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Napster vs Spotify vs Sky Songs

Sky Songs launches today, the latest entry into the burgeoning music-streaming sphere. We compare Sky Songs, Napster and Spotify to see which is right for you

It's full-stream ahead in the music-streaming market: Sky Songs launches today, Napster just halved its price, and Spotify continues to add features left, right and centre. All three services offer unlimited streaming of music via the Web, and the option to save music to your computer, whether by downloading or caching. They all offer searching, playlists and radio stations, and have all the major labels on board. The real contest now is their unique selling points. We compare the three to see which is right for you.

Sky Songs

Sky Songs

Sky Songs launches today. It's early days for the service, but plenty of features are in place. Like Napster, the search, playlist and library options are more sophisticated than Spotify. An expandable mini-player contains a neat Cover Flow-style interface at the top of the window, with editorial content or search results taking up the rest of the screen.

One cool feature is that if you add an artist to a playlist, all their future new releases are automatically pulled into the list. It's only browser-based, which may bother those who like to keep their music in a separate program to their browsing. But Sky told CNET UK that mobile and even Xbox versions are a possibility in the future.

The stand-out feature at first glance is the editorial content. Killer music discovery is fast becoming the major talking point in this sector, and Sky Songs has formed partnerships with irreverent gossip blogs Popjustice and Holy Moly. Editorial content includes handy links to the music mentioned in each story.

Interface? In-browser
Offline access? No
Catalogue? 4 million tracks
Unlimited streaming? Yes
Downloads? Yes
Quality? Streaming is a very poor 48kbps. Downloads are the usual 320kbps
Monthly cost? £6.50 for 10 downloads, or £7.50 for 15 downloads. Sky users also get a free album when they sign up
Best for? Editorial content

Napster

Napster

Napster is an old hand in the online music world. Last week Napster halved its price to £5 for unlimited streaming plus five free downloads.

Napster's radio feature is actually made up of playlists generated by editorial staff, so is more intuitive than genre-based radio in the other services. All songs added to a playlist go into a main library, so you can listen to all your favourite songs or be more specific.

Interface? Browser, desktop app and download manager
Offline access? No
Catalogue? 8 million tracks
Unlimited streaming? Yes
Downloads? Yes
Quality? 128kbps for streamed music. 256kbps for downloads
Monthly cost? £5 for streamnig and five downloads
Best for? The most cost-effective service of the three

Spotify

Spotify

Spotify exploded on to the music-streaming scene a scant year ago, with its unlimited free streaming and unlimited capacity to generate headlines. The £10 Premium subscription divides opinion, but Spotify's ability to share playlists, offline access, and mobile apps remain killer features. It's the player with the simplest interface: you get a search bar, a playlist sidebar and a list of songs. Search and playlists aren't very sophisticated -- there's no library feature or genre filtering -- but there is a thriving ecosystem of playlist-sharing sites, such as ShareMyPlaylists.

Spotify allows you to cache the music in your playlists, saving your tunes to your computer or mobile device and even letting you listen when not connected to the Internet. The difference between this and actual downloading, as offered by other services, is that if you stop paying for Spotify, your cached tunes evaporate.

The quality of cached tunes isn't as good as downloads, and can only be played through Spotify and not in other programs. On the other hand, if you're not bothered about owning those songs forever, in the short term you're effectively saving an unlimited number of songs to your computer. You can even get this option for free, as long as you don't mind the adverts.

Interface? Desktop and mobile apps
Offline access? Yes
Catalogue? 8 million tracks
Unlimited streaming? Yes
Downloads? Yes, via 7digital
Quality? 320kbps for Premium users. 160kbps for free streaming with adverts
Monthly cost? £9.99
Best for? Offline and mobile access

The verdict?

Each service offers a unique selling point and suffers from some sticking points. Sky Songs has the best editorial content, but is only browser-based. Napster is sophisticated, currently the cheapest and has a massive catalogue, but won't work offline. Spotify offers offline and mobile use, but is pricey and you don't own the music.

Which service suits you comes down to what you want to do with the music stored on your computer. If you want to keep it forever, and are happy to pay for a limited number of songs, stick with downloads from Napster or Sky Songs. If you just want unlimited stored songs, and don't mind paying more for this short-term benefit, even though they could disappear in the future, Spotify could be for you. Which service do you prefer? Will you be giving Sky Songs a try? Let us know in the comments. Now go forth and stream!

Update: If you want to know which service sounds best, read Spotify vs Sky Songs: Sound quality blind test