Cricket Wireless is getting into the music biz this CES. Today, the regional, no-contract carrier revealed a new service plan that wraps unlimited music downloads, playback, and ringtone creation into the customer's monthly charge. For $55 per month, the MuveMusic ("move") plan includes music downloads, ringtones, and ringback tones in an unlimited talk, text, e-mail, and Internet plan. (And yes, labels EMI, Sony, Warner, and Universal are all signed on).
This is the first carrier-driven service that doesn't try to sell you either a separate music subscription or piecemeal ringtones and tracks through an online store. Interestingly, the music is completely tied to the phone. Song files are stored on the phone's microSD card, but aren't transferable to a computer.
And since the all-you-can-eat music buffet is fueled by your monthly plan, customers get access to their beats as long as they settle their bills. Skip a month and the full-track downloads--along with calls, e-mail, texting, and browsing--disappear until the piper's been paid. In that sense, Cricket's musical leanings follow the renter's model.
A music OS for a music phone
At $55 per month, MuveMusic is undoubtedly a good deal. A similar service on AT&T's prepaid GoPhone, by contrast, costs $75 per month for unlimited talk, text, and 200MB data without any additional music services. But signing on isn't as simple as adding the plan to your shopping cart. Another trait is also the catch that MuveMusic isn't just an add-on, it's an entire interface that ties into the phone's OS. And you can only pair it with compatible phones.
At launch, that one phone is the Samsung Suede, a new touch-screen handset that runs with the Samsung TouchWiz 2.0 interface. We got our hands all over the Samsung Suede during our demo. It's black with silver trim and has a bulky head that's distinctly thicker than the tapered-down foot, kind of like a cell phone version of "Megamind." In the center of the navigation array is a large button embossed with a music note--this triggers the MuveMusic control panel.
Although we're not fans of the outdated Samsung TouchWiz 2.0 interface that skins the home screen and other phone functions, our post-demo impression is that the accompanying MuveMusic OS is mostly easy to use. You'll have to learn where a few unmarked onscreen buttons take you, but for the most part, it's clear what to press to get what you need. There are buttons to download songs and access your music library, and more to listen to streaming songs, network socially with other MuveMusic users, and identify songs with a slightly tweaked version of Shazam (it prompts you to get songs from the MuveMusic coffers).
The Suede's other features include a 3-megapixel camera, a microSD card slot under the back cover, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. A 4GB microSD card comes with the phone; it can hold about 3,000 tracks, according to Cricket. On the software side, there's a Web browser, Bluetooth support, voice commands, and a backup app. Games like Guitar Rock Tour and Bubble Bash 2 are preinstalled. Cricket's storefront leads to more titles.
Cricket plans to launch MuveMusic on the Samsung Suede on January 6 in Las Vegas, during the massive Consumer Electronics Show. Ten more markets will join Sin City later in January, with Cricket's other coverage zones getting turned on by March. As per a Cricket deal inked with Sprint, the service should go national by summer's end.