Napster Unlimited is a music-subscription service that lets you organise and listen to your favourite songs via the Napster web page or a small desktop app. Add in Napster Unlimited Plus Mobile and you can also check out your favourite tunes on your Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone or iPad - even if you're not online. Napster Unlimited Plus Mobile costs £10 a month. If you don't need the mobile part you can get Napster Unlimited for just £5 a month. The pricing is remarkably similar to that of Spotify, albeit without a free, ad-supported flavour.
It's a long time since Napster was the bete noire of the legitimate music industry. Earlier this year music-streaming giant Rhapsody bought up Napster and said it was going to use the brand to further its European ambitions. The current, all-new Napster service is the result of that tie-up.
And it's pretty good. Using either the web interface or the dedicated Napster Windows app it's pretty easy to find and play the music you like. You search for artist, song- or album title, or browser through a multitude of genres. Once you find the music you are looking for simply hit play and start listening - once you have a subscription you are not limited as to what you can listen to.
Napster claims to have 'millions' of songs, and it certainly feels exhaustive to this indie child of the 90s (although the artist known as 'The Beatles' gives you no access to music made by The Beatles, I think we all know why and can forgive this lapse). There is a plethora of music from classical through to the latest chart and dance acts. Access to new releases is pretty good too - it's something by which Napster places great store, and we'd be hard-pressed to fault it.
The quality of streamed music is exactly what you'd expect, both on the desktop and via mobile devices. It's not something about which audiophiles will rhapsodise (pun intended), but it's perfectly adequate for the rest of us.
Of course, you are unlikely to want to search out your favourite artists every time you launch Napster, so there are useful organisation tools. You can build an unlimited number of playlists: it's pretty straightforward, just drag-and-drop tracks into the relevant list.
Napster Unlimited: the Plus Mobile bit
The 'mobile' part of Napster Unlimited Plus Mobile allows you to install apps for iOS or Android, sign in, and get access to the same great music you can listen to via your web browser. We tried the Android app on both our Nexus 7 tablet and Motorola Motoluxe phone. It's pretty straightforward to use and by no means the worst-looking app we've seen. The important factor here, however, is that you can save artists, songs and playlists to play offline when there's no internet connection. This will be critical to most mobile users, as you'll tend to want to listen on the move, and you probably don't want to shell out a fortune in data charges in order to do so.
In our tests changes we made to playlists on our PC were very quickly replicated on our mobile devices, and vice versa. Downloading tracks to playlists for offline playing is a simple task, although you have to wait for them to install before unhooking from the web (obvious, but it caught me out).
Napster Unlimited Plus Mobile: being social
Napster is keen to promote the more editorial and social parts of the service, a trope it appears to have picked up from Rhapsody, which is something of a musical opinion former in the States. You can create a Napster profile, and follow other Napster users. The service also integrates well with Facebook, and you can share your Playlists with friends. You know, forcing your tastes on others (which is what music-appreciation is all about, really).
There's also a strong editoria aspect to Napster. Editors share their musical selections, and there are Napster radio stations as well as an Amazon-like 'if you liked this, you'll love...' similar artists section. There's also a daily magazine that includes interviews, profiles of hot new bands and cult heroes, and so on. And every major artist had a biography. All of which adds something to the Napster Unlimited Plus Mobile, but it's the music by which the service will live and die - and it seems to have that pretty much sorted. Spotify has a serious rival.