We can't help but applaud this model--instead of forcing the consumer to purchase exorbitantly priced songs (a track from Sprint's store is $2.50, while a song from V Cast Music is around $1.99), you can simply pay a flat monthly fee to the subscription service of your choice for an all-you-can-eat music experience--the Napster To Go subscription fee is $14.96 a month, while a Yahoo Music subscription is $11.99 a month. The Napster To Go model does include a new service called Napster Mobile, which lets you preview and buy songs from your phone for $0.99, which is still far cheaper than the other stores. It does not cost extra to download the songs from Yahoo Music, however. While Napster To Go and Yahoo Music are included in all phones, the eMusic content is specialized specifically for Cingular's aforementioned Sony Ericsson phones. Consumers who buy a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone from Cingular can get a free "in box" offer for up to 50 songs from eMusic. Music downloaded from Napster To Go and Yahoo Music is laced with Windows Media DRM, but the music from eMusic is DRM-free.
Unfortunately, there is a huge catch to this. Songs purchased or added from the phone cannot actually be downloaded over the air directly to the phone--you still have to download the song to your PC and then transfer it via a USB cable. For example, after we bought a song from Napster Mobile (you have to enter in your e-mail address and your phone number in the purchasing process), we received an e-mail that includes a URL link to download the song. So you can't even have the song waiting for you in your computer--you still have to click the URL link, which prompts the download. This is a pretty big flaw in the concept of mobile music, and we hope that Cingular Music adds over-the-air downloads in the future.
If you need music immediately but don't want to go through the bother of downloading songs, you have a few streaming music options. Cingular Music provides access to MobiRadio, a streaming radio station, as well as 25 XM Satellite radio channels for $8.99 a month. You also can view streaming music videos from MTV and VH1. Though not related to the music category, you also can catch short clips from other variety shows from MTV and VH1, such as Best Week Ever and Celebreality. Other applications available on Cingular Music include MusicID, a song identification service, access to industry news thanks to Billboard Mobile, and access to music fan sites in the community section.
We used Cingular Music with the Cingular Sync (Samsung SGH-A707), though it also works with the LG CU500, the Sony Ericsson W810i, the Sony Ericsson W300i, and the Cingular 3125. We experienced pretty good audio quality via the included earbuds, though we can't say the same for the speakers. We loved the wide music selection from the aforementioned stores, and the streaming music available was not too shabby either. The interface of the music player appeared rather generic, but it was intuitive enough for our purposes. You can create playlists, and have repeat and shuffle modes. We were disappointed with the lack of an equalizer though.
While the Cingular Music experience has some serious flaws, overall we were very pleased with the variety of music options available. The music subscription model seems to lend itself very well to a cell phone experience, since it would no longer be so cost prohibitive to have tracks downloaded to the phone. This, combined with streaming music and XM Satellite radio, definitely make Cingular Music a viable competitor in the mobile music market. We just hope they fix the ability to download music to the phone.