Sony Music Unlimited (for Android) review

Sony Music Unlimited serves up a winning mix of audio quality and catalog depth, but some design and performance issues keep it out of the streaming music spotlight.
Photo of Sony Music Unlimited (for Android)

The stream music space is packed with competitors, so, to stand out from the glut, a product must be truly excellent (Slacker Radio) or be in possession of a unique feature/gimmick (Songza). Sony Music Unlimited is neither. While it doesn’t do anything particularly offensive, it also doesn’t do enough to warrant must-try status.

Getting Started With Sony Music Unlimited
You begin by creating an account and inputting your billing information. Yes, your billing information. Sony Music Unlimited lacks a free version (unlike Slacker Radio), but the $9.99 per month Premium membership delivers an ad-free listening experience and lets you skip tracks without limitations. There’s also a 30-day free trial account if you’d like to try before you buy.

Sony Music Unlimited takes you to the Home screen after you log in. There you’ll find a handful of new releases (at the time of this writing, they were Wale’s “The Gifted” and Bob Marley’s “Legend Remixed”) and your recently updated playlists. Scrolling down reveals recommended tracks and popular songs. Songs and albums are represented by thumbnails set against a plain, white background—it isn’t very visually appealing. Slacker, Songza, and other apps have more attractive interfaces that beckon you to dive deeper. Superficial gripe? Maybe.

But there are more serious issues with the interface, too. For instance, the home screen lacks a search box; you must tap the striped icon in the upper-left corner to access a vertical menu. Slacker Radio’s mobile apps have the search box at the very top of the screen for fast access—I appreciate that it doesn’t make me take an extra step. The same menu contains other options such as Channels (Latin Top 100, and Hot Songs), Browse (where check out almost two dozen genre stations), My Library (one of the two areas where playlists live), and tinker with settings. There’s also an offline mode that you can toggle on/off, too. Sony Music Unlimited, by default, only lets you save playlists for offline playback if you’re connected to a Wi-Fi signal, but you can change a setting so that you’re able to do so over 3G/4G. This comes in extremely handy when you’re in a location where you may not be able connect to a signal (such as on an airplane).

Pump Up the Volume
Sony Music Unlimited’s boasts a 15-million-track library, but navigating it may prove a head scratcher. There’s little visual consistency between the Home, Browse, Eras, and music playback screens, so moving from section to section was a bit jarring. Even worse, the app would sometimes hang as I tried attempted to move from screen to screen.

That said, the listening experience is quite good. Sony Music Unlimited features several Dirtbombs albums (a relatively obscure Detroit-based band), including a disc with King Khan that I didn’t know existed. Very cool. Unfortunately, Sony Music Unlimited has just three of six Patton Oswalt albums, so fans of the nerd-king may be left disappointed.

On the other hand, Sony Music Unlimited’s audio quality should please all but the most discerning ears—especially when a listener enters Settings and cranks the quality up to “HQ.” With a pair of Sony MDR headphones channeling the audio, I picked up subtle instrumentation in the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” You can share song snippets via Facebook, Twitter, email, and other means if you’re so inclined. Unfortunately, Sony Music Unlimited doesn’t have lyrics and artist bios, which many hardcore music fans love.

You can, of course, create custom channels and favorite/ban individual tracks to tailor the experience, but pretty much every streaming music service does that nowadays. The lack of hook—such as Slacker Radio’s creative themed playlists (YOLO Radio, live ESPN sports talk)—leave it without much of an identity.

The Final Countdown
Sony Music Unlimited isn’t a bad service—it just needs some work to make it a true challenger in the Android streaming music space. Slacker Radio’s remains the category’s Don Dada, courtesy of its quirky themed stations, artist bios, and lyrics. Sony Music Unlimited’s sound quality and catalog may appeal to some, but there are better options available.

Specifications
Type Personal

Verdict
Sony Music Unlimited serves up a winning mix of audio quality and catalog depth, but some design and performance issues keep it out of the streaming music spotlight.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc