In just a few years, Beats Audio has made a name for itself in the audio hardware industry with its bass punching headphones and mobile music products. The company, while famous on the hardware front, isn’t exactly the first company that’s thought of when someone asks about streaming music. However that didn’t stop the company from expressing interest in creating its own streaming service. First mentioned in 2012, the idea stemmed from what the company saw as, “a culturally inadequate” and “not satisfying” streaming market. Fast forward about a year and a half later and the company finally announced Beats Music.
Since that first discussion in 2012, the streaming audio market has exploded. Options like Pandora, Spotify, Slacker and even Google’s All Access have established large user bases and followings of their own. With that, it would take something special for a company to differentiate itself from the pack. Beats Music looks to do that with something that Beats Audio feels is sorely lacking from streaming music — the human element.
At first glance, the service looks similar to other options with a free trial, a monthly fee for unlimited streaming, a mobile app, and a web interface. However, rather than just a server of music and listening algorithms, Beats Music offers music curated by industry experts. Playlists are hand-picked for your listening pleasure and this is something that Beats hopes will change the way you stream your music.
But even with this added element, does Beats Music have enough to make you leave your current streaming service? Find out after the break.
The Set Up
When you install the app you’re greeted by an option to either sign up or log in. When you sign up you’re asked a few basic questions. Name, date of birth, and gender are just a few things the app wants to know. After that, the app let’s you pick your favorite genres. You do so by double tapping the genres you like, pressing and holding on the ones you don’t. After that, you’re given a list of artists from those genre choices and you select your favorite ones the same way you picked your genres. While they tell you to pick three, you’re not limited to that number. Once you’ve made your selection you’re taken to the app itself.
From the moment you open the app, it’s easy to see that Beats put a lot of time in the interface. Primarily black and white, with added bits of color, the app puts music at the forefront and beautifully so. There are four tabs that divide up your experience: Just For You, The Sentence, Highlights, and Find It.
Just For You looks at your music listening habits and personalizes music recommendations based on that. This is where your genre and artist selections at signing up comes into play too. The Sentence (which happens to be my favorite feature of Beats Music) offers a station created from a, you guessed it, a sentence. By selecting where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re with from a set of options, a custom playlist is created. I found The Sentence was a good way of selecting music to listen to based on my mood. For the most part it was pretty accurate at finding the music that fit my mood with only a few misses in between a lot of hits. Highlights did just that, and highlighted various artists and songs, while Find It acted as a more encompassing search function of genres, activities and curators.
The web interface reminded me of something of a cross between Slacker and All Access. While not as fully functional as the mobile app, it gave me an option to listen to my Just For You personalizations or to listen to Beats Music’s Highlights. But as far as the web interface goes, that’s about it.
Even though the mobile app is gorgeous as it is, that didn’t free it from some major and some potentially deal breaking bugs. While there have been several updates between now and its launch on January 21st, there are still some nagging issues.
First and foremost, I have to say that I am not impressed with the battery drain I experienced using Beats Music. While I typically get a three to five percent drop in battery an hour using All Access, I found that my battery dropped a full 20% using Beats Music for that same amount of time. Another annoying bug happens to be that the moment I end a phone call or drop from my car’s bluetooth, the app would start playing music. Even after I closed the app hours before. Having to constantly go into the app and stop the music was a pain in the rear. Currently, there is also a bug where the app doesn’t remember my login credentials and I’ve had to continually log into the app.
Even with an app as visually polished as this, these bugs can ruin an otherwise good experience, and ruined it they did. Typically I had a great experience while using the app, but the start up, and post-app usage made me hesitate in wanting to use it. Of course these things can be fixed with subsequent updates but as of right now, they’re something you’ll have to deal with.
Selections in music were pretty spot on. As I said before I found The Sentence to be one of the best features about Beats Music. Curated playlists were full of wonderful selections, and I found that I enjoyed the music that was selected. However, that seemed to be the point of the entire experience: the curated playlists.
Given that this is the selling point of Beats Music I can understand why the company wants to push these playlists, but even so, personalized streaming shouldn’t take a backseat. The Just For You tab shows up first and foremost arguably making your personalized options the first thing you see but the curated playlists are still the primary focus here. You can still search for artists and specific songs with the Find It tab, but searching for music you want to listen to is not the highlight of Beats Music. Granted, that’s not what the service is aiming for or even advertising for, but as far as choosing a streaming service goes, people want to find and stream the music they want to listen to. While this curated format may offer the ability to find new and interesting music based on a user’s artist and genre preferences, I’m not sure it will appeal to most people.
From a quality perspective, songs sound great. This equates to higher data usage, and it’s never recommended to stream music on tiered data, but if you want to do so, using something like Pandora or Slacker would be a better way to go. That being said, I found that Beats Music had a better sound to data used ratio than that of Google Play All Access, even though it was missing an option for low quality. There aren’t any equalizer options to choose from, so if you were hoping to get the Beats sound you’ll find on the HTC One, you’re not going to. Even so, music sounded good.
Is it worth it?
From a monetary standpoint, the service costs the same as other streaming options at $9.99 per month. If you’re on AT&T, you can have up to five users take advantage of the unlimited streaming for an extra five dollars a month. A net savings of $35 per month. However, unless you’re on AT&T, you’re not going to save any money by switching streaming services.
As this is similarly priced as other streaming services, the choice comes in the features you prefer and want to use. If you’re looking for a more interesting way to finding music similar to your tastes, then Beats Music’s curated playlists are a good way to go. Visually, the experience is quite appealing. If you want to listen to specific artists, genres, or songs then this is not the streaming service you’re looking for.
Given the amount of bugs that still plague the app, I can’t recommend Beats Music today. Especially considering the more mature, stable options out there at the same price point. Curated playlists will appeal to a few music junkies looking for something new, but for the average person interested in the play-and-go for their day-to-day music listening, they’d be better off with something like Slacker or Google Play All Access.
Beats Music may be something worth checking into again down the road when the service has matured and the painful bugs are ironed out, but at this point in time, you’d be better off spending your hard earned dollar somewhere else.