of recommendations. Rdio tends to provide more unique artists, while Naspter tends to skew to artists you probably will be familiar with.
Rdio’s version of this feature, though, is severely flawed in that it includes previous recommendations you’ve listened to in determining new recommendations. For example, Rdio tells you Artist B is similar to Artist A, so you give Artist B a listen. Regardless if you like Artist B or not, Artist C is recommended because you listened to Artist B. However, Rdio also has a few great social features that are missing in the other three apps. You can set up a personal profile that your friends can follow, and vice versa. The Heavy Rotation feature showcases songs being played the most by all Rdio users, which you can filter down to show songs being played the most by your network, or just yourself. The Activity feature shows recent activities (such as albums or songs you’ve added to your collection) by all Rdio users, your network or yourself.
MOG has a unique feature not found in the other apps, which is called Moggles. Moggles is similar to Google Goggles in that you can capture a photo of an album cover and MOG will bring up the album information. This is particularly handy if you’re browsing the music section at a store and spot an album you’re interested in listening to. Another great feature in MOG is the ability to adjust how many other artists you want to listen to while tuning into an artists radio station. This is achieved by tapping the radio icon in the bottom right corner and adjusting a slider.
As mentioned earlier, each app allows you to save music to your phone for offline listening. While this is a huge feature to have, each app has their own method of how it is done. The Rhapsody app allows you to save albums and songs offline, but in different methods. To save an album, you need to go to the album page and tap the “Download” button; to save a song, you need to go to the music player, tap the cog icon and choose the “Download” button. The Rdio app allows you to save albums and songs by tapping an icon next to the song/album (in either the music player or Collections section of the app) and choosing “Sync to Mobile”.
The MOG app has the easiest method of saving songs or albums for offline playing. Whether you’re looking at your favorites or searching for an album or song, all you need to do is tap a download icon located tot he left of the album/song. Naspter is by far the most inconvenient app when it comes to saving music for offline listening, as you’re unable to save individual songs, only albums (done by longpressing a song and tapping “View Album”, then tapping “Save Offline”). One work around for this issue is saving individual songs to a playlist and then saving the playlist for offline listening.
One sign of well designed app navigation is the ability to go through the app and not give what you’re doing a second thought. It just works. When you take a moment to question how something it done, you know it’s going to be hard to use the app on a daily basis.
Of the four apps, only the iPhone version of the Rdio app does not offer a bottom navigation bar or a method of jump home quickly (feature is available in the Android app by clicking the menu button on your phone). Instead, if you’re three or four menus deep, you have to click a back arrow in the top left corner several times to reach the home screen (an issue found in several iPhone apps). While the MOG app doesn’t include a full menu bar, a home button is available in the bottom left corner at all times. Both the Rhapsody and Napster apps have a full navigation bar, allowing you to jump from place to place within the app at any given time.
The most unique navigation set up goes to Naspter, which breaks the app up into two sections—Explore and My Collection. In Explore, you’ll find a list of various features provided by Napster (Napster Radio, Billboard Charts, Naspter Playlists), and in My Collection, your saved music and playlists are grouped together for easy accessibility. For my money, it’s the best designed app of the bunch.
In terms of searching for music the MOG and Rhapsody apps are nearly identical. In both apps, you’re required to tap either Artist, Album or Song when entering your search. Sure, it’s only an extra tap, but it can get annoying after a while. Naspter has its own search button in the bottom navigation bar, and it keeps a list of your previous searches (very handy). Rdio’s search bar is embedded into the home screen, which is a nice touch until you consider you’ll have to backtrack to the home screen in order to use the feature. Of course, if you’re running any of these apps on your Android device you can simply hit the search button on your phone.
Strengths & weaknesses
With so many similarities between these apps and services, your decision may come down to one or two strengths or weaknesses. The MOG app has a great navigation and good UI design, the ability to save artists to your favorites (helpful if you come across an artist and want to listen to more of their musical offerings later), and the Moggles feature is a unique and very useful feature. However, the MOG app doesn’t have a history feature, you can’t create playlists within the app and the player controls on the bottom of the screen don’t list the song that is currently playing.
The Napster app arguably has the best navigation and UI design with the two screen method, the app’s music player is easily accessible without sacrificing overall app navigation, and the app features various Billboard playlists ranging from 1956 to the present. But, big killers for this app are the inability to save individual songs for offline listening and artist recommendations tend to skew to more well-known artists. Another issue you may run into with Napster is the lack of full songs. A few times I ran into albums in which you could only play 30 second clips.
The Rdio app has great social features built-in (handy if you know friends that also enjoy using Rdio), artists recommendations tend to lead to more unique results, and the history feature displays nearly your entire listening history (making it easy to find a song or album you listened to a few weeks before). But as good as those features are, Rdio has some glaring omissions. The lack of any bottom navigation or home button (iPhone only) really hampers your ability to navigate through the app with ease, the music player does not allow scrubbing, and the fact that some recommendations are based on everything you’ve listen to (even previous recommendations) may lead to undesired recommendations.
In terms of weaknesses and strengths, the Rhapsody app has them all beat. The navigation design is second only to the Napster app, the method of finding artist recommendations and influences is baked into the app, and just like Rdio, the history feature displays nearly your entire listening history. Basically, it does a good job of utilizing the strengths you find in other apps, while minimizing their weaknesses.
Which to choose?
Deciding which service to choose can be very daunting for some. While the apps are important in the decision-making process, it may not be the only one. Some people may listen to their music on the go, in which case the app is everything. However, some people may be able to listen to music at home or work on their computers, meaning the website or desktop application is the most important aspect of choosing a service.
If I had to choose the service based on app alone, Rhapsody would win hands down for all the previously mentioned reasons; however, since I listen to music at work and home the most, I chose Rdio. The app may have issues, but it’s still nice to use in a lot of ways, and their website and desktop app are well designed and have a high degree of functionality. But my advice to you is to download each app and play with them yourself. Each service offers a free week trial, and if you time it right, you’ll get a free month of unlimited music. And who can say no to that?