Rdio is a new online music subscription service that allows you to stream music, create and share playlists, and have social interaction with other users by following them. The service emerged from its private beta this week, opening its doors to users in the U.S. and Canada. (You can read a first look at the Rdio service elsewhere on Macworld.com.)
Rdio goes beyond the browser—there’s also the Rdio app for your iPhone and iPod touch. A free download, the app lets you experience most of the basic Rdio features from your phone, as long as you’ve subscribed to the service’s $10-per-month Unlimited package. (A $5-per-month option only gives you access to Rdio through the Web.)
Once you’ve gotten the Rdio subscription details worked out, you can use the app to log in, and start streaming music over Wi-Fi or 3G almost immediately. The Rdio app is very similar to the native iPod interface on the iPhone, so you’ll become familiar with it rather quickly. A menu bar on the bottom of the screen features four sections—Collection, Playlists, Search, and Sync.
When browsing music on the Web or on the phone, you have the option of adding the album or tracks to your Collection (by clicking on the small check mark next to an artist’s name). When you add artists to the Collection, they will show up on your list of Artists in alphabetical order—just like your iPod—helping you quickly find your favorites.
The Playlist section gives you access to playlists you created through the Web interface. Currently, you can’t create or edit playlists within the mobile app.
The Search section allows you to search for an artist, album, or track. When you find an album or track you’d like to listen to, you can tap to begin playing—the song will play in full screen mode, with artwork and navigation controls.
Rdio could really stand to improve how it displays search results, though. When you search for an artist, the app displays the top three albums and top three songs, but there is no way to expand the search results. Say you search for “David Bowie”—Rdio tells you that there are 117 results, but you can only access the top three from the initial results, and the top ten when you search by album specifically. This quickly becomes frustrating, especially if you’re looking to scroll through a list of albums looking for the one you want.
The Sync section allows you to sync songs and albums directly to your iPhone, so they’re available offline. You can select Sync to Mobile the same way you choose Add to Collection. The app will immediately start caching tracks; when you view your Collection offline, only artists that have been synced to the app will show up.
I had a largely positive experience using Rdio on my iPhone. I was able to add a number of albums to my collection and go for a long drive while the music streamed the whole time with no issues. (Rdio uses data when streaming over 3G, so be aware of that if you haven’t got an unlimited data plan with AT&T.) There’s a noticeable difference in sound quality when listening to the streaming music versus listening to something stored on your mobile device, but I found the overall quality more than acceptable.
If you’re interested in giving a streaming music subscription service a shot, and you’ve signed up with Rdio, the companion app—even with a couple of issues—is a great way to extend the experience.
[Macworld contributor Beau Colburn lives in Boston and posts iPhone photos on his site Snap different.]