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Rhapsody for Android gets real

After months of tweaking, Rhapsody's Android app is out of beta and ready for prime time. AS far as subscription music apps are concerned, this one doesn't disappoint.

As the first major music service to offer caching on the iPhone, Rhapsody has managed to stay quite competitive in the mobile space. And although the company lagged a bit on getting its Android app out of beta, the final product is sufficiently impressive for us to forgive its trespasses in the timing department. Though it may not be as pretty as some other mobile music offerings, Rhapsody's features and performance on the Android OS should make it a top consideration for anyone interested in subscribing to an all-you-can-eat service (or all-you-can-listen-to, as the case may be).

Rhapsody for Android
Screenshot by Jasmine France/CNET

Rhapsody for Android first launched in early 2010, but the service just dropped its beta label this week. The user interface and major features are largely unchanged, but the performance--specifically the speed and stream quality--offer a noticeable improvement. But more on that shortly.

As with any app, the first thing any user will notice upon launching Rhapsody is the look and feel. The interface is certainly user-friendly, with a main menu directing you into the principal features of the service. From here, you can search for a particular artist, album, song, or station; dive into the music guide; browse Rhapsody Radio; or check out your playlists and library. Navigation is straightforward and speedy, with a breadcrumb trail leading through the various offerings of the service.

Across every screen, Rhapsody includes a playback bar on the bottom edge. This includes a home key as well as play/pause and track skip controls. You can drag this "shade" up to view the playback screen, or tap the arrow on the right to pop it up or down. The playback screen features prominent album art as well as ID3 info for the current track. Below that is the queue, which you can scroll through from that screen. All pretty standard so far.

Things get a little more interesting when you invoke the tap-and-hold functionality of the Android OS. Any artist, album, or track hosts a variety of options depending on where it resides in the app. For example, tapping and holding a track may give you the option to add it to a queue, save it to your library, or purchase the track. Similarly, tapping and holding on a playlist gives you the option to download it for offline playback.

Naturally, Rhapsody offers caching on the Android, but it is slightly limited. You can save individual tracks and playlists, but we didn't come across any option to do this for entire albums or artists. This would be a nice feature to see in the future, as it just makes things even easier for the user. Plus, battery life is spared quite significantly if you play offline rather than stream, not to mention the obvious benefit of being able to listen to content on airplanes, underground, and other places where the network is unavailable.

In terms of features, Rhapsody is in line with its closest competitor, Napster. It must be said that Napster is prettier to look at, but Rhapsody takes the cake in terms of performance. Both are reasonably speedy with search and stream load time, but Rhapsody offers significantly better audio quality. It may not be good enough for serious audiophiles, but mainstream listeners will find it more than satisfactory.

As with any (legal) service that offers on-demand streaming and downloading, Rhapsody doesn't come free. A subscription will set you back $10 per month, but we think the cost is worth it for serious music lovers. Plus, you get the app for free, and that subscription price includes licenses for two other devices as well as streaming from the Web-based player and the desktop client.