iPhone’s Rhapsody 2.0 allows users unlimited access to 9 million songs for just $9.99 monthly, a deal iTunes definitely does not provide. This massive catalog of music, and the ability of offline playback make this application a wonderful addition to either the iPhone itself, or the iPod Touch. It isn’t free, and, like the rest of the third party music applications, it doesn’t play music while you’re phone is being used for other things, but the gateway to an enormous music library it provides makes it our Editor’s Choice as far as third party music application for iPhone OS devices go.
In contrast to free radio applications like Slacker and Pandora, this one allows you absolute control; you are able to choose which songs you want to hear, and place them in the order you want to listen to them in. It’s like having the world’s biggest iTunes library, and it certainly will change the way in which you interact with music. You can drag and drop entire albums according to your mood, and there’s no commitment to the music you choose, which is not the case when using iTunes.
It is also available in a desktop version, as well as adaptations for other types of handsets, and it is capable of sharing both your preferences and your library between your devices. The plan costing $9.99 will allow you to use it on an unlimited amount of PCs or Macs but only 1 mobile device, but you can purchase the $14.99 plan to extend this use to 3 mobile devices.
The devices used for this review were the third generation iPod touch, retailing at $299, and the 3GS iPhone, available for between $199 and $299, both of which were running iPhone OS 3.1.3, connected to Wi-Fi and the 3G from AT&T. Acquiring the application is easy, simply visit the iTunes Store and do a search for Rhapsody.
You will need to enter a username and password when you load this app up for the first time, and the interface is a clean and intuitive one, with a black bar running across the bottom of the screen helping you to navigate. Your options include Settings; My Library; Search; Queue; and Browse, but Queue is where you will most probably be spending the majority of your time. This is where you choose what to listen to, and where you create your playlists. My Library allows you play songs; artists; and albums that have been manually added, and Browse allow you to view the most popular artists and songs, as well as new songs and more.
Now Playing mode will allow you to sweep artwork in order to go forwards or backwards in your queue, and make use of the control panel. It also possible to access more options, by tapping and holding the screen. 1 of these options will navigate you to the iTunes Store, should you wish to purchase a song you’ve heard for if you don’t plan on staying with Rhapsody. The application also works very well with any type of standard headphone, because of the 3.5 mm headset jack available to iPhone users. Pairing the iPhone with the Bluetooth stereo headphones Altec Lansing Backbeat 903/906, retailing from $99.99 to $129.99, also worked very well.
The biggest improvement in version 2.0 is the offline playback mode edition: Rhapsody is the first music application for iPhone inside the United States t do so. Although Slacker Radio assured us they would be making provision for station caching for their app at CES in January of this year, they have not delivered anything as yet.
This offline playback allows you to take any of the 9 million songs on Rhapsody with you anywhere you go: if Wi-Fi or 3G connection is lost, the application will mechanically switch to offline mode, and here you will be able to listen to all of the songs you have already downloaded. You can download as many songs as you want, this amount is only dependent on your handset’s ability to store them. During offline mode, the main screen color changes from blue into orange, and the control panel is changed from 5 tabs to 3 tabs: Queue; Settings; and My Playlists. This mode consumes less battery power than streaming does, and a strong AT&T connection is not necessary. Delays in song streaming will vanish as soon as your tune has been downloaded, and you can listen to it locally.
This mode is not yet fully featured, but it’s off to a good start. Currently you are only able to download playlist that you’ve made on either your handset or offline, you are not able to download specific songs without first compiling one. When your download has been completed, simply tap on the Settings tab, and choose Force Offline: this process takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you’ve done this a couple of times you’ll get the hang of it. This app needs to add the option of downloading item by item songs, instead of just downloading playlists; enable the user to determine how much memory space is being taken up by each download; and, by and large, make this offline mode less complicated. The company has stated that there are plans for more features for offline mode to be released this summer, and here’s hoping that one of these will be one that allows music to be played while you do other things on your phone, a feature recently added to the OS 4.0.
Whether you are offline, or working on Wi-Fi or 3G, the music is streamed at 64 kbps AAC. It has better sound quality than radio, but it lacks depth, and its quality is not as good as its 128 kbps streaming quality on the Rhapsody desktop although it’s acceptable for those wanting to hear some music while they’re on the go, and those making use of Apple’s earbuds. Music lovers will want sound that is of a better quality, however, and both Slacker and Pandora beat Rhapsody in this criterion. Representatives from Rhapsody have indicated improved sound quality in future releases.
The low resolution artwork displayed on the Now Playing screen is another facet that disappoints: it’s understandable when you take into consideration that because of this low resolution downloads are faster, but now that there is the offline playback option, this should no longer be such an issue. Again, reps assure that this issue will be addressed in future releases also.
Although it isn’t a free application, Rhapsody is the best music application for the iPhone. Although the streaming radio applications like Pandora and Slacker Mobile Radio, ranging from free to $3.99, they do not allow you to select the specific songs you want to hear. Although Simplify Media allows you to stream your personal iTunes catalog to your handset, the library is not as big as Rhapsody’s is, and it needs you to keep your PC running the entire time. Offline mode is what nudges Rhapsody towards perfection, although there are some changes needed they’re on their way. Improved sound quality, the ability to perform in the background, and more pliant offline alternatives will make this an even more estimable alternative to iTunes.