Ears on with Beats Music, the Spotify contender you shouldn’t press skip on

When Beats by Dre headphones first came available in 2008, it was hard not to notice them. They were sleek, boldly designed with an iconic look and advertised so well that you couldn’t miss them. Beats brought excitement back to the premium headphone space.

But when the company behind the headphones announced it would be creating its own music streaming service, we had some doubts. There are already so many options out there and they’re all pretty similar. After using it, we’re singing a different tune. Beats Music, like Beats By Dre, may not be all that different than it’s competition, but it sure feels like it is.

Like the majority of it’s competition, Beats Music offers a huge library of streaming music to subscribers for $10 a month (or $15 a month for a family plan if you’re an AT&T customer). Beats Music incorporates parts of MOG, a music provider Beats purchased to use as a foundation for it’s own service. There’s 20 million songs in the Beats Music library – an absurd amount of music, but comparable to Rdio, Spotify, and Rhapsody, all of which boast similar numbers.

Beats Music feels like a service that caters specifically to you.

So what makes Beats Music different, or at least feel different? From the very start, it feels like the service caters specifically to you. It asks for your date of birth and what gender you identify as. Then it takes you to a screen full of bubbles filled in with genre titles. You tap the ones you like (a little indie rock, for us), double tap the ones you love (heavy on the hip-hop), and then press & hold to eliminate the ones you hate (sorry, country). Then you’ll be asked to do the same with specific artists. All of this serves to refine what Beats Music will serve up for you to listen to.

Once you finish telling the app about yourself, it creates your home page, which starts on the “Just For You” section. This is filled with content curated based on how you defined your tastes. The majority of the collections created for me were artists I indicated I liked, which isn’t so much a suggestion as it is what you already are in to. This gets better with more use as Beats Music figures you out more, but it’s pretty plain jane to start.

The same can be said about the Highlights section, a collection of curated content from artists you’re likely familiar with. Included on this list were things like “Best of 60’s Soul,” “Lorde’s Influences,” and of course, “Behind the Boards: Dr. Dre” because it would just be wrong to not mention Dre on Beats Music (by Dr. Dre). We expect all of this content will grow and improve over time, and the human curation element is an interesting touch on the usually automated music choices of other services.

Having a human behind building the music is an idea extended throughout much of Beats Music. Users can use a section of the app called Find It to look through genres – all irritatingly labeled with “Beats” before the actual genre, like Beats Alternative and Beats Blues – or activities, which are playlists built for specific happenings like BBQing or Punching Walls.

There’s also a curators section where users can subscribe to playlists built by others, which is a lot like Spotify. The curators included are some of the biggest names in music and entertainment, like Rolling Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, and Pitchfork. There’s also some huge companies like Target, which we found odd. Target (a retail store) is into Demi Lovato and Bastille, for whatever that’s worth. Maybe they’re on sale this week? Either way, it’s not like you need to buy any music at Target if you’re a subscriber to Beats Music. Perhaps Target executives enjoy watching where their music sales are going.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Beats Music app, though, is The Sentence. This fill-in-the-blank feature allows you to create in-the-moment mixes that feel perfect, like turning on the radio at just the right time, every time. A template sentence is presented and you pick words – almost like a Mad Libs – to describe your current situation and what music you want to accompany it. It’s a little lame how directly some of your answers play into the end result – one of the choices is literally “genre” – but it’s a cool feature nonetheless and produces solid results.

As you might expect, on-demand tunes are available as well. It’d be shame to not be able to actually pick exactly what you wanted, but Beats Music would rather you let it handle that task for you. It would be easier to trust it if its offline mode worked better, but Beats Music struggles without constant connectivity. You can download music to save locally, which remains yours as long as you’re subscribed to the service, but then you aren’t getting the complete Beats experience. It’s also noticeably slower to navigate your own library than a service like Spotify where your music playlists are the focal point.

Beats Music has all the makings of a solid streaming service. The app looks and feels well designed, much like the headphones that the company is best known for making. It may need all those headphone owners too, because competition is fierce and Beats is playing from behind against services with equally large libraries and a lot of subscribers. Beats Music isn’t all that different from anything else out there, but it does manage to provide a unique feel and approach to how it offers music. Now it just needs to convince people that it’s the best option. That’s a tall order.

Beats Music is available to download for free for iOS, Android, and Windows devices. After 7 days you can quit (also free) or subscribe for the usual $10 a month. Unlike Spotify and most other competitors, there is no browser or desktop computer app. Beats Music is only available on phones and tablets. Those on AT&T have access to a family plan that lets you share an account with up to five other people for $15 a month.

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