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MP3 Players

So long, Napster, and thanks for the nine MP3s

I gave Napster a two-month trial to see how it compares to Spotify's subscription offering. It repaid me with a kick in the usability shins

For those who don't know, I'll start this tale by briefly recounting the origins of Napster. It started ten years ago as a brilliant, but illegal, introduction to downloading music on the Internet. It was really only surpassed by AudioGalaxy in its ingenuity, but the record industry got scared and had it shut down. Of course, such a recognisable name could never be wasted, so CD-burning firm Roxio got its hands on the service and turned it legit. Napster was sold for a massive profit to US retailer Best Buy in September last year.

I've been using the service now for two months -- at my own expense, I hasten to add -- to find out how it compares to Spotify. I had sort of fallen out of love with Spotify and, after trying its paid-for service, I felt I'd like to continue a music subscription of some sort, but at a lower cost. I thought I'd give Napster's newly launched £5-per-month unlimited streaming a go. After all, for £5 a month, you also get five free MP3s to keep, which struck me as a pretty good deal.

Overall, I have to say I quite liked Napster, despite the fact that the audio quality is quite variable, ranging from very good indeed to quite poor. As I understand it, though, this has as much to do with the music labels as it has with the way Napster streams music. The labels, apparently, provide the assets for the service, and it's also fair to say that some music is mastered in a less-than-stellar fashion.

The biggest problem with Napster is the software, though. Compared to Spotify, it's terrible. Spotify has the advantage of being very quick and responsive. Search results appear in the blink of an eye, and you can be playing music lickety-split. Napster's interface is slow, confusing and really badly laid-out. For example, if you search for an artist and then look at all their albums, you'll soon discover that some aren't albums at all, but singles. This makes hunting for music a pain in the behind. Napster is also very click-intensive -- everything is always behind about 150 clicks -- and that's just painful. 

Worst of all is that you have to actually call Napster -- yes, on a phone -- to cancel your account. Sure, Napster will take your money for the subscription online, but forget about cancelling online. In my opinion, that's just a really dirty trick to keep you subscribing.

The final insult? I only got credited with four MP3s this month, not five.