By Allan Pulga
I meant to blog about this last week, but didn't get a chance. Have you seen this phone? Does it need an edge?
Engadget's Brad Molen did his best to explain its value (Sept. 3):
"Since the whole point of the phone's very existence is the screen, Samsung made sure to add enough functionality to put it to good use," he wrote. "In fact, it serves many different purposes, and once developers have access to the SDK (which Samsung says should come out very soon), there will be plenty more ways to take advantage of it.
"The UI of the bar is straightforward and basic, since there isn't much you can do with a narrow strip of display space. Often, what's shown here will depend on the app: If you're in the camera or watching videos, this strip becomes a sidebar containing all of your shortcuts and settings so they don't take up other valuable screen space or get in the way. However, you can still access a plethora of different types of bars, whether in or out of the app; notifications, weather info, stock tickers, clocks, news feeds, quick shortcuts and even games are available from nearly every screen."
Molen notes that the edge is tailored to right-handed users. Samsung says it's fine for lefties too, as they can flip the phone and use it upside down. Molen responds that it's still "a huge inconvenience if you plan on using the home button or making phone calls at all."
Gizmodo's Darren Orf pointed out (Sept 3) the Edge comes with its own SDK (i.e. app developers must develop for it specifically, not Android "edge" phones in a general sense). "Samsung says it isn't incredibly hard, but a unique SDK means adoption will be a slow-going process, so don't expect functionality for all your favorite apps anytime soon…or ever."
VentureBeat's Devindra Hardawar called the Edge "stylish yet awkward" (Sept. 3). "The Note Edge looks cool, to be sure, but after spending a few minutes with it today, I’m not sure why anyone would want to use it. Its curved edge makes it even wider than the already-wide Note 4, which made it impossible for me to hold comfortably. And no, I don’t have small hands."
That's my inclination too: The additional edge looks neat and I could see it having value for things like notifications or a live ticker for sports scores or stock prices, but from a UX standpoint, it just seems cumbersome. Do you accidentally open apps and settings, when you quickly grab the phone to answer a call? It doesn't seem useful. To me, it's just a gimmick.
By Allan Pulga
Forbes tech columnist Ewan Spence wrote an article a few weeks ago (Aug. 13), saying he won't recommend the iPhone 6, the Galaxy Alpha, or any other smartphone. Why? "Mostly because I find one of the hardest questions to be asked online is 'which phone should I buy?'" he writes.
"It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy and honest answer. There are safe answers, but that’s not necessarily the best answer."
Spence says safe answers are an iPhone (if they own Apple products) or a Galaxy S5 (for everyone else), but admits the best phone for someone depends on what that person wants the phone to do.
Such a conundrum reminds me of a blog post a colleague of mine, Collin Prior, wrote back in May on The Commoditization of Smartphones.
"Phones are going through a similar period to what laptops went through a
while ago," he wrote. "There are few things to dramatically improve upon in
smartphones as they appear today."
A month before that, I made a similar statement in my video review of the Galaxy S5: "Everyone I know has a high-end smartphone now, so it's that much harder for manufacturers to impress us with new phones." Back when we were upgrading from a feature phone (or no phone at all) to a smartphone, it felt like a quantum leap. Nowadays? Not so much.
To conclude, I'll quote (as Collin did in his blog post) WIRED's Mat Honan (May 18): "It’s gotten easy to get blasé about high end flagships," Honan writes. "The processors, cameras, screens, and, increasingly, the apps are all very, very good. We’ve reached the point of incremental improvements. They have parity. You basically know what’s coming, year after year."
That parity is what makes it so hard to recommend a single phone as "the best."
By Allan Pulga
Let’s be straight here. When I got an email invite to a free
one-month trial of Spotify last week, I was excited. But I wasn’t approaching
it with a clear head. I’ve been a happy Rdio user since July 2013.
Rdio was the first online music streaming service of its
kind to arrive in Canada (we still don’t have iTunes Radio, Beats Music or
Play Music launched here May of this year) and as my
colleague Alexander James aptly put it, Rdio has been a game changer for
Canadian music lovers.
Spotify is a welcome addition to a (delayed but) growing music streaming market in Canada.
Spotify’s arrival to Canada is welcome news because more competition
is good for the consumer, right? Founded in Sweden in 2008, it has over 40
million users (10 million paid subscribers) – Spotify is the world leader in
music streaming. Rdio was also born in Sweden, launched in 2010 by Skype
founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. Rdio, however, is a little cryptic
about its user base totals (in
a February CNET article, Rdio CEO
Anthony Bay completely dodges the user base question). Nevertheless, late last
reported service in 51 countries (at the time, Spotify was serving 32
countries), but Rdio still did not report a global user total.
