When you consider how much software has been released during the short history of computing, it’s amazing how many programs are still in use. We previously took a trip to the past to look at some older Windows programs that are still alive today. We found that Napster is still, surprisingly, alive and kicking.
The old Napster was once completely illegal; its ultimate demise was one of a handful of tech lawsuits that shaped the modern web. However, the Napster that you can visit today is a completely different service, albeit with the same name.
Confused yet? Let’s take a look back at the history of Napster to find out how modern Napster holds up against classic Napster and other similar services.
A Brief History Lesson
Napster hit the scene in the summer of 1999, but it wasn’t the first downloading service of its kind. What made Napster stand out was its focus on MP3s; it was designed as a platform for users of any technical ability to share and find new music. With the social aspects of music as strong then as they are now, it was a fun activity to recommend music to others and see what was trending on Napster.
Napster was insanely popular. At one point, over half of the traffic on some college campuses was going towards Napster MP3 usage. Napster kicked off another major change in the music industry, signalling the end of album-oriented music listening. No longer did you have to buy an entire record or cassette to get some music from an artist; you could simply download any track you liked as a sampler.
1996: Leaves Napster on all night to download album
2016: Youtube video has 5 sec. ad before streaming… I've never endured such suffering
— Ronnie Charrier (@ronniecharrier) August 10, 2016
Napster’s Metallica Moment
The service continued to grow until a then-unreleased-to-the-public version of “I Disappear” by Metallica was discovered by the band on Napster. The members of Metallica weren’t happy with their music not only being leaked to the public early, but also being widely available for free. They and other artists started suing, and in mid-2001, Napster closed its doors.
Shortly after the service was forced to cease operations, Napster attempted to convert itself into a legal service but it failed to get off the ground. Napster went bankrupt in 2002; shortly after, Roxio bought the brand (its recognizable power was still valuable), and in 2008 Best Buy took it over.
The fun didn’t stop there, however — in 2011 another music service, Rhapsody, purchased the Napster assets from Best Buy and merged them into its own service. Earlier this year, Rhapsody confused everyone by killing off the long-running Rhapsody name and renaming itself Napster.
Thus, in essence, the Napster of today and the Napster of yesteryear are two different services, though you can trace the evolution from the old one to the new one. Just this year, Napster joined the long list of music streaming services — so, how does it fare?
Everything You Need to Know About the New Napster
Let’s look at the service today and what it has to offer.
The new Napster service obviously does away with the illegal dealings of its predecessor by charging money for access. There are two plans to choose from, which is not the case with most other streaming services (Spotify dropped its mid-tier Unlimited plan several years ago).
The cheaper option is unRadio, which is $5/month after a 14-day free trial. It gets you personalized radio with unlimited skips, high-quality streaming on desktop and mobile with no ads, and the ability to download up to 25 songs for offline listening.
Premier, which is the full service Napster advertises and offers a 30-day free trial for, is $10/month and includes all the above. In addition, you’ll get unlimited access to everything in the catalog, streaming capabilities for home audio devices, access to Napster Kids (see below), and a family plan similar to other services. With this plan, $15/month brings in up to five users, each with completely separate accounts.
Napster includes two pricing options that competitors don’t. You can opt to pay for your Premium subscription annually, which drops the price to $8/month. Another plan, the Premier +1, ups the price to $15/month and lets you stream in two places at the same time.
Napster offers a native Windows program as well as a Modern app, but you’re best off sticking with the web app. The Windows desktop program, while functional, is less sleek than the web interface and features less images than the web, making it kind of boring. The Modern app has mediocre reviews, so just save the Napster site to your taskbar and use it just like a regular program.
As soon as you launch Napster, you’ll find that it’s designed to provide an experience tailored to your musical tastes. Before you jump into the music, you’re asked for your top three genres and 10 favorite artists. These are used to create playlists full of music you like right away, giving you something to listen to without having to search around.
