Zune Pass music subscription offers downloadable value

Zune music service a good dealMusic subscription services like the Zune Pass and Rhapsody offer consumers an easy way to listen to millions of high quality music for about $15 a month. For listeners with diverse musical tastes or who just like to explore new artists, these music subscription services offer a cost-effective way to enjoy the latest tunes and the entire catalog of an artist's work. Like its competitors, the Zune Music Subscription service offers access to a large catalog of music, but it sets itself apart by including 10 free tracks for users to keep every month.

For $14.99 a month Zune subscribers get access to the Zune music library for unlimited streaming, downloading for local playback and playback on compatible devices like the Zune and Zune HD. There is also support for the new KIN phones from Microsoft, and in the future the service will work with Windows 7 Phones. You can share one Zune subscription among up to three computers and devices in your house, which is nice for sharing with a spouse or child.

The part of the Zune service that really excited me was the ability to get 10 songs a month to keep, essentially a $10 value. Each month you get 10 song credits to pick your favorite tunes. These high-quality DRM free files can be downloaded and played back anywhere on any device -- like your iPad, iPhone, Android device, any MP3 player or even burned to a CD.

The only downside to this arrangement is that the song credits expire each month. While I had no trouble finding 10 songs to download, thanks to the musical suggestions, it would have been nice if the credits carried over at least one month.

To test out the Zune music service, Microsoft lent us a new Zune HD with Smart DJ Mix, which I used for the past month. While I'm not ready to abandon my Rhapsody subscription, which I can use on my Motorola Droid, I found the Zune service to be a must-have companion to the Zune HD.

One of the first things I noticed when plugging the Zune into my car stereo is how much I missed locally-stored hi-quality music. The sound quality of music heard on the Zune HD was leaps and bounds above the streamed music I normally listen to over Pandora and Rhapsody. Speaking of quality, I enjoyed the ability to listen to the Smart DJ option which provides a smart playlist of similar music, much like Pandora does. I found that the results in Zune were hit and miss, much like Pandora, but overall offered a great way to listen to a range of music.

Using the Zune software and loading music onto the Zune took a minute to figure out, but ultimately proved as simple as using iTunes and an iPod. Operating the Zune for musical playback was also pretty easy to handle and I really liked the ability to bring up volume and playback controls over-top of whatever screen you are on, with the push of a button. Little touches like this made the Zune HD stand out compared to listening on my iPad or Motorola Droid.

Conclusion:
If you are looking for a music subscription service to listen to mainly on your computer, or a Zune compatible device, the $14.99-a-month plan offers significant value thanks to the 10-song downloads you can keep. The $14.99 subscription is competitive with the other players in subscription music and these 10 songs address one of the biggest issues for music subscription critics. If the Zune Pass worked with more devices it would be my music subscription service of choice.

Pros:
  • Keep 10 songs a month
  • High quality Pandora-like Smart DJ Mix
  • Wireless syncing
Cons:
  • Only on Zune and small number of Microsoft devices
  • Free song credits expire every month if not used

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