Beats Music vs Spotify
Update January 27, 2014
"Starred Tracks" - Beats allows you to add tracks to your ‘library’ - which is akin to the ‘starred’ feature on Spotify.
Track/Album Navigation - In Spotify, if you’re listening to a track on a playlist/via the radio function, and you want to jump to that artist or album - you can do so with a few selections via the app or web UI. Surprisingly, with Beats - there’s no equivalent function. I find this pretty significant, because I have a bit of music ADD, and I’ll go in and out of playlists and will switch to albums or other tracks by the same artist. Spotify makes this easier - this might be the killer feature for me between the two services.
I signed up for Beats Music (free 7 day trial) over the weekend, and I decided to compile some initial thoughts between the Beats service and Spotify - which I currently pay for. I’ll continue to update this post with additional thoughts/notes.
Web interface - The Beats service is primarily designed for mobile/tablets - and their web interface is severely lacking, as compared to Spotify. You’re essentially left with search/on-demand listening capability, and selection of featured playlists from your home page. If this is a deal breaker for you (i.e., you listen to a ton of music through your home computer/lap top), this might make the choice pretty simple. This is not to say that Beats won’t improve their web/browser offering - but it’s currently bare bones.
Apps - In line with the point above, Beats does not offer the various apps you can add to your Spotify web client. For those of you who use TuneWiki or other gimmicks to trick out Spotify, you won’t have that through Beats. If however, you use apps to find certain playlists (e.g., Blue Note or Pitchfork) - then Beats’ equivalent offering are their curated playlists (more on that further).
Look and Feel - aesthetically speaking, the Beats UI is sleeker and better looking than the pea soup green of Spotify.
Mobile App Performance - I thought that Beats was more responsive as an app, compared to Spotify - but over the past day of listening/use, the app seems to lag at times. I’d say they’re both even in terms of performance. I will say that getting to music right away is easier through Beats.
Home Screen - Beats takes you through an initial set-up where you select which genres you like and really like (distinguished by a single or double tap) and then 3 artists based on the genres you select. From there, they will come up with recommended albums and playlists. I find the recommendations from Beats to be more targeted - as opposed to Spotify’s “Discover” screen which simply highlights what you’ve listened to, and what you haven’t listed to in awhile. I feel that Spotify is kind of lazy in this regard, and I rarely browse the “Discover” screen as a result. I usually will go to “Browse” for playlist search (more on playlists below).
My issue with the Beats homescreen is that it’s a bit cluttered. It’s better arranged than Spotify’s jarring album squares, but one can get lost, browsing what has been selected for you to listen. I also wish that you could ‘dismiss’ recommendations for both Beats and Spotify - allowing both services to further refine their profile of the music you like and typically listen to.
Radio - So far, I think Spotify outperforms Beats with regards to ‘radio’ or instant playlists because of one simple feature - Spotify allows you to start a radio station based on a track you’re listening to (or artist/album). Beats does not. Beats forces you to look at their pre-set playlists, and although not bad - you may want to jump from a single or album play, into a full on playlist with other similar sounding artists or songs.
Playlists - I think that Beats counters on the radio front by having strong selection of playlists available. If you peruse the Spotify playlists via the “Browse” screen - you know that their descriptions/titles lack detail. It’s either “Coffee House” or “Rainy Day” - so yeah, what the hell does that even mean? Beats takes a page out of the Songza playbook and displays album pictures of the artists featured on the playlists, and also provides a description of said playlist - helping you better select the right playlist for the right mood. Further, there’s the “Sentence” feature that Beats allows for you to fill in a sentence, a la mad libs - to get Beats to start a stream of songs based on an activity/location/company/mood - pretty cool, and is better than Spotify’s “Browse” screen.
If you don’t feel like filling in a sentence to describe the mood/situation you’re in - you can browse various “activities” which are more granular than Spotify’s offerings (e.g., Beats has a category of music for “BBQ’ing”). Beats is all about the mood/experience/situation - which makes it feel more personal - which is what I think they’re aiming for.
Also - searching for playlists on Beats is EASIER than on Spotify. I’ve been frustrated so many times when I forget to subscribe to a playlist I like, and I cannot find it again after I’ve closed the application. Don’t even get me started on searching for playlists on Spotify mobile -close to impossible, unless of course you’re talking about your own playlists.
Curated Playlists - Beats is looking to become the leader in ‘curated’ playlists - using the brand to attract star and brand power of other companies (for a fee I’m sure) to put their own playlists on the service. For example, KROQ and Power106 have their own playlists, along with Target. I’m certain that Beats will push hard for companies/retailers such as Starbucks and Urban Outfitters to put playlists on the service (again to evoke moods/associate music with the related brands/companies). Many have already done this with Spotify, but I’m not sure if it’s been as successful. I sometimes like a song I hear in a retail store and I wonder if I can ever just pull up a playlist with the same tracks. I’m hoping Beats can make this easier.
Social - Beats offers ability to link your account to Facebook/Twitter basically to allow users to post tracks they’re listening to (links), so much like Spotify. Beats also features user profiles so you can follow your friends and artist profiles. Not sure if their activity will eventually fall to the home screen - but I would hope so. I find the Discover page on Spotify useless EXCEPT for the activity feed of my friends who I follow and look to for any music recommendations. I have found many artists/songs through looking at what my friends are listening to. Spotify’s follow feature is a bit kloogy at times (if you subscribe to a person’s playlist, sometimes you’re forced to follow them, and searching for profiles is A PAIN), it does serve a purpose for music discovery.
Also missing is the ability to put together a collaborative playlist (i.e., more than one person adding). I’ve used this feature a lot on Spotify with friends who wish to put together a playlist before or after an event/weekend - it’s fun, and not available on Beats.
Starred Tracks - I have not found any feature on Beats that’s akin to the “starred” tracks on Spotify. I listen to my ‘starred’ tracks a lot - and that’s my default if I can’t think of anything to listen to. Beats currently doesn’t offer that (at least in my use so far). Somewhat related, and more as a positive for Beats - is that it saves your search history within the mobile app, so you can at least go back to songs/albums you previously searched/played. Spotify pisses me off with how they’ll wipe your search history in the mobile app.
Conclusions so far -
If you like building your own playlists and having more control over your music - I think Spotify is still your best bet. If you’re fatigued with music streaming and don’t want to put that much effort into finding the right song - Beats might be for you. There are ways around the lack of a robust web/browser client - you can always run sound from your tablet/phone - but if you’re tied to your home computer for music, you should stick with Spotify until Beats improves their web UI.
As for me, I’m going to continue with my free trial, focusing more on the curated playlists and moods/activities - I think if I’m to make the switch, it’s going to be for Beats’ ability to find what to play next, which is what they’re trying to tout as their core feature. Beats has to make it so I feel that they are better at selecting the next track than I am, which would do away with my concerns around starred tracks/instant playlists off one track/album. I will say that on the limited data set so far - Beats’ selections are more on point than Spotify’s, but I’ll put it more to the test the rest of this week.