Spotify vs. Rdio by
20 million songs
20 million songs
Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Windows
Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Web, Windows
$5/mo., $10/mo. mobile, $18/mo. family
Time, March 2014
the above Time article, author
Matt Peckham says Spotify’s desktop interface "could do with a radical
overhaul,” while noting Rdio offers "one of the friendliest interfaces of the
bunch.” After comparing both for the past week I would 100% agree. But before
we get to UI…
Quality and Bitrate: Equal
Because the library sizes between Spotify and Rdio are
identical*, and upon testing both the desktop and mobile sound quality of each
app (they sounded identical as well), the only difference in this category
appears to be bitrate.
song/album I found on Spotify was also available on Rdio. One exception being
The Beatles, which have 17 albums on Rdio (6 of interviews only) and 1 single, and
3 albums 2 singles on Spotify. A couple albums I searched (Bonobo - Dial M For
Monkey and Meek Mill - The Wolverine) weren’t available on either. One single
(Alt-J - Every Other Freckle) arrived on Spotify Aug. 13; it arrived on Rdio
My testing was limited to desktop/mobile Wi-Fi use and 3G or
4G coverage on my iPhone 5s and although Spotify advertises a much higher bitrate,
I noticed no difference in streaming performance.
Discovering New Music:
In its "Browse” section, Spotify has "Genres & Moods”
you can choose from for streaming options. Types include: Mood, Party, Pop,
Workout, Focus, Rock, Chill, Club, Dinner, Sleep, Urban… 23 in total (see above photo). Within
each of these categories are a seemingly infinite number of playlists to choose
from (many of which have tens of thousands of followers).
This is a great way to discover new music. And it works like
Songza in that you just pick a mood and it plays you music. You don’t need to
know what you’d like to listen to before you launch the app. Rdio does nothing
of the sort**. While Rdio does allow you to play "Stations” based on a given
artist, genre or a user’s history, it does not curate based on mood.
**Sept. 4 update: Rdio just announced it will allow free, ad-based streaming, along with Songza-like mood curation. See Mobile Syrup article.
Spotify is better than Rdio for discovering new music, but its UI needs work.
My friend Beth is an avid Songza user and has been trying
Spotify this past week as well. She says an advantage over Songza is that
Spotify lets you navigate back to a song you like, even if you accidentally
Spotify is by no means perfect, however. In "New Releases,”
for example, Spotify does not indicate the number of songs on an album, so you
can’t differentiate between singles and albums. Rdio lists the number of songs.
Rdio also lets you drill down in "New Releases” by Overview/This Week/Last
Week/Two Weeks Ago. Spotify does not.
Even when you click through to an album/single in Spotify,
it only lists the year it was released, not the date. Rdio lists the date,
which makes it easier to identify just how new something is. Also, when you go
to an artist’s page, Spotify does show you "Latest Release” and lists the
release date. When you click through, however, it only shows the release year.
Lame. "This would drive hipsters crazy,” a buddy of mine noted. It would.
Desktop UI and Web
Access: +1 Rdio
As Time’s Matt
Peckham pointed out (see above table), Rdio has a web app. Spotify does not
(see below screenshot***). Spotify’s desktop app must be installed to whichever
computer you plan to use it on. Rdio, on the other hand, lets you log in via
your browser, so it’s more convenient that way.
***To be fair, I’ve been
using Spotify on a Canadian pre-launch trial, so perhaps the web app is still
on its way.
Correction (Aug. 22): The Spotify web app is indeed accessible from Canada. Although the site says Spotify hasn't yet launched in Canada (see below screenshot), pre-launch users are able to log in by entering their username and password.
Spotify’s background is all black and Rdio’s is all white. I
don’t have a preference either way, but it’s funny how they’re at opposite ends
of the spectrum.
What I do have a preference for is explicit versions of
songs and Rdio does a better job of indicating them, with a red E in a red box.
Spotify doesn’t typically indicate the explicit version, rather the clean
version is labeled "edited.”
When you look up an artist on Rdio, it lets you view
Albums/Songs/Biography/Related Artists. Spotify lets you view Overview/Related
Artists/Biography – to see albums, you have to scroll down in Overview (see above "Lil Wayne" screenshot). You can
view them by album cover or by full track lists. Spotify also isolates Singles
versus Albums. Rdio just lists all (Singles or Albums) as Albums, which is
annoying – you have to note there’s only one song on an album to know it’s a single.
Interestingly, artist biographies are the same on both Spotify and Rdio. Overall
though, Rdio’s "Artist” listings are more user friendly (shown below).
A nice feature in Rdio is "Autoplay,” which plays a song
similar to what you were listening to when the previous song ends. To my
knowledge, Spotify does not autoplay you anything when the
album/single/playlist you’re listening to finishes. The song ends. Silence.
Feels like a missed opportunity on Spotify’s part.
Simply put, Rdio offers a superior user experience, both on desktop and mobile.
