Virgin Mobile has made its name in the cell phone carrier world by catering to a young, urban audience. Not only does it offer a simple yet unique selection of phones, the prepaid operator has rolled put a number of youth-centric services that further enhance its hip reputation. The latest of these services is its new Headliner music service. Billed as an interactive mobile music magazine, Headliner offers a full range of music content including news, reviews, artist bios, and concert dates. The service does not offer music downloads, but it brings a comprehensive set of information to the music fan. On the other hand, the connection speed is slow, and we think you'll have to be a hard-core music lover to justify the monthly cost. Though the $2.49 per month certainly won't break the bank by itself, it could make for a hefty overall cost if you purchase a lot of calling minutes as well.
Headliner runs on a broad selection of Virgin Mobile phones including the Kyocera Cyclops, the UTStarcom Slice, the Kyocera Slider Sonic, and the Kyocera Switch Back, which we used as our test phone. Downloading the application is a simple affair. Just open the carrier's Virgin XL Web service, navigate to the Music menu, and select the Get button. Though Virgin Mobile uses the 2.5G 1xRTT data network from Sprint, the download took just a few seconds. We then opened the application, and we were good to go. Headliner is stored in the My Stuff folder for convenient access.
Headliner offers content in a number of categories. My Artists offers a variety of information organized by artist (of course). You get a full discography by album, a short biography, and the latest news, tour information, and reviews. There's also a section for related artists that could be a bit amusing at times. For example, it matched The B-52's with Madonna.
You can save your preferred performers to a quick list for frequent updates and rate artists on a scale of one to five stars. Also, you can elect to receive text messages whenever there's news, like an album announcement or a tour date. Just keep in mind that standard Virgin Mobile text-messaging rates apply (generally 5 cents per received or sent message, but cheaper if you purchase a text bundle).
The Music, News, and Charts section provides the latest tune-related headlines. Each story has small thumbnail images, and the news is updated regularly. You also can access the latest Billboard charts for the hottest hits in genres like Latin, Dance, R&B and Country. The Billboard Top Ringtones chart is available as well, but you can't download any tones directly from the chart.
The Shows section lets you search for the latest concert information by city and by artist, and you can opt to receive text alerts here as well. The Life section brings you a variety of artist-focused features like interviews, spotlights, and album reviews while Hot Shots feeds more-general music and pop culture stories. Though the features in the latter section are called Previews, they're a tad gossipy; an article repeating a rumor that Courtney Love would be a guest judge on American Idol was titled, "Smells Like a Train Wreck." It's mildly funny, yes, but it would be better if we actually had a preview of a song as well.
The Headliner interface isn't too flashy, but it's perfectly serviceable. The background is basic black with white text (highlighted text is red). Some of the text may be too small for some, so users with visual impairments may want to give a test drive first. The main page features rotating album images that offer quick links to the specific artist page. It's disappointing that Headliner doesn't take full advantage of the Switch Back's functionality. While you can navigate the application on the internal display and search for artists using the QWERTY keyboard, you can't use the keyboard to narrow any search results. So for example, if you have the full list of U2 albums, you have to scroll down to find the title you want rather than typing in the name. That can makes for a lot of scrolling depending on the artist.
It's important to note that Headliner is a Java app that uses Sprint's 1xRTT network. As a 2.5G technology, 1xRTT offers data speeds in the 30-to-90 Kbps range, which is pretty slow all things considered. That means you have to wait a few seconds for each page to load, even when you're navigating back to a page you've viewed already. On the whole, it can make for a lot of waiting if you're cruising through a lot of content. We realize it can't be helped given the Sprint bandwidth that Virgin Mobile uses, but it can be tedious.