JB Hi-Fi NOW Review

mobile phones music now technology web

When I got my Samsung Galaxy Nexus from JB Hi-Fi I got a complimentary 12 month subscription to their NOW music service. I’ve used it on and off for a few months and thought I’d write review.

Overall it is a pretty good service but it has some rough edges that make the experience painful at times. The service is a music streaming website that also has apps available for iOS and Android. It appears to only be available in Australia and this seems to be validated by your mobile number having to be your username. I’m not sure how this is validated to be your actual number, I don’t recall any confirmation SMS or anything upon registration.

With over 9 million songs from 250,000 artists it sounds like a pretty comprehensive catalogue when you hear those numbers. For comparison Spotify has 18 million songs according to Wikipedia. It’s safe to say that if you’re into mainstream music you should be happy with either offering.

There are essentially two sides to this review – accessing it from a PC and accessing it from a Phone.


Accessing from a PC

This is a browser only affair and the UI is slightly confusing. Being browser based means that there is no way to use keyboard shortcuts to start / pause playback and skip songs. I use this feature a lot with Winamp with my local music collection. So if I don’t like the next song playing I have to make the web browser tab with the NOW service my main focus and skip the song with a mouse. Not the end of the world but it makes it hard to compete with other services. However from an implementation point of view I’m sure this approach makes it easier to support many platforms!

Apart from that the music seemed to stream quickly and I never suffered any dropouts or jittery playback – I am on a pretty decent ADSL2+ connection that can get about 18-19Mbps download according to Speedtest.net.


Accessing from a Phone

So of course this was from my Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Galaxy Nexus. I found the app to be quite painful. Overall it gets the job done, but it seems to suffer from lag or unresponsive UI. Several times you would press a button and nothing would happen. This wasn’t just when trying to play songs it seemed to happen throughout the app.

The app has some settings including the option to determine if you want to only play music over WiFi or over both mobile data connection and WiFi. Of course I opted for both!

On Telstra NextG the streaming of songs seems to work pretty quickly. Sometimes there is 5-10 seconds before a song would start and this annoyed me no end and is why I dislike streaming services like this. If only I could have these songs offline…

Well the app supports offline synching of songs – but it took me at least 20 attempts to get this to work. I had previously loaded up a playlist of songs and attempted to sync them for offline use but to no avail. So I trimmed the playlist down and then tried synching again. Finally some action and it started to work – but with all the previous songs I had elected to make available offline also. I couldn’t work out how remove these from the ‘offline’ world to prevent them being synched in the first place. And synching seems to be a foreground activity only – if you navigate to something else then synching appears to stop and you have to come back in an trigger it to work again.

And just take a look at this screenshot of the app playback screen below.

Screenshot_2012-10-16-17-05-25

Ignore the terrible playlist and tell me the difference between the blue progress bar at the top and the yellow progress bar below the playback controls. The answer is the yellow is for the app volume and the blue is for the progress of the track. Why does it even need app volume?

Above the playlist there are two tiny icons for repeat and shuffle. Icons, not buttons. You enable these settings via the cog icon towards the bottom right. Maybe these icons are buttons, but my fingers are too fat to click them without clicking the song.

The music player responded to me hitting ‘next track’ on my car stereo when paired via Bluetooth which pleasantly surprised me. But there are no lock screen controls. So if I am listening at my desk and want to skip a track, I need to unlock the phone and make the app the foreground app and press the button. That sucks, and could be improved to be more like the native Music app.

But the biggest offense was not stopping playback when I remove my headphones from the jack. Doing this keeps the music playing on speak which sucks the big one if you’re in an office environment. Especially if you have to then unlock the phone, make the app the focus and them frantically jab the pause button.

The other downside to the app is that it is a walled garden of JB Hi-Fi only content. I can’t use the same app to play NOW content and my local music files which is a shame. Likewise I see now way to pair up my existing local files with the cloud based equivalent to give me a larger playlist / collection like the Google Music app allegedly does. I say allegedly because it’s not available in Australia.



Conclusion

This is not a bad effort and if the rough edges outlined above could be improved then it could be a solid service. I don’t see how JB Hi-Fi are going to compete long term with the likes of Google Music, the new XBox Music offering, or iTunes + iCloud, Spotify or even the new Bigpond backed Mog. There’s a lot of competition and the bigger your budget the more effort you can put into your apps. The JB Hi-Fi NOW offering is better than I expected but might still fall short for some people.