Zune Music Pass Australia Review

For those of us who were early adopters of Windows Phone platform in Australia…while we could enjoy the quick, clean & simple metro UI of Windows Phone and the tight social networking integration, there was a serious lacking of music services. While Microsoft’s version of iTunes did offer limited selection of video for sale there was no access to purchase music, and we couldn’t even stream publicly available podcasts (without getting a US live ID & setting our computer’s country settings to US) Up until now options for getting music was either illegal sources (i.e. BitTorrent), iTunes, or ripped CDs.

This week we saw Zune finally enabled for music purchase in Australia. In addition we have got access to Microsoft’s Zune Music Pass subscription service, which has been available in US since. For outright purchase of music iTunes is still king as it has by far largest online music selection – iTunes currently has 20 million + songs available compared to the 14 million+ on ZUNE. But 14 million is still a massive selection of songs…

Purchasing songs on ZUNE is through Microsoft points where 60 Microsoft points is approximately equal to $1 Australian dollar. (If I can do math right?) The purpose of using points is to avoid the costs of credit card transaction fees, esp. on very low cost items (i.e. <$1)

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Individual purchase of songs in MP3 format & DRM free through ZUNE seemed to be a bit expensive, but albums were often better priced than iTunes. I found songs to be between 105 points (AUD$1.73) – 180 points (AUD$2.97) with albums being around 910 points (AUD$15.02). Compared to iTunes pricing of $1.19-$2.19 per song and albums around $AUD16.99. (OF course there are more price ranges than this, just an example)

Unfortunately there is nothing in the ZUNE client to convert points to money value. I don’t mind the idea of purchasing using points, but would prefer it would also translate to dollar value so I don’t have to think about how much I’m spending.

But even better is not to think about buying the music…the solution is Zune Pass. Stream and/or download any of the 13 million songs as much as you want. (Not every song available through Zune is available through this pass)

Songs through this program are DRM protected and have the following limitations

    • Stream or download to Windows PC, XBox 360, Windows Phone, or via the Web
    • Up to 3 devices can sync the music offline
    • XBox 360 also requires XBOX Live Gold subscription to use this service
    • Windows Phone can stream over 3G & Wi-Fi and also download songs & entire albums straight from phone
    • You do not get “burn rights” to burn the music to CD
    • You can keep songs as long as you have your subscription, when subscription expires downloaded songs will no longer play

You can start with a free 14-day trial here

http://www.zune.net/en-au/products/zunepass/default.htm

If you purchase a subscription you can pay AU$11.99 per month or AU$119.00 per year (2 months free)

This is about the same as purchasing 7 albums a year on iTunes or buying 70 songs on iTunes. (With the obvious difference in that case you permanently “own” the songs)

Now for the frequently embarrassingly bad Microsoft marketing…In US a video was released “Financial Planner: iTunes costs a lot, zune pass a little” You can see it here

Zune Pass Costs a Lot, Zune a Little

Obviously the whole math here it totally messed up, while factually correct, nobody I know has ever purchased $30,000 worth of iTunes songs.

I haven’t yet seen any of the Australian marketing for this product but hope it is nothing like this.

That being said for me in my trial of Zune Pass I have found it to be of excellent value. In the first week I’ve filled up a pretty decent music collection of about 4,000 songs which might cost about $4,760 on iTunes (assuming all those songs AU$1.19), that is same as 40 years of Zune Pass subscription to buy the songs individually on iTunes…so even I continue the subscription for the rest of my life should be good value, and I can continue to obtain more music, and new songs as they are released.

How good is the music selection? For me it has been excellent – but you cannot expect to find everything. I have pretty wide variety of music listening to most genres from 1930s Jazz to 90s pop, 80s New Wave, R&B, Folk music, Gospel, Contemporary Christian, Rock, etc…

