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Muve Music makes leap to all Cricket Android phones

Going forward, Cricket's music download and playback plan will integrate to every Android phone -- whether customers want it there or not.

Samsung Vitality
Going forward, all Cricket Android phones will include Muve Music plans. Josh Miller/CNET

After a year and a half of offering an unlimited smartphone rate with a built-in music download feature, Cricket Wireless will make its Muve Music plan standard on all Android phones, beginning September 2.

This is excellent news if you're a fan of the music rate, which wraps music software for downloading songs and ringtones into the monthly package alongside text, talk, and Web use.

In the year and a half since the plan launched in January 2011, a growing number of Android phones has featured the plan, then a $65 premium on no-contract handsets like the Samsung Vitality and ZTE Score.

Muve's rate plan now splits into three tiers aligned by data allotment and will cost $50, $60, or $70.

Rate plans
Cricket's new rate plans for Android smartphones. Cricket Wireless

Going forward, $50 will get you 1GB of data, $60 grants2.5GB, and 5GB of monthly data access costs $70 to go along with those unrestricted voice minutes, text messages, and music use. Prior to the change, "unlimited" Muve Music plans include 2.5GB of full-speed data over Cricket's 3G network.

Despite the rate plan diversity, Cricket's new plans won't strike a chord for every prospective smartphone owner. If you don't give a whit about tunes, $55 per month for the whole caboodle (minus the music) costs an automatic $5 per month raise to keep the same 2.5GB data allotment.

Cricket's Muve Music decision is at its core a tiered data plan that moves away from the premise and longtime promise of prepaid networks that offer an "unlimited" data option, albeit one that already included a 2.5GB cap. Instead, Muve Music gives Cricket the differentiation from competitors, and therefore the leverage, it needs to leave behind the pretense of unlimited data and start charging by volume.

Muve Music activity, by the way, doesn't count against the customer's data bucket.

Moving on up with Muve
Of course, Cricket isn't expecting much backlash for the new, marginally higher-cost plans. Muve Music has been the carrot that has successfully lured customers, particularly the younger set, to upgrade from feature phones to the smartphones that command a greater monthly rate.

According to Jeff Toig, senior vice president of Muve Music, around 60 percent of Cricket's new subscribers get smartphones, the vast majority of which are Android handsets. Moreover, Cricket's customers each eat through around 3, 4, and 5GB of music data every month in their quest for aural entertainment.

By the end of 2012, Cricket will offer over 10 million tracks through the major music labels, although Cricket's Toig is quick to point out that customers listen to only about 20 percent of the total available tracks.

In addition, Cricket says it will release 9 additional Muve Music smartphones by the year's end, which will bring the grand total to 14 Muve Mucis phones before CES.

Muve Music microSD card
A separate microSD card is the key behind Muve Music. Remover this, and you'll lose access to your downloaded tunes. Josh Miller/CNET

Time for a Muve makeover
Although the Muve Music software opens the door to an unreplicated experience in the cell phone world, the software itself is in need of a fresh coat of paint.

The Muve interface operates as a separate app you open using an on-screen control. The software has changed little in the past 18 months, if at all, and the clunky, outdated design and workflow that were excusable while the carrier got the program off the ground, are now long-neglected eyesores.

A third-party software company created the program, but it's high time that Cricket steps in to freshen it up, or put real resources behind in-house designers.

From a pure business perspective, Cricket won't lose customers due to outdated software that doesn't look its best. Instead, the carrier is concentrating on its ever-expanding relationship with national retailers, with music partnerships, and with handset manufacturers. Toig's excitement in the music plan is palpable, even over the phone.>

"One day music will be like voice mail," Toig told CNET. "It will be included in your wireless service the way voicemail is included in your wireless service."