The service offers a lot to choose from right from the start. Your homepage includes recent playlists and albums you’ve listened to, along with new releases and popular tracks. If those aren’t what you want, you can browse by genre or labels — identifiers such as Workout and Decades can help you find something awesome that doesn’t fit into a traditional genre.
Listen How You Like
Napster lets you listen to music in any way you like. You can search for an artist and pick out one of their albums (or search by record label, unique to Napster), open a playlist created by another user, or make an on-the-fly mix using the Mixer. The Mixer, one of Napster’s best features, is an ever-present bar on the side of the screen that shows you what’s coming up next, as well as allowing you to control the flow of music at all times.
Started a radio station and see a track you don’t like? Remove it. Listening to an album and want to play a certain track when the album is over? Drag it in and add it to the queue, or clear it at any time if you want a fresh start.
The Endless Playback feature is pretty sweet, as it plays tracks inspired by your recent listening after your Mixer has been depleted. This is a great way to accidentally discover something new, or let the music flow during a party.
A Music Lover’s Delight
The music discovery features of Napster don’t stop there. While not present on every artist, most feature similar artists for you to peruse. There’s also a “Listeners” list that shows you Napster users who have listened to that artist recently, along with other recent plays by them. This is a great way to discover someone who has a similar taste in music to you and find something new you might not have previously known about.
Those who love music information will appreciate the exact release date on most albums, along with brief descriptions/reviews. These let newcomers to an artist read a littl about their records and find out which one is the best to start with. Top Tracks for each artist also allow you to jump right in with an artist’s biggest tracks.
Categorizing music is a breeze. At any time, you’re able to Favorite a track, jump to the artist or album you’re listening to, or save the music to your Library, which acts like Spotify’s Your Music feature. This makes it easy to keep track of everything you want to listen to.
A few more features round out Napster’s selection: the Radio allows you to build stations around any genre, artist, or song, and even lets you adjust the variety present in the mix. Listening History provides a nice breadcrumb trail so you can find that weird track you listened to yesterday.
Overall, the web app provides a great interface that feels modern and responsive, great options for finding, saving, and sharing music, the excellent Mixer that keeps you in control, and a consistent experience.
Of course, if you’re paying for a premium service, you probably want to take your music on the go, too. Which is where Napster’s mobile app comes in.
Napster’s mobile apps include most of the same features and ways of accessing music as the desktop version, so there’s no need to discuss details on those. However, the mobile app does feature some great tools for when you’re on the go.
Of course, you’re able to download as much music as you like for offline listening, helping you to reduce your data usage in the process. Napster offers a Downloads tab in the Your Music section that shows you all playlists, albums, and artists that you have offline content saved for.
If you put the app in Offline mode or use it while in Airplane mode, the app only shows your offline content. This is a great approach to managing saved tracks and is much better than how Spotify handles it by forcing you to hunt for your offline music manually.
Handing Back Control
The settings give you plenty of control over mobile-specific features. You can choose between three levels of music quality for both streaming and downloads, and choose to always use high quality when on Wi-Fi. By default, the app will also download every song you add to your Favorites, giving you an easy way to make a megamix for offline use.
You can also enable a sleep timer, which lets you play music for a certain amount of time before it shuts off. This is great for nighttime listening, as it ensures that music isn’t playing for hours after you fall asleep.
The app features lockscreen controls as expected, and the Now Playing screen is great, as it allows you to view the album art while also giving you full control to share the track, add it to playlists, or jump to the album it’s from. Another neat feature is the ability to add shortcuts to your device’s home screen that jump right to an album or playlist, giving you instant access to your favorite tunes.
An Auto Mode for Driving
Finally, the app features an Auto mode designed for use when driving. Of course, you should never use your phone while operating a vehicle, as it distracts you and could lead to serious injury or death. This mode allows you to quickly control the music while stopped without having to navigate a bunch of menus.
