Samsung's new music service tries to combine four things into one: an
all-you-can-listen plan like Spotify, a pay-per-song store like iTunes,
an Internet music storage service like iTunes Match and a radio service
That's a great premise at a great price: At $10 a month, Music Hub promises an affordable, ad-free listening experience.
practice, though, Music Hub can make your head spin. There are some
redundant and confusing features and not everything worked properly.
After trying it out for a week, I was left wondering why this was any
better or worse than a pure music subscription plan.
Hub works only on Samsung's Galaxy S III phone, which is becoming one of
the iPhone's biggest rivals. The music service could help the Galaxy
stand out as Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc. battle in court over
how similar their devices look and feel. But I don't believe it's an
incentive to switch.
The first problem is distinguishing Music
Hub's app from others. Several apps on Android devices sound alike and
do similar things. This issue is compounded because several Samsung apps
are meant to replace Android versions. So you'll have to distinguish
between Samsung's "Music Hub" (for music) and its "Media Hub" (for TV
shows and movies), and avoid Android's "Music Player," ''Play Store" and
Assuming you get past this, you then face issues that keep Music Hub from being all it could be.
paper, combining the four types of music services makes sense. It saves
you from having to go back and forth between apps and gives you a
consistent user interface. Your favorite song selections move across the
different services so you can get better recommendations.
And if one service has a shortcoming, there's another to fill in the gap.
music plans such as Spotify and Rhapsody allow you to listen to almost
any song or album you want as many times as you want for $10 a month.
But it can take weeks or months for new albums to appear - notably
Coldplay's "Mylo Xyloto" last year and Adele's "21" this year. Some
artists, including "The Beatles," hold out completely. Plus, all your
songs disappear when you stop paying the monthly fee.
stores such as iTunes have a wider selection of music. You pay once per
song or album rather than monthly, and you own it forever. But you can
run up a big tab if you buy a lot of music. You may also run out of
space to store songs on your mobile device.
That's where online
storage lockers come in. Prominent ones include iTunes Match and
Amazon.com Inc.'s Cloud Player ($25 a year each, though Amazon has a
free option for 250 songs). Songs you own are stored on remote servers
operated by those companies, and your device pulls them over the
Internet as you're ready to listen to them.
services such as Pandora play songs they select along certain genres,
artists or styles. They learn what you like if you give songs a "thumbs
up." You can discover new music this way, but can't choose the specific
song or album to listen to.
When Music Hub is playing songs, all
is good. The sound quality and selection are as decent as other
subscription streaming plans. It works fine over standard cellular
connections because it's smartly retrieving ahead of time the next song
on whatever list you happen to be listening to.
Music Hub does a
pretty good job of letting you discover songs and save ones you like for
playback, though some features seem redundant and confusing.
instance, you can start playing music listed in its "Top Hits" section.
They'll play back-to-back for uninterrupted listening. Song titles will
go from grey to bright white to let you know they are now saved on the
device for playback later.
But you also get a similar option when
you tap on a little carrot next to a song title. One choice in the
drop-down menu, "Add to My Music," adds the song in a folder called "My
Music," but doesn't save it on the device unless you tell it to do so.
if you open up the song player, you can see how much of the song is
left and see some cover art. You can then "tag" the song. It puts it in a
folder called "Tagged Songs." However, this is way too similar to the
folder "My Music" and that "Add to My Music" option.
I can also
"Add to playlist" to move a song into a group of songs that I've
hand-picked. Conveniently, I can add songs to playlists I've already
created and imported from iTunes.
But that makes it three
different ways to essentially mark a song in a playlist. It's puzzling
why there are so many overlapping ways to do so.
There's also a
"Buy song" option, which is useful only if I'm not paying the $10 a
month for premium service. Yet it still comes up if I have the
subscription and the song has already been stored on the device.
Furthermore, some songs go for $1.49, while the most you pay on iTunes
You can still use Music Hub without paying $10 a month,
but it will limit songs you pick to 30-second previews and the virtual
storage locker won't function. The free radio service and music store
will work fine.
Here's the disturbing part.
In the paid
version, Music Hub makes little distinction between subscription-only
songs that you have put in "My Music" and songs you have actually
purchased and put into your online locker, which is also stored in "My
You lose access to subscription songs once you stop paying, but purchased songs are supposed to be yours forever.
you buy songs from Music Hub, you'll see them in a "Purchases" section.
But songs I bought elsewhere and uploaded into online storage are just
jumbled together with songs that will disappear once I stop paying.
Not demarcating them clearly is unsettling.
like going to a keg party where everyone is given red plastic cups with
their names on them. Music Hub is going around erasing those names,
putting half-full cups of beer on a Lazy Susan and spinning it around.
The beer will still be tasty, but it's kind of gross.
I have other
niggling complaints. Music Hub's uploader program simply doesn't upload
some songs. For instance, it failed to upload a two-disc album of
Japanese band Southern All Stars. Apple's iTunes Match and Google Play
had no problem with these songs.
Other issues are minor. Music Hub
offers lyrics to songs, but the availability is patchy at best. And
just like other streaming services, there are gaps in the artist
portfolio (No songs from "The Beatles" or "They Might Be Giants," for
Overall, Music Hub is a fine addition to the raft of $10-a-month subscription services competing for your attention.
its ambition to combine the best of all worlds came up short. If you
want to combine your personal music library with an unlimited
subscription plan, you'll still need to troubleshoot uploading issues or
just switch between different apps.
It's the fuzziness around
which Music Hub treats ownership of your songs that bothers me the most.
Although I'm sure that you'll find the songs you bought somehow, the
system suggests strongly that when you stop paying, that's when the