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Beats Music review: Music streaming done right

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Some of the choices feel a bit arbitrary, and its hard to know what they really mean, but that's just a by-product of the app's playful nature. For example, in the Feel Like section your choices are, among other things, "breaking stuff," "saving the world," and "spending money." It's hard to pinpoint what kind of music those choices would imply, but it's all meant to be fun and a little bit silly.

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The Sentence builds you a playlist of songs to find your mood and activities. Screenshots by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

When you've filled out your sentence, just hit Play to get an endless playlist of music picked out for you. As the tracks play, you can like or dislike (using the heart and crossed-out heart buttons). I do wish that if you disliked a song it would skip to the next track, like Spotify and Pandora do. You also cannot save Sentences to play again later, which is a bit of a letdown. In contrast, in Spotify you can create radio stations based off a particular artist or song, and it will save that station indefinitely.

The Sentence is a fun feature, but it feels a bit buggy. There were times with both the iPhone and Android apps when they weren't responsive when I edited my Sentence. I'd make changes to some of the sections, and the sentence wouldn't play at all, with no explanation why. Sometimes changing section would fix it, but sometimes not.

Building your library and playlists

Though Spotify, Songza, and Rdio serve up plenty of ready-made playlists, Beats has doubled down on offering up a plethora of them. To find them, you can can search by artist, song, or keyword, but I find it's better to browse the extensive Genre, Activities, and Curators categories. You can get to those categories in the Android app by tapping the Beats Music logo in the top left and tapping Browse. In the iOS app, just swipe all the way to the left in the Home section.

The Activities section has playlists for common situations, such as "Breaking Up," "Partying Poolside," and "Working," while the Curators tab is where you'll find playlists created by "best experts in music" (according to Beats), which includes music publications, radio stations, and even gyms such as SoulCycle, and big-box retailer Target.

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Beats Music's recommendation features help you find music that suits your tastes. Screenshots by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

You also have the option to create a custom playlist yourself, and add a single track or an entire album to it. You can add a description to your playlist and share it publicly with the entire Beats Music community, or keep it private.

As part of the app, you get a personal library, where you can keep songs and albums for quick access. One of the best parts about this feature is that you can add full albums to your library and they appear as albums.

Offline listening

Though I don't have many complaints about Beats Music, there is one feature that needs work: Offline Mode. The good news is that you can easily download individual songs, entire albums, and playlists to listen to when you don't have an Internet connection, just by tapping the plus button and selecting "Make Available Offline."

Unfortunately, when your phone loses its connection, you need to manually switch the app into Offline Mode to be able to listen to your music. If you don't switch on Offline Mode, you'll get messages that say you haven't created any playlists or added music to your library, even if you have. You must turn on Offline Mode in settings to view the audio you've downloaded to your device.

That might not seem like a big deal until you consider that Spotify automatically goes into its own version of offline mode, where you can only interact with the music you've downloaded to your device.

Final thoughts

Beats Music has everything a music-streaming service should. It features a library of more than 20 million songs from the top record labels, comes equipped with a robust recommendation engine that learns from you and always suggests the right tunes, and lets you take your music to go with offline listening. Beats' attention to detail and design is also felt throughout the apps, with a sleek and subtly colorful design.

A few features, including The Sentence and Offline mode, are good, but not great, and could use improvement. But even those weak spots won't put a damper on your Beats Music experience.

With so many top-notch music-streaming subscription services out there, it can hard to settle on one. Beats Music stands out from Spotify, Rdio, and the others with a trendy design, a dead-simple setup process, and seemingly endless high-quality playlists. For that, it's absolutely worth $10 per month.

CNET Executive Editor David Carnoy contributed to this review.

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