Zune Music Pass sucks

by Taylor Fausak on

A few months ago, I lost my Nexus S. I bought it under contract from T-Mobile without insurance, so I decided to buy a new phone. Android consistently underwhelmed me, especially compared to the iPhone I used for two years beforehand. I didn’t want to get another Android, and the iPhone doesn’t play nicely with T-Mobile. So I took the third option and bought a Dell Venue Pro, which runs Windows Phone 7.

I listen to a lot of music, almost exclusively through my phone. Normally I listen to Pandora all day, but they don’t have a WP7 app. I looked around for alternatives and quickly found Microsoft’s Zune Music Pass. Their marketing blurb caught my eye:

A Zune Music Pass gives you unlimited access to millions of songs you can stream or download and play on your Windows Phone, PC, or Xbox 360.

Take advantage of powerful discovery tools like Mixview and Smart DJ, which serve up music recommendations based on what you already like.

The Good

As you might expect, Zune has tight integration with Windows Phone 7. Finding songs is no different than finding apps, games, or podcasts. The interface is clean, smooth, and fast. I’ve never had any problems with it. Once you’ve found the songs you’re looking for, streaming or downloading them is a piece of cake.

Their “Smart DJ” service makes it easy to discover new music, too. Just pick a song, artist, or album you like and it’ll play more stuff like it. It’s not quite as good as Pandora, but it’s close.

Zune has a web interface, but it seems like a lot more work went into their desktop client for Windows. It’s got all the same information, but everything looks better and responds faster. Plus it’s got plenty of features that make you smile when you notice them, like the spectrogram at the bottom.

The Bad

The aforementioned desktop client is Windows-only, which leaves the web interface for non-Windows folk like me. Their audio player uses Silverlight, of course, so setting it up on Linux is a chore. But the performance is even worse. Everything takes ages to load and breaks playback unless you use their popout player.

I encountered strange behavior while using the Zune site: some songs refused to play. I tried everything I could think of to no avail. Finally I tweeted @ZuneSupport (their only official support channel) and got this response: “Were you streaming from your phone then tried to stream from the website?” Not at the same time, just close to one another.

Microsoft claims you can stream music to your XBox 360, but the fine print reveals that you need an XBox Live Gold membership to do that. Since I don’t have one and don’t plan on shelling out another $15/month for it, I don’t know if it’s any good or not.

The Ugly

Plenty of music is totally absent from the Zune marketplace. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Cake, but none of their music is available to me. It shows up when I search for it, but I can’t stream, download, or buy it.

That’s not even the worst part, though. I can understand some music not being available in their marketplace. Look at how long it took Apple to get The Beatles into the iTunes Music Store. The worst part is: you still have to buy some music! Even though you pay $10/month for “unlimited access”, you still have to pay for some songs, albums, and artists.

I noticed this when I tried to get “Disco Science” by Mirwais. Turns out it’s not included with my Zune Music Pass. I might have bought it, but I can’t do that, either. I’d have to buy the entire album. No thanks. I subscribed for a reason.