In the first few days I’ve filled my collection with the following artists

  • 10cc
  • a-ha
  • ABBA
  • Adam Miller
  • Adele
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Anne Murray
  • Annie Lennox
  • Apologetix
  • Arcady
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Audio Adrenaline
  • Audioslave
  • Bachman Turner Overdrive
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Beastie Boys
  • Bee Gees
  • Benny Goodman Big Band
  • Bette Midler
  • Beyonce
  • Billy Idol
  • Billy Joel
  • Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye & Burl Ives & Gene Kelly
  • Blackstreet
  • Blake Shelton
  • Blank & Jones
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • Bob the Builder
  • Bon Jovi
  • Bonnie Tyler
  • Britney Spears
  • Bryan Adams
  • Burt Bacharach
  • Cameo
  • Carly Simon
  • Carole King
  • Cher
  • Chicago
  • Chris Tomlin
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Cold Chisel
  • Conation
  • Crowded House
  • Darius Rucker
  • David Bowie
  • David Wax Museum
  • DC Talk vs  Newsboys
  • Depeche Mode
  • Devo
  • Diana Ross
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Dire Straits
  • Dolly Parton
  • Don Henley
  • Donna Summer
  • Duran Duran
  • Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Easton Corbin
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Elton John
  • Elvis Presley
  • Eminem
  • Enrique Iglesias
  • Eric Clapton
  • Evanescence
  • Faith Hill
  • Faye Wong
  • Fergie
  • Fine Young Cannibals
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Foreigner
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Frankie Davidson
  • Gary Allan
  • Gary Yang
  • George Harrison
  • Glee
  • Glenn Gould
  • Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
  • Gordon Lightfoot
  • Gotye
  • Grandmaster Flash
  • Green Day
  • Guns N’ Roses
  • Hanson
  • Harry Belafonte
  • INXS
  • J J  Cale
  • James Horner
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Jersey Boys
  • John Denver
  • John Farnham
  • John Greenway
  • John Langstaff
  • John Lennon
  • John Mellencamp
  • John Williamson
  • Johnny Cash
  • Josh Perschbacher
  • JoÆo Gilberto
  • Kathleen Battle
  • Keith Urban
  • Kenneth McKellar
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Kiss
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Lady GaGa
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Little Big Town
  • Liza Minnelli
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Madonna
  • Mariah Carey
  • Michael Buble
  • Michael Jackson
  • Mike Oldfield
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Nana Mouskouri
  • Neil Diamond
  • Neneh Cherry
  • New Elizabethans
  • New Order
  • No Doubt
  • OMC
  • Original Broadway Cast
  • Otis Redding
  • Pink
  • Paddy Reilly
  • Pat Benatar
  • Patti LaBelle
  • Paul McCartney 
  • Paul Simon
  • Paula Abdul
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Pete Seeger
  • Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Peter, Paul & Mary
  • Petra
  • Phil Collins
  • Pink Floyd
  • Prince
  • Public Enemy
  • Puff Daddy
  • Punch Brothers
  • Queen
  • R E M
  • Raffi
  • Randy Houser
  • Ratt
  • Reba McEntire
  • Richard Marx
  • Rick James
  • Rita MacNeil
  • Rob Base
  • Robert Palmer
  • Rolf Harris
  • Roxette
  • Rupaul
  • Sarah Brightman
  • Sarah Geronimo
  • Scooby-Doo 2 Monsters Unleashed
  • Shaggy
  • Shakira
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • Skyhook
  • Soft Cell
  • Spice Girls
  • Starship
  • Steven Curtis Chapman
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Supertramp
  • Suzanne Vega
  • Taco
  • Tal Bachman
  • Talking Heads
  • Taylor Swift
  • Tears For Fears
  • Teresa Teng
  • The 3 Tenors
  • The Alan Parsons Project
  • The Andrews Sisters
  • The B-52’s
  • The Band
  • The Band Perry
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Black Eyed Peas
  • The Blender Album
  • The Chieftains
  • The Clancy Brothers
  • The Cure
  • The High Kings
  • The Housemartins
  • The Human League
  • The Kids Collection Of Greatest Classics
  • The Mamas & The Papas
  • The Merry Macs
  • The Mozart Effect
  • The New Musical Cast
  • The Original Broadway Cast Of ‘Rent’
  • The Police
  • The Pretenders
  • The Rankin Family
  • The Replacements
  • The Righteous Brothers
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Secret Sisters
  • The Wayfarers
  • Thomas Dolby
  • Tina Turner
  • TLC
  • Tom Paxton
  • Tone-Loc
  • Toni Gonzaga
  • Tori Amos
  • Trace Adkins
  • Twisted Sister
  • U2
  • ukebucket
  • Van Halen
  • Vanessa Amorosi
  • Vladimir Horowitz
  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • Whitney Duncan
  • Whitney Houston
  • Yes
  • Young MC
  • Zac Brown Band

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Main artist I looked for of which I could find nothing were the Beatles. Some artists will only have a small selection of their songs available for purchase. I found this pretty rare but Travelling Wilburys & George Harrison almost the entire collection was available only through individual or album purchases. But also it is bad at handling incorrectly spelled artist names / etc. One letter wrong in the name it won’t find it at all. For example if you type “greenday” it won’t find “Green Day” Also if you say Adelle you won’t get Adele (a.k.a. the rolling in the deep Adele)

All in all I was very pleased with the service and within two days of use I was happy to go for the annual subscription Smile

There is such a large selection of music, and the feeling of “try without risk” that I can live with the notable exceptions to the collection.

We can also see for many artists a selection of music videos – these are available only via streaming though on the Desktop client. I have a pretty unreliable internet connection and YouTube often stutters during streaming. I found I never had this issue streaming music video from Zune client – however it does drop quality on slow connection, so while music continued sometimes the video reached very bad quality to be almost unrecognizable.

Similarly when streaming music I never had any pauses once a song started, but sometimes songs took about 5-10 seconds to start.

