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AT&T Mobile Music (formerly Cingular Music) review: AT&T Mobile Music (formerly Cingular Music)

AT&T Mobile Music is certainly a viable and attractive alternative to the other mobile music services on the market, thanks to its ability to be used with existing music subscription services and access to cool applications such as MobiRadio and XM Satellite radio. However, it is unfortunate you cannot download songs over the air.

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
4 min read

Editor's note: As of November 2007, Napster is now offering over-the-air song downloads. For $7.49 for five songs per month, or for $1.99 each, subscribers will be able to browse and purchase songs directly from the cell phone. Subscribers will then get two copies of the track; one will download to their handset and the others will download to their PC. Since we reviewed this service its name has been changed to AT&T Mobile Music.
05/09/2008: We've updated the review rating to reflect these changes.


AT&T Mobile Music (formerly Cingular Music)

The Good

AT&T Mobile Music is the first mobile music subscription service for GSM carriers. You can download tunes using existing subscriptions to Napster, Yahoo Music, and eMusic, and you can stream music via MobiRadio. You also get access to XM Satellite Radio, a music identifier service, and a selection of community-created content. Music selection is wide and varied, and audio quality on our test device was high.

The Bad

Even though you now can download songs over the air to the phone, it's only available for Napster subscribers, and each song download costs $1.99 per track.

The Bottom Line

AT&T Mobile Music is certainly a viable and attractive alternative to the other mobile music services on the market, thanks to its ability to be used with existing music subscription services and access to cool applications such as MobiRadio and XM Satellite radio.

Long after Verizon and Sprint launched their music download services, Cingular finally has released its own mobile music solution, aptly titled Cingular Music. As the first mobile music solution for GSM carriers, it's poised to take advantage of the carrier's expanding high-speed 3G data network. On the downside, only a few cell phones support this service so far and you must buy the Cingular Music Bundle to use the service. While Cingular's partner-focused approach seems like a smart move, you still have to download the songs to your PC and transfer them to your phone via USB. In the bundle are a stereo earbud headset, a USB cable, and a software CD. The Music Bundle costs $39.99.

Unlike its competitors, Cingular Music is not a music store from which you can download songs. Cingular Music instead acts as a kind of portal to different sources of music. From the main Cingular Music menu, you can select "Shop Music," which leads you to a browser page listing the various music stores available. Cingular has partnered up with existing online music subscription services such as Napster To Go, Yahoo Music, and eMusic to offer the consumer an incredibly wide music selection.

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.