I've spent the last few weeks taking Verizon Wireless's V CAST With Rhapsody music download service for a spin. It has some really great features and some really annoying features. Find out if the pros outweigh the cons.I love music. If I weren't a tech journalist, I'd be writing about music. In fact, my personal blog is about music. My music library recently surpassed the 16,000-song mark. That's 53 days of continuous music. I am almost always listening to music, and take the hobby pretty seriously. You can imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity to spend some time with Rhapsody.
Rhapsody is a music subscription service. For $15 per month, you have unlimited access to streamed music on your PC or phone. You can also pay $0.99 per song to "own" them on your PC, or $1.99 down download over the air and "own" the song. Owning a song means you can burn it to a CD.
The first thing you have to do is sign up and tether the service to your Verizon Wireless account. The process is mostly painless. You'll also have to download and install the Rhapsody player on your PC. The player serves are your main avenue to interact with your media and search for and download music. Because I was given an LG Chocolate 3 to use with the service, I also had to install some drivers so the Rhapsody player could interact with the phone properly. Here's where I ran into a little bit of trouble. My Windows PC is horribly old and outdated. Eventually I was able to get things sorted out, but it took some finagling on my part. With everything installed, I was ready to go.
There are two ways to get music. You can use the Rhapsody player storefront on your computer, or you can browse on your phone. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. The discovery process on the phone could use a lot of improvement. It's simply the nature of the phone. Verizon does a decent job of letting you search for music and browse, but it is still somewhat painful. It is best if you know what you want -- or at least have an idea of what you want -- when you start using the phone-based client. I was able to search for music from a new band I am interested in.
For me, the phone-based method is just not all that rewarding. When I buy music, I purchase an entire album. I don't download single tracks. I realize this is a personal preference, but downloading entire albums to the phone is simply not practical. There's no way to "buy all" on the phone itself. You have to download each track individually. The process has so many steps that it quickly becomes frustrating. I will say, however, that the songs download fairly quickly thanks to Verizon Wireless's healthy 3G network. Once a song has downloaded to the phone, it is automatically added to your library complete with album art, etc.
What about your PC? Well, let's say you've downloaded a song to your phone. Next time you log into Rhapsody on your PC, it will automatically tell you that you have downloads waiting. The song that you bought on your phone is then downloaded to your PC and added to your Rhapsody library. So you get two copies of the song, one for your PC and one for the phone, for $1.99. The PC copy is ripped at 256Kbps, and the phone copy is ripped at 64Kbps.
The discovery process on the PC is far more rewarding. The interface for the Rhapsody music guide is intuitive and easy to use. You can perform searches, or browse at will. The front page is constantly changing depending on the hottest new tracks that are available. There are nice features for certain artists and Rhapsody has cataloged genre after genre after genre. You can choose to buy songs, which downloads a copy to your PC, or you can stream them. Streamed tracks are added to your library, but not actually downloaded to your machine. You can also recommend or share songs with friends.
How's the selection?
In general, I listen to some pretty off-beat stuff. Every now and then I'll buy a pop/rock CD, but most of what I buy comes from eclectic European labels. Rhapsody had nearly everything I searched for. The selection is astounding. Having access to millions upon millions of songs is fantastic. You can listen to all of it for that $15 monthly fee.
I did run into a few problems. I chose to download a number of CDs so that I'd have the ability to burn them. About one-third of the CDs I "paid" for didn't download properly. They were added to my library and could play with no problems, but there was some hiccup in the purchasing process that told my Rhapsody player that I had streamed the songs and not purchased them. That meant I couldn't burn them. Even though I fiddled with all the settings in the Rhapsody player, I was unable to rectify the situation. I did not call customer support.
Another issue I noticed was that the quality of several songs was very poor. There would be static or other digital noise in some tracks. I didn't call customer support about this issue either. I would assume that if you get a bum track there would be some way to make sure you're permitted to download the track again to get a clean version.
In all, there's a lot to like. If you like having a wide selection of music and don't want to pay all that much for it, Rhapsody certainly gets the job done. Syncing music between your PC and phone is simple enough. The Rhapsody player works well, and lets you mange your music the way you want to.
If I were a full-time user of Windows machines, I would recommend Rhapsody. Being able to add Rhapsody songs to a Verizon Wireless phone is a nice added bonus.