Bottom line: Napster for the iOS is a nicely designed app with an excellent user interface, plentiful features, and speedy navigation. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't quite up to snuff.
Review: In terms of music apps, Napster lagged behind the competition before its caching-capable mobile program hit the iTunes music store. Luckily, what finally did arrive is a pleasure to behold. Clearly, a lot of effort went into designing the look and feel of the Napster for iOS app. The interface is quite simply one of the best we've seen from a mobile music program, with options laid out in a handy grid of large buttons and a slick, graphically appealing theme.
There are four main sections--explore, my collection, search, and player--which are laid out in a tabbed navigation bar lining the bottom of the screen. Hop into explore and you're taken to one of the top menus that lays out New Releases (available every Tuesday), Napster Playlists, Billboard Charts, Napster Top 100s, Explore by Genre, and Automix. As you can tell from the first four options, there's quite a variety of editorially programmed content to help you discover new music. In the playlist category alone you get hundreds of mixes that you can search by genre or category. In addition, the Automix function will generate a queue bases on any artist you type in, much like with music recommendation services Pandora and Slacker.
Get a closer look at Napster for iOS in our gallery.
If Napster's own content isn't doing it for you, you can search for any artist, album, or song that suits your fancy. The catalog contains more than 10 million tracks, so chances are, it has what most listeners are looking for. Whenever you find something you like, you can cache it to your device with the handy Save Offline button. These selections are added to your library.
In the My Collection section, you're presented with another grid of buttons for My Artists, My Playlists, My Albums, Recommended (based on your playback habits), My Top Songs, and My Play History. You can browse any of these options and add items to a playback queue. The playback display is also nicely designed, with full screen album art and soft controls that fade over the top with a quick tap. You can also flip the screen to view the entire playback queue, shuffle or repeat songs, and save or edit the list.
If Napster could stand on its UI and features alone, this iOS app would be a hands-down winner. Of course, this is a music app we're talking about here, which means sound quality counts--which is rather unfortunate for Napster in this case. Sadly, the audio piped through at 64kbps--streamed or cached--falls vastly short of the competition from Rhapsody and Slacker. By comparison, Napster's stream sounds hollow and anemic, with a flat overall response and virtually no low-end kick for many songs (those with subtler bass in particular).
At $9.99 per month for a subscription with mobile capability, Napster is right in line with the likes of Rdio, Rhapsody, and Slacker. Napster's superb interface and plethora of features are a huge draw, but anyone who is picky about audio quality should turn to one of its competitors.