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Demo: Using The Nokia Music Store

I had the opportunity to take the new Nokia Music Store for a test drive. Will it be an iTunes challenger or an also-ran?

I had the opportunity to take the new Nokia Music Store for a test drive. Will it be an iTunes challenger or an also-ran?First and foremost, rather than be a standalone piece of software like iTunes is, the Nokia Music Store is essentially just a Web site that integrates itself into Windows Media Player 11. From a PC, the interface is intuitive and easy to use. You can search through artists quickly, with feature sections advertising the latest, hottest, most must-have tracks available. (C'mon, you're dying for that new Fergie single, I just know it.)

Once you've found what you're looking for, there are a number of different options to take. You can add the song to a wish list, play a 30-second snippet, or download it directly to your PC. It will then automatically add the track to your WMP 11 library, and sync it to your Symbian S60 handset next time you connect it to your PC. The Web site itself is clean, and offers a lot of features, as well as interactive demonstrations to help you learn how to use it.

Alternately, you can use the upgraded 3-D multimedia menu on the N81 or N95 to access the Nokia Music Store directly from a handset. From the handset, the experience of browsing and searching for music is almost identical to that of the PC. You can add songs to wish lists, but not stream the 30-second snippet over the air. After making your song selection, it will download the song to your phone and add it to the library. Cover art comes with the song. The quality of the WMA songs is 192 k/bits per second. Unlike other over-the-air phone-based music download sites, there is only one version of the song. If you have downloaded the song to your handset, it will automatically sync and upload the track to your WMP library on your PC, providing you with two copies of the song.

The tracks are protected by DRM. According to Nokia reps, the songs come with 5 licenses. This means you can sync it to 5 different devices in any combination of PCs, phones or media players that support WMP DRM. You have unlimited syncing between these devices and the PC, and the songs can be burned to CDs.

Part of iTunes' success is its seamless ability to work with the iPod and iPhone. After seeing demonstrations of how seamless it was with the Nokia Music Store and the handsets on site here at The Old Billingsgate in London, I have to say that I was impressed. It wasn't quite as smooth as iTunes, but it wasn't far off the mark either. And the ability to download tracks directly to the handset is a major advantage the Nokia Music Store has over iTunes.

This won't be much of a problem for Nokia--or its customers--in Europe, which has more advanced GSM-based 3G wireless networks available. It is clear that the European markets are what matter most, as that is where the service is launching first. Nokia could not say if there are plans to launch the music store in the U.S. Until it makes more handsets with the U.S. version of 3G built into them, though, that doesn't matter all that much.

For the time being, the Nokia Music Store will be a solid alternative for Europeans, where Nokia sells the bulk of its high-end handsets.

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