Four months after it was announced, JB Hi-Fi Now, the music retailer's online subscription streaming service, went live today and is offering a free one-month trial for anyone in Australia. Just how usable is it? Here are our initial impressions.
While the service will eventually cost money ($25 for 3 months, $50 for 6 months or $80 for a year), initially JB Hi-Fi is offering it as a free one-month trial. It doesn't collect credit details when you sign up — just an Australian mobile number, a basic measure to ensure you're not from overseas — so there's no risk in giving it a try.
JB Hi-Fi says the service offers "millions" of tracks from more than 100,000 artists. The Discover option lets you find new music. First you have to select a genre. Surprise #1: there's an "electronic" option but not "dance", which I'd have thought was a fairly obvious choice.
Once you choose a genre, you can select a sub-genre from a list which includes both types and individual artists. A track list appears at the left and you can pick individual tracks to play immediately or queue. As you add new tracks, artists and albums are added to your player, which remains permanently visible at the bottom of the screen, and includes shuffle, loop and cross-fade options.
The What's Hot section highlights new releases, chart music and JB recommendations.
You can also search for individual artists. The auto-suggest seems a little over-enthusiastic at times, but results come back quickly, and it coped with most of the odd artists I threw at it.
You can build your own mixtapes by searching and adding tracks. There's a one-click icon to add current songs to the mix, though this is hidden under the settings icon; it would make more sense to place it within the player.
Aside from that whine, not everything in the interface is well thought out. The permanent on-screen player means the scrollbars don't integrate very well. Tracks from compilations also pose problems, with artists being misidentified in some instances. And there's the perennial issue for every online music service: songs uploaded with typos and spelling errors.
In many ways, the real test of Now will be when the mobile apps appear in early 2012; after all, music on the go is just as important as music at your PC, where setting up a YouTube playlist is a fairly trivial exercise. There's also an obvious omission in the form of Facebook or Twitter integration; it would be handy to share your favourites and mixtapes with others. As a physical music fetishist, I'm not quite convinced I'd pay $80 a year for this, but if the interface is smoothed out a little, it could become tempting.
How have you found Now so far? Share your thoughts in the comments.