Update (24/11/11): I met with a senior manager from Samsung yesterday to talk about the Music Hub and have published a new article about improvements being made. I think the changes should make all Music Hub users quite happy! Click to the article right here.
As some of you may have read, I had given my iPhone 4 up for a Samsung Galaxy S II , and have been enjoying its features since then, even having an opportunity to write about my experiences on Carrypad.
One area that I didn’t really explore was entertainment content. After all, most of my music is on my iTunes, and I am still using a dedicated iPod, with all my playlists and favourite albums.
When Samsung announced the impending launch of their new music and video streaming service, I actually decided against moving back to the iPhone 4 when iOS 5 was released. I wanted to see if the Samsung Music Hub, as it was called at its launch, could actually provide a decent alternative to what iTunes provides now.
On paper, it sounds very attractive. Three million songs on launch, searching by many different genres, and the ability to cache the songs onto the phone for playback even when out of network range, like on a plane or a car. The songs could even be pumped out over my car stereo using the Bluetooth connection. All this for under ten dollars a month!
Loading the Music Hub was a simple process via the Samsung Apps location. Interestingly, Samsung Apps won’t load if there is not a SIM card inserted and activated, probably to authenticate what country you’re from to filter the appropriate applications. After loading and registering the Music Hub, which is powered by a service by the name of InSong, I was advised that my phone was eligible for a 2 month free trial. Very generous, and definitely enough time to put the service through its paces.
The first thing I did was look for a few new tracks through the general search field, and to my pleasure it found them right away. Album and single covers appear, and you can see the entire album that the song has been lifted from. If you haven’t created a playlist, then the songs you select go into what’s called a “Play Pit”.
One of the things I found was that the music discovery process didn’t have enough categories and subcategories to explore. I personally would have loved to dig deeper into some progressive rock or thrash metal that I hadn’t yet heard, but instead I had to be satisfied with a general “Pop/Rock” section. Generally speaking, you have to know what you are looking for, whereas streaming for me is more about discovering things I hadn’t heard before.
Playing from the “pit” worked fine, and the streaming was fairly fast. It was when I started creating playlists that trouble loomed.
I created a playlist called “New Tracks”, and loaded the songs into that from the Play Pit, an easy enough process. The songs still played nicely via streaming. The audio quality was somewhere between a good quality stereo radio and a standard bit rate local drive MP3 player.
For me, one of the major attractions of this service is the ability to cache the songs for use when in Flight Mode or otherwise aren’t connected for streaming. Samsung claim that up to 500 songs can be cached for listening anywhere, anytime.
So I chose to synch the playlist to my phone, and all the songs just… stopped working. As an experiment I removed them from my phone so they had to be streamed and… no joy. I then restarted the application and chose songs from the playlist and they played back in streaming form just fine. I tried caching the playlist again, and ran into the same problem.
Then I put the phone into Flight Mode, and the Music Hub app promptly force-closed itself on me. It wasn’t until I was back in normal connection mode that the Music App would stay open without shutting down on me.
So to avoid these shut downs I simply tried using the Hub as a streamer, nothing more, and as a basic streaming service it works really well. I could find most of the artists I was looking for, streaming was quick and I did find a few random songs I wouldn’t have thought of in a few of the Discover sections.
So as a first impression, I think the Samsung Music Hub needs a deeper search function and a good hard look at the caching function will make a big difference to the current experience. When the streaming works, it works well, and it’s not too hard to navigate around the environment.
The opportunity is definitely there for this to be a successful music subscription service. I haven’t found much information or indeed feedback from users online, so I hope this article finds its way to the right people.
My wish list:
- Caching needs immediate attention. At the moment streaming and saving streaming lists are all I can do, unless another user can advise otherwise. No localised (cached) playback is possible right now.
- Create a widget with basic functionality (play, stop, back and forward)
- Allow searches by genre/artist/song name/album filter
- Create more rich lists of music, including a “new release” section for sub genres in each broad music genre block
We will be back for another look at this once Samsung update the app, as I’m sure they will based on user feedback.
Has anyone else had a play with the Samsung Music Hub, and what are your thoughts? Please provide your experiences and comments below.