Nokia Comes With Music review

Nokia Comes With Music has had a torrid time of it already and the service has only just launched. A lot has been written about the potential negatives of the service, about how it can’t work from a licensing and royalty point of view and how Nokia have jumped too soon. But should you be considering throwing in your lot with Comes With Music? We take a closer look at how the service works.

Nokia Comes With Music integrates into existing Nokia music services, using the Nokia Music Store and the Nokia Music software to deliver the "free" service. First up you need to install Nokia Music for which you can either use the disc included with your Comes With Music phone, or download direct from Nokia’s website. (We found the disc version was out of date, so no sooner had we connected to the store, but it updated itself, effectively downloading the thing again and reinstalling.)

The great thing about this approach is you can quite literally try before you buy. If you have doubts about the service, download the software and give it a go, browse the Nokia Music Store and see if it will cater for your needs. In this sense the experience is very much like iTunes, only less sophisticated, bringing your music collection and the Nokia Music Store together into one application. You’ll soon realise that a large part of the process is based around Internet Explorer, so if you aren’t an IE user, you’ll have to make sure you have the latest Flash versions and so on. Equally, you can go straight to the Nokia Music Store website and have a scout around – again, using Internet Explorer.

A passcode for Comes With Music comes with your handset giving you a 1-year subscription; for our test we had the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic phone. This then opens the gates to the Nokia Music Store, where - and I'll promise you do this - you go nuts and just start downloading anything and everything. It's like Supermarket Sweep, but without Dale Winton

The process is basically the same as purchasing music from the Store, except you don’t have to pay through the Purchase option, you just line it up and download it. The music is also reasonable quality at 192kbps, which does mean it will eat up more storage space and there is a warning to suggest you don’t download too much, or you’ll have no space on your device for your photos and video clips.

This approach to the Comes With Music service is known as side loading, i.e., once you have downloaded the content, you then transfer it to your Nokia device via the USB cable. One great thing about this is you then have it on your PC as well, giving you more listening options, for example, sharing the music for playback on another device, such as your networked Xbox 360.

But surely a mobile service should give you the option of downloading music whilst you are walking the streets? On our review 5310 this didn’t appear to be possible, as currently the Nokia Music Store doesn’t support the handset. We contacted Nokia to ask about this who confirmed that you’d need a 3G handset to download music on the move, i.e., you need the N95, which we didn’t have, so we couldn’t test this option.

Of course, there is a DRM catch as you’d expect with any music service. You can set up one registered PC and one registered handset. We say PC and we mean Windows PC (XP SP2+ or Vista), as there is no support for other operating systems. The Nokia Music Store does keep track of all your downloads, so should the worst happen, you are able to re-download your tunes for up to 3 years (during the first subscription year, and then the 2 years following the end of the service).

The activation code effectively gives you 1-year of downloads (although the small print also refers to an 18-month service period). At the end of that year you retain that music, but the registered devices remain the same. You’ll no doubt update your phone, but potentially your PC will last a lot longer. But then the small print comes into play and the terms and conditions of Comes With Music get a little tricky. You can change PC (but only once every 3 months) and you can move to another Nokia device that supports Comes With Music, but only after the end of your subscription period, so there is some future to your music.

Where Nokia will win in this arrangement is when Comes With Music users decide to stick with Nokia Music Store for their future offerings, effectively winning a larger slice of the music pie.

The unlimited downloads does also come subject to a fair usage policy, something that we see time and time again with "unlimited" offers. Essentially your usage will be monitored and you’ll be warned if it is deemed inappropriate, and then the service terminated if you ignore that warning. There has also been a lot of talk about what "unlimited" means in this situation, with suggestions of a 120 track download limit. We asked Nokia about this, who repeated that there was "unlimited access" (which means nothing), but then stated that there was "no maximum of 120 tracks per year". We are currently testing that, but with each track coming in at about 8MB, it is taking a while...

Fantastic, it really is free music, right? So how do you get it?

At the moment you’ll either have to buy direct from Nokia at a price of £159.99 for the 5310, or £399.99 for the N95 8GB. Alternatively, you can head down to Carphone Warehouse, who are currently selling the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic handset for £129.95 on a Pay as You Go contract. This has been widely advertised.

What was less widely advertised is that you can also get the Nokia N95 Comes With Music edition from Carphone Warehouse on contract, from £40 a month. We glanced across the shelves to see that a regular N95 is available from £35 a month, so Comes With Music effectively costs you £5 a month, which sounds like a bargain. Of course, you need to check out the details of the contract you are also buying in to and the other offers that you might be able to take advantage of.

These two handsets are of course aimed at different ends of a spectrum and some might be able to afford the £130 PAYG offering, with minimum £10 a month top-up, but might not go for the £720+ over 18 months that the N95 contract would ask of you.

Pocket-lint also recently brought you the news that 3 is going to be offering the service. We contacted 3 to ask for the low-down, and they confirmed that they would be supporting the service and will be offering the N95 8GB on an 18-month contract, available in November. However, beyond that, they had no details of exact price or date.

Verdict

So where does that leave you with your free music service? Well first up, you have to be happy to pay (albeit indirectly) for your music and accept that at some point in the future, you might not be able to play it any more. Whether this represents good value for money or not, is going to come down to a number of factors - firstly the amount you currently spend on music, and secondly, a rather dubious assessment of the value of the lifespan of your music.

If you find yourself buying lots of music, listening to it for a few months and then moving on, then great, this starts to look appealing. If you are a discerning music listener who makes considered buying decisions, taking a more archival approach, then this isn’t going to work for you.

The numbers are all there to be seen, get out your calculator, read the small print, decide if you can live with the limited handsets on offer and away you go. In our time using the Comes With Music service, it became evident, very quickly, that this is a great way to sample music, before buying those absolutely essential albums.

We'll be back with an update if we hit any download restrictions...