Spotify Killer? Hands-on with the New Rdio

Digital music service Rdio rolled out a massive revamp of its web platform today at SXSWi, including a crisper user interface and improved social sharing features. The web app costs $4.99 per month for unlimited listening, while mobile access costs $9.99 per month. We’ve already rolled up our sleeves and went hands-on with the new and improved web-based Rdio and wanted to share our first impressions. You know what? Spotify has some serious competition on its hands.

Interface

The first thing you’ll notice when you see the new Rdio’s interface is how much easier it is to navigate. The UI offers a more sophisticated look worthy of a music service created by the team that birthed Skype. Gone are the extraneous boarders of the old site that made it look more like a glorified Tumblr page than a premium music service, and in its place is a beautiful UI that takes full advantage of your display’s real estate. Rdio seems to have taken many of its style queues for the new site from Apple’s iTunes layout, with varying shades of gray and blue covering the page.

The old Rdio interface.

The navigation panel has moved from the bulky toolbar at the top of the screen (pictured above) to a nicely rendered pane that runs the length of the left side of the screen (below). Below that sits an image of the cover art of the album you are currently listening to. The music control panel has also been moved from the left side of the screen to the bottom, adding to the new layout’s larger overall viewing area.

In truth, the improved Rdio UI bears a striking resemblance to Spotify’s interface, right down to the album artwork in the bottom left corner of the screen. Both services position their social features on the right side of the screen in a large information pane, while their music options and other settings sit opposite on the left. Of course, because Spotify is a piece of software that you download, the desktop version offers a larger viewing area than the Rdio’s web-based software.

Social Sharing

In addition to the improved interface, the reimagined Rdio offers enhanced social sharing. Now when you want to share a song with another user, you can just drag and drop it onto their name in the Your Network panel. When you drop a song on a user, Rdio gives you the option of sharing it with them via Facebook, Twitter or through email. Spotify, however, already offers this feature, which is to be expected of a service that prides itself on its social integration.

Rdio also offers a prepopulated list of influential artists, critics and brands to see what their favorites. That’s much easier than Spotify’s method of having you perform searches for individuals first.

Value

Rdio offers three subscription plans in addition to its free service. The standard $4.99 plan features unlimited web streaming and access via its the Rdio desktop app. The $9.99 plan gives you unlimited web and mobile streaming to all of your devices, as well as wireless syncing for offline listening. The Rdio Unlimited Family plan gives you unlimited access to both Rdio’s web, desktop and mobile apps for two to three accounts. The two-person plan costs $17.99, while the three person plan will run you $22.99.

Spotify offers two plans in addition to its free service. The first is a $4.99 plan that cuts out the ads that support the service’s free version. A second plan, which costs $9.99, includes access to the Spotify mobile app, as well as offline listening for your desktop and phone in addition to other features.

Features

The new Rdio includes the ability to create private playlists that you can share with a select group of people or no one at all, and the option to add entire albums to a playlist, something that Rdio’s creators said users had been clamoring for. Spotify also offers these features.

Rdio’s music quality still lags behind Spotify, offering a bitrate of 256 Kbps versus Spotify’s 320 Kbps. Spotify also offers a large community of apps including those available from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Last.fm.

In addition to listening on your laptop or mobile device, Rdio users can also rock out to their favorite tunes on their Sonos wireless sound system, in their car via the Pioneer AppRadio or on their Roku player, although connecting with Roku player requires that you sign up for the $9.99 plan.

Similarly, Spotify offers a you the ability to listen to music via your Sonos system, Boxee player, and a host of other systems. But like Rdio, playing music through these systems requires that you subscribe to Spotify’s $9.99 premium plan.

Bottom Line

Overall, the revamped Rdio is a huge step forward for the music service. The improved social sharing and enhanced user interface make using the service a pleasure. The company still has a ways to go before it can topple a household name like Spotify with its legion of users and apps, but we very much like the new direction.

AUTHOR BIO
Daniel P. Howley
Daniel P. Howley
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
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