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Spotify's music manager makeover - does it work?

Join their download club, use your iPod, scratch your head...

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Last week, Spotify announced perhaps the biggest overhaul to its service since its launch. It has taken several days to roll out and is very interesting.

Most of the attention in early reports was on one technical feature: the ability to sync music with Apple's iPods and iPhones. But it is as interesting for the new commercial proposition. Streaming is now just one of several things that Spotify does, which is slightly surprising since Spotify is the best known "streaming" music company in Europe. Last week Spotify also introduced what is effectively a "download club", too: you get discounts on volume purchases. And these volumes, or bundles, are lists of your choice – not that of a record company.

How does all this add up in practice? Is it worth your money? Does it break Spotify's legendary simplicity? By Friday, we were in a better position to find out. Using both the new iPhone client and desktop client, I took it through its paces.

Piggy-backing onto iTunes

The main technology shift is that rather than operating as an independent "silo", Spotify now leans heavily on your existing MP3 collection and associated playlists.

"Devices" is new

What are they trying to tell us?

The desktop client reads your iTunes library, and replicates the "hard" playlists as it first finds them; iTunes' "smart playlists" are simply ignored. It's all done with the minimum of fuss. Most people won't notice the indexing process, and the Playlists appear almost instantly.

Similarly, on the phone, the Spotify client now reads the local library, and locally stored playlists, playing what it can. But it also copies all your Desktop playlists. Since most desktop libraries are larger than a mobile device can handle, many people use a subset of those playlists on their mobile device. This means the playlists in the Spotify mobile client maybe sparsely populated, or completely empty. Weird.

Unlike iTunes, Spotify doesn't support hierarchical playlists. I have hundreds, and it's hard enough to manage them even with folders, in one great long vertical list. Power users, note.

Before you start using Spotify in earnest, you'll need to manually twiddle with a couple of options.

Buying the tenner-a-month package entitles you to "High Quality Streaming" at 320kbit/s. But the lower bitrate streaming is stil the default. The Spotify client doesn't know seem to know which tariff you are on.

The other tweak, if disk space is short, is to keep an eye on how much space is being used by the Spotify cache. This will continue to grow and grow, unless you manually inhibit it.

Yes, go ahead and use up all of my precious SSD space for your vast cache.

Note that Spotify doesn't make a copy of the MP3: it uses the hierarchy and folder structure set up by iTunes.

A pop-up menu confirms that Spotify leaves the MP3 where it found it – in the iTunes folder hierarchy.

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