Auto mode holds just a few buttons that allow you to jump into recently played playlists or albums, your favorite tracks, or new featured music with just a tap. You sacrifice control of exactly what’s playing, but the simple interface removes temptation to fiddle with the mix.
Really, the only glaring weakness of the mobile Napster app is the inability to control music being played on your desktop from your phone and vice-versa. Trying to play music on your phone while streaming on another device will cause the first one to stop, unless you have the Premier +1 plan as discussed earlier.
Other Features Worth Mentioning
A few other facets of Napster are worth discussing. While Napster is of course available for the devices you’d expect, it also allows you to stream from your Wii U, Sonos, Denon, and/or Chromecast. As Spotify is available on the PlayStation 4, having Napster available on the Wii U makes it a great option if that system is your media center of choice.
The second unique feature is Napster Kids, which lets parents control the music that their kids listen to while also giving the children choices of what they want to hear. While using the desktop or mobile app, parents can select an album, playlist, or song to add to the Kids list.
Then, in the mobile app, enabling Kids mode brings you to a simplified interface that lets kids choose to listen to music approved by their parents. This mode also includes kid-friendly playlists that are always accessible, like Kidz Bop or children’s move soundtracks. It’s a great way to keep your kids from listening to explicit music while still being able to recommend music to them. You can easily add or remove music from the Kids list at any time.
The only problem here is that when tapping the X to jump out of Kids mode, the app says to “Drag the circle to the southeast corner” or another direction. Only the youngest of children will be unable to do this, and even they should eventually figure it out. It would be nice to have a PIN code protecting Kids mode so it isn’t easy to exit.
A Decent Music Selection
The final aspect of Napster to discuss is the music selection. It’s mostly good news — you’ll be able to find pretty much any music on the service you’d like. We didn’t find any major artists missing on Napster that aren’t already on other services. Taylor Swift, who made a bad decision pulling her music from Spotify, notably has her older albums present on Napster. Her newest offering, 1989, is absent, however.
Of course, your mileage may vary based on your exact taste in music, but we don’t see any glaring flaws in Napster’s catalog.
Is the New Napster Worth Using?
With so many other music streaming services offering a comparable experience at the same cost, does the new Napsterdo enough to warrant trying it out? We think so.
Apple and all these streaming services really owe Napster they sparked the idea everybody trying to capitalize on today…
— GRAY (@Gray_IV) September 7, 2016
Napster’s web application is a treat thanks to its ever-present and mutable Mixer, the ease of finding new music, and logical ways to categorize music. The mobile app is well built, featuring a simple Offline mode, useful Auto mode, and all the other features you’d expect in a mobile music app.
To sum up, Napster is a great choice for you if:
- You haven’t committed to Spotify, Google Play Music, or Apple Music yet and want to try something a little different.
- Cost is an issue, and you want the absolute lowest cost for unlimited music streaming ($8/month when paid annually).
- There are young children in your home who could benefit from the Kids feature.
- You have a Wii U that you use as an entertainment hub.
- Napster’s social features will lead you into discovering some great new music.
- You need to be able to stream in two places at once.
Napster doesn’t have any glaring downsides when compared to the other big services, aside from not being able to control music playing on your desktop from your phone. It’s also not built into the OS like Apple Music is for iPhones or Google Music is for Android phones, which might be a deal-breaker for some.
Napster Is Worth a Second Look
You probably shouldn’t drop your current music streaming service for Napster, but it does a lot right, has a few unique features, and is definitely worth a look for music lovers. It’s a heck of a lot better value than the disappointing SoundCloud Go, and while you’re not getting music for free as you did with the original Napster (because it was enabling piracy), it shows that the Napster name still holds some weight.
Napster is just a small part in the evolution of music consumption. Check out the full story for even more on how we got to where we are today.
Do you have memories of using the old Napster? Have you tried the new Napster yet? What do you think of either or both? And how they compare? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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