Xbox Music brings free streaming to Windows 8 PCs

Lewis Leong

Lewis Leong

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windows 8 music iconMicrosoft has rolled out its new Xbox Music service today on the Xbox 360 and on PCs running Windows 8. It will slowly replace the existing Zune Music Pass. Xbox users with an Xbox Live Gold membership will be the first people to have access to its free music streaming service. While the Xbox Music library is impressive, featuring over 30 million songs in its global database, it is up against stiff competition from the likes of Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora.

The Xbox Music Pass is $9.99/month or $99.90/year. Spotify charges the same money and offers similar features like ‘pinning’ songs to be played offline and syncing with mobile devices.

Let’s take a look at this new music service from Microsoft.

xbox music devices

Current Windows 8 users already have Xbox Music installed. The app itself is simply called ‘Music‘ but opens to show the new Xbox Music service. Unfortunately, Windows 8 users can only look up artists, preview tracks, and purchase songs at the moment. When Windows 8 officially launches on October 26th, the service will feature unlimited streaming for the first six months and will then incorporate ads and a 10 hour/month listening limit in the free service. Those who purchase an Xbox Music Pass will have access to unlimited streaming and the ability to download songs locally for offline playback.

Additionally, Windows 8 users will get a song specific search and unlimited free streaming. Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 8 users will have to purchase the Xbox Music Pass in order to look up and stream specific songs. This follows the same business model that Spotify uses, which is to charge users on ‘mobile’ platforms while offering its free, ad-supported music streaming service to desktop users.

xbox music interface

Xbox Music will also feature a ‘Smart DJ’ mode, which creates smart playlists that are similar to the artist you enter in the search field. Both Spotify and Pandora offer this feature and take the thinking out of making your own playlists. Speaking of playlists, Xbox Music Pass subscribers will have the ability to sync their playlists between devices, which takes the effort out of managing your music on multiple devices. Song positions will also be synced between devices so you can pick up exactly where you left off.

Where Xbox Music differs from Spotify is the ability to download and keep tracks. Xbox Music will compete with iTunes in this regard allowing users to purchase tracks that they really love.

Microsoft has worked very hard to create an identical user experience across all platforms. In our testing, Xbox Music worked exactly the same way on the PC as it does on the Xbox. While Windows Phone 8 has yet to be released, it would be safe to assume the experience will carry over to that platform as well. Unfortunately for Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 users, Xbox Music will not be available.

xbox music preview tracks

While it’s great to have the same user experience across all devices, the Xbox 360 falls a bit short of expectations. The Xbox 360 has always been able to play a user’s own music library within a game but this cannot be done with the Xbox Music app on the Xbox 360. Xbox Music will not run in the background so there’s no ability to multitask on the Xbox, which is a real shame and missed opportunity by Microsoft. It is also quite expensive to pay for the ability to access Xbox Music on the Xbox 360. You will have to purchase a Xbox Live Gold subscription for $59/year on top of the $9.99/month for the Xbox Music Pass.

It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Xbox Music will shake up the internet music streaming space with fierce competition from more established services.

Lewis Leong

Lewis Leong

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