Rdio: All the Music, Everywhere

For many of our parents, being able to carry around a dozen or so songs in a front pocket was amazing. When the iPod arrived, that number was increased to a thousand songs. Now, you can have more memory devoted to music than anything else on your computer. Still, sometimes it feels like it isn’t enough.

Let’s face it: we want every song. Not only do we want every song, but we want them now, delivered straight into our eardrums. Rdio is as close as we can get to that dream, and we’ve got a review of their iPad app.

Getting Started

While Rdio recently went free-to-listen with their browser application, the mobile app still requires a $10/month subscription. This isn’t a very high cost of entry, and you’re definitely getting the most bang for your buck. There’s also a free trial available, letting you experience all of the benefits from the service before you commit.

Upon first launch, the app prompts you to either sign up for a free trial or enter your login info.
Upon first launch, the app prompts you to either sign up for a free trial or enter your login info.

If you’re anything like me, you will definitely hand over your credit card information as soon as your trial is up. This is one of those services that works its way into your life, that allows you to get accustomed to having it around and leaves you feeling naked when it disappears. The people at Rdio get that music is simultaneously an intimate and social experience, and they’ve handled the various aspects well.

While this feature isn’t available through the iPad, you’ll want to use Rdio on the Mac (assuming you have one) first, as there’s a neat feature that will scan and match your existing iTunes library. Having Rdio pre-populated with your existing music makes it easy to get started, but I also enjoy starting off with a clean slate. How you approach Rdio is entirely up to you!

The Collection: Your Library, on Rdio

Songs that you want to keep track of are added to your Collection. The Collection is essentially your music library in iTunes or another media player, but it’s synced across all of your devices and is easily updated.

All of the items I've added to my Collection.
All of the items I’ve added to my Collection.

One thing that is much appreciated is the ability to stream a track without adding it to your Collection.

If you’re just listening to an album to decide on whether or not you like a band, or there’s a guilty pleasure that you’d prefer not to broadcast (ahem) you can stream it and you friends will be none the wiser.

Items that I've chosen to sync to my iPad.
Items that I’ve chosen to sync to my iPad.

The stand-out feature of Rdio’s iPad app is the ability to save songs for later listening. As I sometimes use my iPad in a place without Wi-Fi (which, astoundingly, still exist) this makes it easy to get at my Collection when I’m offline. In this manner Rdio straddles the line between music-download service and music-streaming service. To preserve space (and, I imagine, downloads from the servers) on your iPad items can be synced one at a time, based on album or artist. I prefer to sync entire albums, as that mirrors my listening habits.

If you need to watch your data usage on a 3G iPad, it can be hard to decide whether you’ll want to sync items to your Collection over 3G or just listen as normal. Since I don’t have a 3G-enabled iPad I can’t comment on how Rdio will affect your monthly allotment of data, but I imagine that it will be easy to manage with a small amount of attention.

Finding New Music

While I said in the introduction that we want all the music, sometimes it can get hard to find something that you’ll actually want to listen to. More often than not you’ll feel like a lot of the people you know don’t recommend good music, or you’ll find that one person who just ‘gets it’ and recommends fantastic bands every time you see them.

The people I follow have eclectic tastes.
The people I follow have eclectic tastes.

Rdio aims to take some of the guesswork out of that. While you may not like everything that your friends on Twitter or Facebook enjoy, the reason you’re looking in the first place often involves a desire to branch out and explore new things. By viewing what they’re listening to you can say to yourself “hey, I’ve never heard of them before” and stream the songs right away. Items can be viewed from several different panes, like Heavy Rotation, which shows songs that your friends simply can’t stop playing.

The top charts for the past week; not exactly my cup of tea.
The top charts for the past week; not exactly my cup of tea.

If you don’t hook up social networks with Rdio or follow other users from directly within the app, Rdio will make recommendations based on the music that you already listen to. In spirit this sounds like something that Last.fm has been doing for years, but in practice I found that Rdio’s recommendations weren’t as reliable as the UK-based service’s. Still, though, if you’re just looking for something new you can do much worse. Top Charts might be useful if you want to see what’s going on with Rdio as a whole; I didn’t find these as useful as the Heavy Rotation or Recommended sections, but they’re nice to look at and get a pulse of the listening habits of a large network.

It’s About the Experience

A huge draw for Rdio is the gorgeous interface that it boasts. Everything feels like it was meticulously crafted for the optimum listening and browsing experience on a tablet. I enjoy being able to see the album cover from whatever’s playing in the bottom corner, as well as having easy access to the controls if I feel like skipping or re-playing a certain song.

Rdio's main view (which you've seen a lot of already) is nice enough to have controls in the corner.
Rdio’s main view (which you’ve seen a lot of already) is nice enough to have controls in the corner.

Tapping on the album cover takes you to a full-screen view of that album cover, with the tracklist on the left-hand side. This is handy if you know what you want to listen to and enjoy seeing the cover art on the gorgeous screen. Unfortunately the album art looks low-res, which might be another effort to save on bandwidth over on Rdio’s end.

Rdio's full-screen view looks as great as the rest of the app.
Rdio’s full-screen view looks as great as the rest of the app.

I can’t overstate how great the app is to use. Items are laid out in a natural way, and it’s amazing that others haven’t really capitalized as much as Rdio has. It might be odd to care about how nice an app that is made for listening looks, but it’s an important part to the overall experience.

The Elephant in the Room: Spotify

Look. I get it. Spotify was here first (well, not here here, it was in Europe first) but Rdio has several things going for it that Spotify doesn’t. The first? A native iPad app. Despite users clamoring for a tablet-specific interface for the great green giant for a while now, Rdio is the first to deliver.

In general, this is going to be the biggest drawing point for many people. I’ve used both services and found their musical selection to be comparable; I never searched for something on one service that wasn’t found on another. Rdio has a more appealing interface across all the platforms, and iPad users really have no reason to settle for a blown-up Spotify interface when they can have the fantastic Rdio app.

Through (Any) Speakers

Rdio is an excellent service, and the iPad app solidifies them as the best listening experience, period. There’s also support for the killer feature with iOS devices, AirPlay. Being able to stream your music to your TV or other AirPlay-enabled speakers can really expand the possibilities of the app.

Trying to share Mat Kearney's silky-smooth voice.
Trying to share Mat Kearney’s silky-smooth voice.

One use-case that I could really see is using the app as a control central for your party or get-together’s soundtrack. Depending on how willing you are to allow others to use your iPad, anyone can pick up the app and immediately understand how to navigate it, making the ‘listen to this!’ or ‘I want to play (blank)!’ demands easy to answer.

In my experience the music streamed with a decent quality, even with the iPad laying on its back with no external speakers or headphones plugged in. Obviously this isn’t ideal for every situation, but it can help save the battery on your computer while you’re listening (which, in fact, I’m doing through this review) and trying to work on something else at the same time.

In Closing

I hope that Rdio sticks around for quite some time. Between the excellent interface of their iPad app, the technical abilities offered, and the sheer depth of their catalog, Rdio has become the ideal listening platform. This app really is just the feather in the cap, but it’s a fantastic feather.

Rdio fits into anyone’s lifestyle, and is simple enough for anyone to use but offers enough features to make sure everyone will want to use it. This is no easy feat, and paying $10/month to support this excellent service and have access to such an amazing listening experience is absolutely worth it.


Summary

Rdio is an app and service that puts a massive amount of music into your hands. Their iPad app is incredibly well-designed, and has tons of functionality.

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  • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

    Unfortunately, seems to be US only. At least it won’t work in Germany, which is a real shame. We are cut off from Spotify, Pandora and iTunes Match already.

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