First Look: Spotify

Spotify is gunning for Apple iTunes in its new US release.

Jacob Lopez, Contributor

July 14, 2011

3 Min Read

BYTE -- Spotify finally made its way to the US following several months of hype. Now my musical universe is spinning again. The on-demand streaming music service snuck into the country this week with minimal advance notice. I took a look.

Spotify's service brings access to 15 million songs from any Windows or OS X machine, and up to three mobile devices with an upgrade to Spotify Premium for $9.99 a month. That's a deal -- millions more songs than Rdio and MOG, and just a few million less than what iTunes has to offer.

Spotify clearly is gunning for iTunes. The interface is unmistakably similar to the Apple media player. It easily imports existing local files and playlists, including music you purchase from Apple's iTunes store.

Spotify's resemblance to iTunes is hard to miss. (iTunes screenshot is above, Spotify is below.)

Unlike Rdio, MOG, Pandora and others, Spotify isn't web-based. That means it isn't at the mercy of such slow or unstable environments as Flash-based systems.

Most folks are more concerned with the music than the guts of the service. That's where Spotify shines. Local radio stations don't give my favorite songs much airplay. The relatively shallow libraries of Pandora, MOG and Rdio don't do much for me, either.

As for the notion of paying per track a la iTunes, in my opinion, the economy is just too tough for that.

For me, Spotify is the best of all worlds. That means free on-demand streaming of hard-to-find gems like Zombina and the Skeletones whenever I want. And for at least the next six months, according to Spotify, I get to listen as many times as I want.

Spotify announced today that it won't be imposing some of the caps and limits on how many songs and how many plays per song -- the caps it imposes on European users. At least until next year, anyway.

There is the occasional ad to contend with on the free version, which requires an invite for now. But Spotify's unlimited stream, ad-free account is available for under $5 a month, plus another $5 for mobile offline listening.

A paid account also gets you a handful of invites to distribute for the free version of the service, which will help you get a head-start on Spotify's social features.

Right now the social aspect of the service revolves around Facebook. I found the process of connecting with fellow Spotify users who aren't on that social network a bit cumbersome. But once you've built up your network, it's easy to share music. Recommendations from friends show up in a special inbox.

There's also integrated sharing to push your favorite songs and playlists out to your Facebook wall and Twitter feed. This is another shot at Apple, which is still trying to nail social with iTunes and Ping.

I honestly didn’t think I’d care for another streaming music service, especially following so much hype. But so far I'm pleased. Spotify is looking good. Now, if you'll excuse me, Zombina and I have to hit the road.

Based in McAllen, TX, Jacob Lopez is a senior editor at BYTE. Follow him @8bitjay and email him with newstips at [email protected] .

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