First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
Unlimited music downloads for $2.75 per week
- Competitive price, no download fees, unlimited downloads, simple user interface, fast downloads, community interaction
- Files are DRM-protected, low bit rate of files, slight loading delay when playing tracks
Vodafone’s MusicStation isn’t perfect, but it’s still pretty damn good. Critics will point to the fact that you can’t keep your music if you choose to unsubscribe, but unlimited music downloads with no extra download fees and a simple and easy to use piece of software make MusicStation attractive on the whole. It’s certainly a refreshing addition to the music industry.
Price$ 2.75 (AUD)
Claiming the title of Australia’s first unlimited mobile music download service, Vodafone’s MusicStation certainly looks great value for money on first glance. Although it isn’t perfect, a competitive price, hassle-free downloads and an excellent user interface certainly impress.
Exclusive to Vodafone in Australia, MusicStation is a mobile service that provides completely unlimited access to a catalogue of more than 1 million music tracks. Major record labels already signed up to MusicStation include Universal, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner. A number of independent and local artists have also signed up.
Developed by Omnifone, MusicStation costs $2.75 per week to use. The fee is charged as an extra on Vodafone’s monthly bills, so there is no need for a credit card when purchasing tracks, nor do consumers require a computer or Internet connection. The service is available for both post- and pre-paid customers.
The fact that there are no data charges for downloads is a huge advantage, as most mobile music services are crippled by these often expensive and confusing fees. Unfortunately, as this is a subscription-based service users won’t be able to keep their already downloaded music if they choose to stop paying their weekly subscription. This is MusicStation’s biggest weakness.
The application itself is a piece of Java software. The user interface is simple yet extremely effective and utilises a tabbed menu system. There are four main tabs — home, buzz, line-up and playing. Scrolling through each is a simple matter of using your handset’s navigational pad, with everything very straightforward and concise. Importantly, the application quickly scrolls through long lists of music tracks, with no evident lag or slowdown, although there is a delay of a couple of seconds when playing an already downloaded track. Although not a deal breaker, this quickly becomes frustrating.
Downloading a track or album is as simple as selecting it. Individual songs are added to your line-up and downloaded in the background and users can queue up to 1000 songs. During testing, most songs took between 15 seconds and a minute to download; this obviously varies depending on the length of the track. MusicStation relies on Vodafone’s 3G network to download tracks, and you can’t increase download speeds by using Wi-Fi. Conveniently, if you aren’t in a 3G coverage zone, you can still open the application and listen to already downloaded tracks. Once your 3G connection resumes, downloading of queued tracks will automatically resume.
One slight annoyance is the fact that MusicStation doesn’t mark your already downloaded tracks when you are searching for new music. Instead, selecting an already downloaded track adds it to the end of your current playlist in the line-up menu. Files are downloaded to your phone's internal memory or a memory card. When there is no available space left MusicStation is still able to download new tracks but will delete the least-listened-to track in your playlist. All tracks include album art, but the image can’t be saved as a separate file and is only used for the playing menu.
Files are downloaded in the eAAC+ format and although bit rates aren't specified, it isn't high. Vodafone claims the bit rate varies depending on the handset you use to download the tracks. Although this is a disadvantage, music playback is restricted to your mobile phone so audio quality isn’t of paramount concern. In any case, quality is reasonable enough for playback, though volume at its highest level could have been improved. Files are DRM-protected, so they can only be played on the mobile you download them with.
Conveniently, if you lose or upgrade your handset and stay with Vodafone all of your downloaded music can be recovered on your new handset — as long as it’s compatible with MusicStation. Currently, the service is available on Nokia’s 6210 Navigator, 6120 Classic, E65, N73 and N95 8GB, Sony Ericsson’s C902, W880i and W890i, as well as the LG Viewty (KU990). Vodafone plans to increase the list of compatible phones in the near future.
MusicStation also has a community feel: users create a profile and can share their playlists with other users. A playlist with up to 100 tracks can quickly be created and sent to friends, who can be added by MusicStation profile name or mobile number. If you choose, you can also allow anonymous users to download your created playlists and rate them out of five. There is a top members list and a number of celebrity playlists, as well as the current Australian singles chart.
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