Mobile UI: +1 Rdio
In this era of awesome phones with shitty batteries, it
might be worth noting that the Spotify app has a black background versus Rdio’s
all-white background – I didn’t test this, but I suspect it helps save battery
life to a certain extent.
Another advantage to Spotify is it lets you access "Local
Files” on both desktop and mobile, meaning you can play whatever music you have
on your device (e.g. iTunes, Google Play, Windows Player, etc.) right in
Spotify. For me, this was cool because playlists I’d created years ago in
iTunes were automatically accessible within Spotify. In Rdio, for instance, I’d
have to recreate them track by track.
But here’s where Rdio’s mobile app design is superior, in my
opinion: Syncing music to your mobile device. On Rdio, you indicate on the
desktop app which music you want to sync to your mobile phone. On your phone
(while connected to Wi-Fi, mind you), you select "Sync” from the app menu and
it will upload the previously selected music to your phone, so you can access
it in "Offline” mode (which reduces your mobile data use).
To sync music on the Spotify app, it requires an additional
step. You "Save” music to "Your Music” on desktop. Then, on your mobile device
(Spotify lets you sync via Wi-Fi and cellular), you have to find the
albums/songs you want synced, open them and toggle them to "Available Offline.”
This is a pretty annoying, manual process – particularly if you do it often (I
do) to manage the amount of memory this music occupies on your phone.
The Rdio mobile app also wins in that you can switch from
online to offline mode directly from the main menu (see "Go Offline” in the
above photo). On Spotify, you have to go Settings > Playback > Offline
Mode. I also switch between modes often, so this got tiresome really fast.
Social and Mobile
Integrations: +1 Spotify
Spotify is definitely the frontrunner in this category, as
it connects directly to Facebook. I fully acknowledge this may not be for
everybody, but I thought it was pretty cool. (I will note that it is stupid
that your Spotify user profile auto-populates your Facebook profile pic, so if
you don’t connect it to Facebook, or if you’re not on Facebook, you don’t have
a profile pic.) What is cool, though, is being able to find fellow Facebook
friends within Spotify, follow them, see what they’re listening to, etc. On
Rdio, you’re finding your friends from scratch.
Spotify has more 'extras' than Rdio, likely due to its larger user base creating more partnership opportunities.
One of my buddies in Vancouver converted from Rdio to
Spotify because he prefers its mobile UI and also because of a feature that
alerts of him upcoming local tour dates of artists he follows.
Rdio used to boast an exclusive integration with Shazam,
which is great because you can Shazam a song and while in the app, select "Listen
with Rdio” and jump straight to Rdio to hear it. Turns out Shazam previously
connected to Spotify, removed the integration, and just
last week brought it back (along with a Beats Music integration for U.S.
users; see right photo).
Spotify also has a "Private Session” option while streaming,
which is nice because my Rdio friends mocked me when they saw I was listening
to En Vogue (it was only via Autoplay, I swear).
Support: +1 Rdio
This is just a one-off, but I emailed Rdio Support about a minor
bug in their system (I couldn’t remove an album from my collection, for some
reason). When the steps they outlined for me failed to resolve my issue (the
album is still there), the rep I was dealing with emailed me saying, "I’m sorry
this didn’t work for you. Please enjoy one free month of Rdio Unlimited on us
to make up for this trouble. I just applied this month to your account, so
listen away!” OK. That is just awesome.
Meanwhile, my friend Beth had an issue with Spotify via
mobile: She was unable to upgrade from a basic trial to a premium trial on her
Android phone ("Canada” does not appear from the drop-down list of countries –
again, this may still be coming). Anyway, she sent an email to Spotify Support
and the rep emailed her with tips (copy-and-pasted directly from the website’s
FAQ section) telling her to ensure her user country and billing country match.
She sent the rep screenshots showing that Canada was not an option via mobile.
The rep then told her to simply upgrade while using the desktop app. And that
The Verdict: Rdio Defeats
the end of the day, both apps are pretty even and the slight edges I’ve
reported are either anecdotal or a matter of preference. As I mentioned, I was
on Rdio first and I can tell you: Learning a new music streaming interface is
kind of a pain in the ass.
being said, I would recommend Rdio mostly because of its design. It’s more
seamless and user friendly than Spotify, on both desktop and mobile device. By
comparison, Spotify is less intuitive (making it harder to navigate) and clunky
at times (e.g. extra step when syncing to mobile).
will concede that Spotify is a better option for people that have a hard time
deciding what they want to listen to. Its "Genres & Moods” feature is
enough to tip the scale in its favor, especially for people already hooked on
services like Songza.
is also a winner in terms of its ancillary services – things like local concert
listings and its social/mobile integrations. There are simply more "extras” to
Spotify, which are probably a result of its larger user base increasing its
opportunities for partnership.
about you? Have you tried both? Which do you prefer? Please post your comments