Sony's new iOS Music Unlimited app lets folks with Apple gadgets access the company's streaming music service. But is Sony's offering worth considering instead of Spotify?
Music Unlimited is a subscription service that lets you stream tunes from Sony's catalogue of 15 million tracks. For £3.99 per month you get a radio-style service that plays random tracks based on your music preference, or for £9.99 per month you can listen to any track, whenever you want, Spotify-style.
Its premium service is the same price as Spotify, so what are the differences?
Music Unlimited features Music Sync, an iTunes Match-style service that sees customers uploading their existing music collection, so you can stream it to all your devices. That's not something Spotify offers yet. Music Unlimited also lets you listen by channel, so if you're keen on reggae, for instance, you can set the player going on that genre, which is helpful for new music discovery.
If you own a Sony smart TV, you can use Music Unlimited to stream tunes to your telly, while Spotify apps haven't made their way to major smart TVs yet. You can also get Music Unlimited on gaming gear such as the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3, and you can run it in your web browser -- something Spotify doesn't offer yet.
Spotify has advantages though -- I think its interface is clearer and simpler to navigate, both on PC and when using the mobile apps. As far as I can tell it's impossible to make a playlist using the Sony iOS app, for example. There are few sharing options, so while Spotify lets you connect with your Facebook friends, Music Unlimited is much less social.
One missing feature that makes a big difference is the inability to get a link to a particular song -- something that really helps when it comes to letting your friends know about a tune you like. There are none of the apps-within-apps that Spotify offers either, which make your music experience more flexible with niceties like karaoke apps or discovery apps such as Last.fm.
One area Spotify certainly has Music Unlimited outpaced is offline playback. Android users can save Sony's tunes to their devices to play later, but for now the iOS app is streaming-only.
Sony told me that it will be bringing offline music to Apple's platform, but couldn't tell me when. The feature took three months to arrive on Android, so that could be an indicator of roughly how long you'll be stuck with streaming.
Each service differs it terms of music quality too. Sony streams at 48kbps using HE-AAC encoding, while Spotify offers 320kbps Ogg Vorbis streaming. Whether you can tell the difference is a matter for your ears alone.
Sony's offering isn't unimpressive, but I think for now the social features and wealth of apps make Spotify feel like a more rounded service. If you're using an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, the decent apps and ability to store tunes offline make the decision a no-brainer.
Have you tried Music Unlimited? Do you like it, or is there another service you prefer? Let me know how you get your musical kicks in the comments or on our Facebook wall.