A couple months ago, I wrote a column offering tips for using streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and Beats Music. I received a lot of positive feedback, but some Re/code readers pointed out that I didn’t include services like Songza, Sony Music Unlimited and Rhapsody, which admittedly I haven’t used as much.
As it turns out, Rhapsody recently partnered with wireless carrier T-Mobile to launch a new service called unRadio. It’s a less expensive, more limited version of Rhapsody’s $10-a-month Premier service. I decided to give it a try.
Both companies, of course, are hoping that unRadio will help lure in more customers. Rhapsody, which launched back in 2001 and is recognized as one of the first on-demand music services, has 1.7 million subscribers — significantly fewer subs than Spotify, which claims 10 million paying subscribers, or Pandora, which has three million.
T-Mobile, which has been making some unconventional moves in recent months (like introducing low-commitment “uncarrier” plans), already offers customers data perks around other streaming music services. The company says it wanted to bring Rhapsody into the mix, and to address of some of the pain points of existing services.
After a week and a half of using unRadio, I think it offers an appealing blend of on-demand music and Internet radio for your casual music listener — the kind who might open the app during workouts or a long car ride (like me!), not one who obsesses over playlists and moods and genres to match every situation. But it’s really existing T-Mobile customers who get the sweetest deal.
Here’s why: People on T-Mobile’s $80-per-month Simple Choice plan get access to unRadio for free. Other T-Mobile customers pay $4 a month, a 20 percent discount from the non-T-Mobile price. And for all T-Mobile customers, any music streamed over cellular data won’t count against customers’ monthly data usage.
Let’s say you’re not a T-Mobile customer. Android and iOS smartphone users on other carrier plans pay $5 a month for access to unRadio. This is half the price of the monthly subscriptions for Spotify and Beats Music, the same amount Pandora charges for its premium ad-free service, and a buck more than what Songza charges for Club Songza.
So, what do you get with unRadio? A library of 32 million songs, ad-free listening, unlimited song skips, access to terrestrial radio streams and up to 25 song “downloads” for offline listening.
What you don’t get are curated playlists or the ability to stream full albums (without a work-around, at least). These are all features that come with Rhapsody’s Premier subscription, and with other premium services.
Here’s my experience with unRadio: I downloaded the app onto my iPhone, which is what I used to stream music the vast majority of my testing time. I should note that this is a Verizon iPhone, so I’m sucking up data every time I stream music over cellular. But I tend to think that most music streamers use up less data than they realize. For example, Pandora says its average listener consumes 21 hours of music — just 300 megabytes of data — per month.
The unRadio app’s interface is clean and easy to navigate. The Home screen shows the most recent station at the top; below that, you have the ability to create a station, view existing stations or play Favorites.
Scroll down further and you see stations listed by genre and live-radio options — for example, I listened to SomaFM South by Soma, a local station that plays bands that have performed at South by Southwest.
In the upper left-hand corner of the app is a menu icon, and tapping on that brings you to Search, Stations, Browse, Favorites, Featured and more. When I tapped on Search, I could look for music by artists, albums and tracks; although, again, there’s no way to stream an album straight through with the unRadio service.
One work-around for this, though, is the Favorites option. When you’re listening to a song, you can “heart” it, which adds it to your Favorites. UnRadio users can save up to 25 Favorites. When you get to 26, the newest track will bump off the first. These will be available offline, as well.
So, if you’re really determined to listen to an entire album (and I’m convinced that fewer people are these days), you can go through and “favorite” each individual track of that album, and then they’ll be saved in your Favorites for continuous listening.
I ended up using the Favorites tab the most, because, as I said, I’m more of a casual listener — I use streaming music services for workouts, car rides and occasionally at my desk. When I get bored with the same tracks, I swap them out for others. Anecdotally, I know a bunch of other consumers who listen to music this way, too — so, as much as these services boast X-million number of tracks, it rarely matters unless you’re looking for something obscure.
The unRadio service also has the same TrackMatch feature that comes with Rhapsody Premier. TrackMatch works exactly like Shazam, which recognizes songs that are playing on the radio or TV and identifies the song for you.
I did end up missing curated playlists more than I thought I would. Because I’m not a music fiend, I often don’t know what I want to listen to. With Pandora, I frequently tune to the Hip-Hop and Power Workout playlist, and when I was testing Beats Music, I often used “The Sentence” feature, which would generate a playlist for me. I also like searching for music based on moods, which other services offer, but not unRadio.
For T-Mobile customers under the Simple Choice plan, unRadio is sort of a no-cost no-brainer. For those opting to pay $4 or $5 a month for unRadio rather than subscribe to Rhapsody Premier, you might encounter a couple of limitations, as I did — but it’s still a good choice if you’re looking for a simple streaming service that blends radio with on-demand music.