Xbox Music: How Does It Stack Up?

With the recent Xbox system update, a lot of changes were made to the Xbox experience.  I’m a fan of some (I like the new pin option) and not so much of others (Internet Explorer, blech), but a few of the new options have kind of gone under the radar.  Xbox Music is one of these.  As part of Microsoft’s strategy of unifying everything moving forward, they are phasing out Zune and replacing it with Xbox Music, something they envision as an all-encompassing music experience.  The Xbox Music Pass, which costs $9.99 a month, gives you access to everything the app has to offer.  Is it worth it?

I have to give credit to the expansive music selection.  A wide variety of songs from a number of genres are readily available to listen to, and are available for individual purchase.  I was able to listen to everything from Breaking Benjamin and Ratatat to (strictly for research purposes) Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.  The front-end works well enough, and allows you to search by song, artist, genre and even lets you browse your recent songs.  Microsoft’s standard tab-based system will be instantly familiar to Xbox gamers and casual Windows users alike, and does little outside the norm you would expect.

Despite the name, Xbox Music isn’t just for Xbox; it is an integral part of Microsoft’s strategy to be a all-in-one entertainment destination.  In addition to Xbox, the music service is releasing on Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8, as well as iOS and Android sometime in the near future.  Music services are a dime a dozen these days, but Microsoft’s is hoping the Xbox brand can provide some support and differentiate itself from contemporaries like Spotify.

Just off screen: My playlist filled with Walk Off The Earth songs.


After starting my free trial, which works exactly like a Netfilx trial, I started building my playlist.  Like similar services, Xbox Music pays attention to the songs you play and creates a personalized library for you after a little while.  After messing around with it for a while, I was impressed by the song selection of the SmartDJ function.  Rarely did I have to pick up the controller and change a wayward song, except to tidy up any lingering Bieber problems.  Is isn’t much better than Spotify or Pandora in this regard, but it’s nice to know that it at least stands proud next to the established players.

One area I was particularly excited to notice was the music video selection.  Before I knew it, I was watching pretty much the entire Nirvana Unplugged show.  I found a ton of live and alternate videos, including a few by my favorite artists that I had never seen before.  All these were readily available with my free (for now, anyway) Music Pass.  Little touches like selectable links throughout artist bios and the ability to pin songs, artists and albums for easy access works well with the slick interface.  Technically speaking, I have nothing but praise for Xbox Music.

So is it worth it?  That depends on how much you use your Xbox as an entertainment device.  If you’re like me and like to throw on some music while hanging out in the living room, then it is not a bad way to do that.  I loved throwing SmartVJ on and enjoying the consistently good stream of music videos.  Free Pandora may still be the way to go for some on the go, but Xbox Music is a good foray into the household entertainment experience.