The already plump mobile streaming music space recently got a wee bit fatter with Xbox Music on Android and iOS. Xbox Music lets Xbox Music Pass subscribers stream their favorite music (ad-free!) to the iPhone, and also Xbox home video game consoles starting at $9.99 per month (you can, however, listen to Xbox Music for free on the desktop via a Web browser). Xbox Music for iPhone has a streamlined, easy-to-navigate interface and good sound quality, but it’s missing several features found in rival services.
Getting the Band Started
The first thing that you’ll probably notice about Xbox Music is that it demands that you pull out a credit card before listening—something that always irks me as a music fan who just wants to leap into an app’s library. Xbox Music requires an Xbox Music Pass subscription ($9.99 per month or $99.99 per year); there’s no free mobile version. That said, you can test-run the service for 30 days, but that still requires removing plastic from your wallet for the trial.
Xbox Music has the most streamlined interface of all the high-profile streaming music services. After logging into the app, you’re taken to the Playlist section where you can dive into previously created playlists or create new ones from scratch. I liked that it immediately took me to music that I like—it is my playlist, after all—but I prefer Slacker Radio’s paneled approach that offers several points of entry designed to drive you deeper into its catalog.
My “The Dirtbombs” query returned several thumbnail images that, when clicked, let me check out the band’s bio page, individual albums, and related groups such as The Gories. Oddly, some related artist listings lack thumbnail images, which gives the interface an incomplete look.
Rivals such as Spotify and Slacker specialize in recreating the radio experience by focusing on recommendations and channel building, but Xbox Music for iPhone does not (it should be noted that the Xbox Music Windows tablet app does). It’s designed with playlists and collections in mind, which may require you to change how you consume audio.
Xbox Music doesn’t list genres/categories/channels so you must actively search for content until you build Collection and Playlists, which I found mildly annoying. Once again, the Xbox Music Windows tablet app one-ups the iPhone version—it features over a dozen music categories. Why this is omitted from the iPhone build is a headscratcher. It also lacks Google Music’s digital locker features.
You build Collections and Playlists by tapping and holding the screen to open the “Add To” prompt. Likewise, tapping and holding a track opens an option to remove a song from a Collection or Playlist.
Content and Sound Quality
Xbox Music, like its rivals, doesn’t have any egregious holes in its 30-million-song-strong music library, so I had no problem finding Arcade Fire, Led Zeppelin, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Minnie Ripperton content. I discovered that a comedy album or two were M.I.A. (such as Joe Rogan’s “I’m Gonna Be Dead Someday…”), but I was pleased with the catalog. Slacker Radio still outclasses Xbox Music with its ESPN live radio, lifestyles offerings, The Weather Channel content, and themed channels (such as the “33 Greatest All-American Divas”).
The sound quality of Xbox Music, on the other hand, is quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed my Midnight Marauders listening session due to Xbox Music’s loud, crisp audio. As I listened, however, I discovered that the service lacked song lyrics. That may not be a very big deal for some listeners, but I occasionally like to study the words that go with the music.
Xbox Music has the potential to be a strong contender in the mobile streaming space, with its audio quality, library, and easy-to-navigate interface, but some of the missing elements may deter hardcore music fans. That said, apps evolve over time, so here’s hoping that Microsoft will flesh out Xbox Music so that it can put Slacker and Spotify’s iPhone apps on notice.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc