I decided to wander over to music.nokia.com.au for a look... only to be told to bugger off because I'm not using Windows and Internet Explorer. Not a good start. Switching from the Leopard MacBook to the XP ThinkPad and dusting off IE6, I found the sign up process was surprisingly simple. In only six minutes I'd created an account, handed over my credit card details, installed the "Nokia Media Bar" and was listening to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
I wasn't keen on installing the ActiveX Nokia Media Bar, but it was quick and painless. Windows Media Player 10 also installed a quick security update (although I doubt somehow it was concerned about *my* security).
The subscription service only lets you stream music, so you need a decent monthly broadband plan if you don't want to be slugged with hefty excess data charges. Unlike the Real's Rhapsody service in the US, you can't cache albums on your computer to save on bandwidth. Nor can you copy subscription tracks to CD or a portable music player, you need to "buy" them if you want to do this. Tracks are $1.70 each, which still lets the Australian iTunes Store claim it's 1 cent cheaper, and albums are $17. I saw some old Foo Fighters albums on special for $12. The tracks are a mix of 128 and 192 kbps, which offers reasonable sound but obviously won't satisfy audiophiles.
If you've used the iTunes Store you'll find the Nokia Music Store slow and clunky in comparison. The site runs in one frame of the browser and the music player in another. Searching for an artist or track takes five to ten seconds, and then another 10 to 20 seconds before the track starts playing. I know it doesn't sound like long, but it feels slow compared to iTunes. Searches often return a list of "close matches" with results containing the same words, and can somtimes take an educated guess if you make a slight spelling mistake.
The range of artists seems to be good, of the 20 or so I searched for the only ones it didn't have were The Beatles (to be expected) and The Black Crowes. Admittedly I have bogan taste, so I was looking for stuff like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Eels, The Violent Femmes, The Smashing Pumkins, Guns n Roses and Rage Against The Machine. It turns out Nokia doesn't have a deal with Warner Music yet, which is why The Black Crowes were missing.
You can buy tracks, listen to 30 second clips, stream (only if you've subscribed to the streaming service) or add them to your "wish list" which is really just a way of bookmarking things. I really like the "Mix Me" option that fills your playlist with random tracks from the artist. I was however annoyed to discover a few albums were only available to buy and not stream, although for some the streaming button was greyed out but when you opened the album you could click on each track individually to create a playlist. You can also save custom playlists, which is useful.
It's easy to explore genres using a list down the left of the screen and you can also check out the charts, with Top 40 Singles, Top 40 Albums, Top 40 Downloads and Nokia Top 40. There are also "Nokia Music Recommenders" such as Jimmy Barnes, who have put up their own custom playlists for you to list to. I love Barnsie as much as the next bloke, but that doesn't mean I give a stuff about what he's listening to.
The service is described as a beta, which is good for Nokia because it still has a few stability issues. CONTINUED