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Rhapsody 3.0 review: Rhapsody 3.0

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Additional features of the new Rhapsody include:

  • My Rhapsody: This area is a customized glimpse at the music you're most likely to want at any given time. It gives you personalized selections and charts based on the tracks you've streamed, downloaded, or even imported and played from an MP3 collection acquired elsewhere. It lets you follow genres and subgenres (then alerts you to most popular, newest, and just added tracks) and create an instant 25-song playlist from titles, based on the last 100 tunes you've played. The same mechanism recommends albums for you, based on an automated algorithm as well as Rhapsody's excellent editorial content.

  • James Kim's customized My Rhapsody page.
  • Playlist Central: Here, you'll find playlists put together by Rhapsody editors, celebrities, and other users. They'll shuffle based on how other users rate them--a playlist you publish on there could take off and turn you into the next big tastemaker. There are also playlists for specific themes, such as a dinner party or an intense workout. You can browse from any playlist to the artist page, which makes these a great way to find new music. Using an e-mail client that's embedded within the program, you can also send a playlist to anyone; the recipient can get Rhapsody 25 for free and hear the playlist in its entirety. While we think Playlist Central and Instant Playlist rule, we've become accustomed to traditional "smart" playlists for latest tracks added and top-rated tracks, and we noticed their absence.
  • Extras: Parental controls, more/bigger images, and 1,500 music videos.

System requirements aren't intimidating (Pentium II 350MHz equivalent or better, 64MB of RAM, 380MB available disk space), but Rhapsody works with only PCs running Windows XP, Me, 2000, or 98 SE, and you must have Microsoft IE 5.5 or later, as well as a broadband connection, speakers, and a sound card. You should have a CD burner too. Rhapsody is predictably responsive over an office LAN; in our tests, songs started playing almost as quickly as if they were stored locally. In comparison, when we used Napster 2.0, streaming playback typically took several more seconds to begin.

So how did we fare with Rhapsody To Go? Rhapsody went with the same drag-and-drop method as Napster, though it doesn't have a completely separate window for your device. Instead, a tabbed window in the lower-left corner serves to hold your tracks to play, burn, or transfer. Also unlike Napster, Rhapsody doesn't let you drag tracks, albums, or playlists into the window once you've begun a transfer; you have to wait until the current list has finished.

The Transfer window shows the status of the tracks currently being synced to your device.

After an intial bout with bugginess and transfer failures to compatible portable devices such as the Creative Zen PMC, the Creative Zen Micro, and the iRiver H10, we were finally able to transfer subscription-based tracks to our H10 with no hitches. Presumably, Real engineers were working "real" diligently to get the feature to work postlaunch. A transfer of 100MB worth of tracks (a smooth blend of Mariah Carey and the Postal Service) took just less than four minutes or a rather slow 0.4MB per second over the USB 2.0-enabled H10. Our final comment: in this early stage of Rhapsody 3.0's life, we've had some difficulty logging onto the service, which is probably attributable to high server traffic and growing pains.

Links to service and support are easily available from the help option in either online or offline versions. A quick hop to a Web page, and you have access to a FAQ, including a What's New in Rhapsody 3.0 link and a customer service box that takes you to important functions such as canceling your account. Clicking the search link brings you to a more detailed and all-encompassing searchable FAQ. The latest post addresses the different Rhapsody 3.0 subscriptions.

Customer support is solid.

The only way to contact Real is via an e-mail form that allows you to attach documents. Real will get back to you in 1 to 2 business days. The program won't automatically update to the new version, but there is a link to do this manually. Menu options to authorize a computer or to import music to your library are few and far between, but they offer just the information or function you need. For example, the account summary page lists the number of artists, albums, and tracks available to the user, and there is a useful blogging feature in Preferences.

Streaming technology has always been the heart of Rhapsody. Now that it has incorporated downloading as well, Rhapsody has become a complete music service with full jukebox capabilities, compatibility with portable devices, and an intelligent three-tier service. RealNetworks has managed to combine some of the features of its competitors (for example, basic jukebox functionality as with iTunes and untethered downloads as in Napster) and introduced them to a brand that has a loyal following, thanks to a large and diverse music catalog, a simple yet full-featured interface, proven streaming technology, and top-rate editorial content. While we had a couple of early glitches, overall the program is a nice improvement to the now-classic (but in need of an update) Rhapsody.

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