Playing music full screen is really beautiful with really nice fading animations and moving text between different photos of the artist

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Downloading new songs is really tightly integrated into the phone, any artist you are playing directly from music player you can click “more from marketplace” to stream/download more songs…

Music is reasonably easy to find content via a search, genre, or “top” songs. The clean interface is pretty good, but not many of the “top” songs got me terribly excited. In addition the genres are limited and sometimes a bit wacky – i.e. I found some songs classified as “Rock” but they were acoustic folk songs. (no electric guitar, no drums, no electric bass, just doesn’t mean rock to me)

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If you search for a frequently covered song it is often not clear who the original artist is (i.e. they don’t necessarily come first in list of search results)

Note the “more” genre doesn’t give you more genres to select from, it is just anything that didn’t fit in above selection. I prefer the clean metro layout of ZUNE to iTunes, but iTunes here has a more practical selection of genres to help filter music.

While ZUNE offers pop, rock, electronic/dance,r&b/soul, hip hop, alternative, kids and more

iTunes offers Alternative, Blues, Children’s Music, Classical, Country, Dance/Electronic, Fitness&Workout, Hip-Hop/Rap, Inspirational,Jazz,Metal,Pop,R&B/Soul,Rock,Singer/Songwriter,Soundtrack,Vocal,World. iTunes also has a specific section for Compilations.

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One thing really nice with ZUNE though for finding music are Playlists. For example I’m in the mood for some nostalgia with 90s hits….

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You can simply stream or download the whole playlist in a click

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You can also add individual songs to download, to current playlist, or purchase a DRM free version

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Clicking “More about this album” will bring up the album

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I don’t really get the “more at zune.net” which just seems to search bing with the album name…

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On the phone it is easy to obtain new songs…

A live tile will animate images of the various artist’s music you have downloaded…(excuse low quality pics, iPod touch was only camera left with battery power…)

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Music & Videos hub will first show you what has just been downloaded

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Sliding to right we’ll find any 3rd party apps that integrate into Music & Video hub

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Then on next page to the right we can listen to music we’ve synced with phone, or go to marketplace to find more

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Music you can play by Artist, Album, All Songs, or Genre

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If you go into marketplace you can easily search and download/stream music – either the whole album or just specific songs. I found streaming on Telstra NextG network to be very smooth with no interruptions – but if you are on small data plan you should limit how much music you download while on 3G. If you are on Wi-Fi network that will be used.

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The main limitations I’ve found when using Zune Pass with Windows Phone are

  • No support for “no gap” between tracks – some albums like Tubular Bells, Close To The Edge, etc where tracks blend into one another this causes a little blip in the experience
  • There is no option to just “randomly” fill your phone with a selection of songs. So if you reach your limit of size on your phone, quite a possibility as no Windows Phone in Australia yet officially available above 16 GB, it can be quite a pain to get it “full as possible” of music. If the phone is full you will be given option to deselect items not to sync, but it still can be a pain.
  • The “shuffle” all songs seems to repeat songs, even within an hour of listening, despite more than 1,000 songs in my phone I had 3 or 4 songs repeat themselves
  • In some cases “free space” on your Windows Phone may be wrong. In particular in some cases “reserved” space shows up as very large amount, and it is very hard to figure out what is taking this up. In this case I have just used Zune client to erase all content on phone which then fixed the issue. (i.e. I had reserved space showing up as “8 GB” on 16 GB phone with barely any media/apps on phone, and reserved space set to 5%) After erasing all content on phone this reserved space reduced to 2.8 GB

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When in Zune client you can filter between DRM free music & Zune Pass content easily

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If you run out of space on phone when syncing you will get this message

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I would really prefer some automatic method (even random) then having to go and de-select items until I get rid of the 4GB limit I’m going over…or even better…much larger capacity Windows Phones! (You can find many guides on the internet to add a microSD card to expand size yourself for many WP7 models, but this may void the warranty on your phone)

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However you can lower audio conversion settings if you’re not too much of an audio snob to get more music on your device. By default music is synced at 192 Kbps. However in my use this doesn’t seem to affect the “estimated” size of content, so will still stop you from copying files.

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Conclusion

Despite the shortcomings I am in total love with Zune Pass, and to me it is a great way to explore new music, and for those who love to find & download lots of music without having to purchase individual songs & albums this is a great thing, and this feature alone can make it worth getting a Windows Phone. I have already found new artists & albums I would never have thought of buying, but the feeling of “no risk to try” and “stream listening before downloading” sold me.

If you don’t already have a Windows Phone but interested in Zune Pass there are many good deals on eBay this day. A word of warning though: Some models (i.e. Mozart) will have two different versions – one for NextG network, one for Optus network. Make sure you get the right one, or you may have bad network experience!

About chentiangemalc

specializes in end-user computing technologies. disclaimer 1) use at your own risk. test any solution in your environment. if you do not understand the impact/consequences of what you're doing please stop, and ask advice from somebody who does. 2) views are my own at the time of posting and do not necessarily represent my current view or the view of my employer and family members/relatives. 3) over the years Microsoft/Citrix/VMWare have given me a few free shirts, pens, paper notebooks/etc. despite these gifts i will try to remain unbiased.
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