Thinking of Napster as a legitimate source of legal music still strikes me as a little odd. Back when I was in secondary school (showing my youth again here), Napster was the peer-to-peer application all the cool kids were using to, let us say, acquire the latest and greatest MP3s. Yet while I know that Napster as we have it today has only the branding and logo in common with the Napster of my teens, I still can't help but feel a little strange to be paying to use it.
And yet although my current subscription was only attained for the purposes of evaluation for this round-up, I'm very seriously considering splashing out with my own cash once it lapses because I don't think I want to be without Napster. Because, you see, while Last.fm, MSN Music and Nokia Music all beat Napster on price, Napster hands-down beats all its rivals in just about every other respect.
Napster's £9.95 per month streaming service offers a number of features its rivals don't. Interestingly, Napster allows tracks to be downloaded to a PC (or PCs actually) for playback without the need for an internet connection - in 192kbps WMA format and , of course, loaded with DRM for the curious. Obviously you can't keep these if your subscription expires, and I certainly couldn't condone stripping the DRM in order to keep using the songs - even if such a process is technically possible. Moving on, what else do you get for that extra money being asked over the rivals?
For a start, Napster offers by far the largest library of tracks and seems to be the most up-do-date as well. I was particularly thrilled to discover a new Billy Talent song (Turn Your Back) the release of which somehow passed me by before and which I've now had on repeat pretty much constantly for the last few days. Okay, there's still the occasional case of "why isn't that available?" but when that does occur, it's almost certainly mirrored on Nokia Music, MSN Music and probably Last.fm as well.
Napster also offers a much better selection pre-generated playlists (Friday night is Classic Rock Night at TrustedReviews!) than the competition and more are being added all the time. Self-made playlists can be saved online, too, which is a huge boon and sent to other users, too, should one so desire. Which reminds me, I need to ask Riyad for his Life soundtrack playlist! Oh yes, Napster is also available on Sonos systems, too, yet another reason I want one!
Then there's Napster To Go, which adds another £5 a month on to the subscription cost, but in return allows the downloading of an unlimited number of songs for transfer to an MP3 (or rather WMA) player. At 192kbps, quality isn't great, but it is what I'd call 'good enough' for most listeners.
In fact, Napster even has its own free listening portal which offers the same listen-three-times-and-no-more service Last.fm is now rolling out. Except that Napster boasts nearly twice as many tracks in its library. This feature is US only for now though, so we UK types can't benefit.
Napster also offers per-track and album downloads. In the US there in a DRM-free MP3 option, but in the UK we're not allowed such privileges it seems (although hopefully that will change). Frankly, though, considering how easy Napster to go makes it to fill an MP3 player to the brim with music, for a pretty small cost month-on-month, there seems very little reason to actually buy individual tracks anyway.
The salient point about the cost of Napster is that it's entirely tangible what is being paid for. It's not the cheapest subscription service out there, but it is the most comprehensive and, if you ask me, the best.