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Pretty much on the lines of the music store services that certain smartphones offer, HP is offering the Connected Music service with its Windows 8 range of laptops and ultrabooks. The preloaded software is designed to give you access to a huge library of songs, across languages and genres. But, do you really need another service to get the tunes from?
How to get it?
The only way of accessing the HP Connected Music is to buy one of the new HP laptops or ultrabooks, specifically the ones that come with the Windows 8 operating system. This feature will only work on machines where the Connected Music app is preloaded, and will not work with the older machines or on systems running Windows 7. We tested this on an HP 2000 laptop, which is one of the lesser-priced machines that HP offers for those users who are looking to buy a machine on a budget.
While you would expect a proper application window to open up and take you in to the gratifying world of mellifluous tunes, Connected Music does something rather different! What it does is open the default web browser, Chrome in the case of our test machine, and the interface opens through that. Personally, we would have preferred a dedicated app to get this service working, because using the web browser constantly has its own share of issues – why put all eggs in one basket sort of a thing!
The very first screen brings you to a rather neat layout. On the top, the mast that has the very basic options – Home, Music, Top 10 and the search bar. On the left side, vertically placed, are the music categories – based on language and region. These are just the basic categories, and going deeper into them brings in the sub-genres. For example, go into International and you have all music and artists listed with their album covers. Surprisingly, there isn’t a proper categorization of the sub-genres. Example, in International music, I would have preferred sorting based on genres like Rock, Trance etc. Just makes getting to the music a lot easier. At the moment, there is a lot of reliance on searching for the artists or songs, and that just makes the process longer.
We used this service for a few days, as our sole source of music for the waking hours spent at work. HP has tied up with Universal Music and Hungama.com for this service, and that ensures that all titles that Universal is taking care of are on the platform. For starters, the library of Bollywood soundtracks was very much up to date, and new albums were added during the days we were testing the service. The latest ones, and some of the ones from the past couple of years are very much there. Shifting to International music, and the focus, very correctly, is on the latest music. The likes of Enrique, Will I Am and a lot of new albums from a lot of artists get primary placement in the highlighted content. Again, while the library is well stocked, the lack of categorization with sub-genres and types is a bit of an issue. Since we aren’t very familiar with music in other languages, we will leave that out for the time being! All in all, we are impressed with the variety of music available on Connected Music. If you are looking for old music, then it does fall a bit short, but all the 2013 releases are on board. And if this continues, the service will be in good stead for the future.
Let us consider the bad news first. The songs on HP Connected Music are DRM protected. For those who are a tad confused, DRM means Digital Rights Management, which tags each track to the hardware and the user ID to prevent copying or sharing with other users or machines. This would essentially mean that Connected Music as a service will not replace your existing source (iTunes, downloads from other sources etc.) if you like carrying your music on your smartphone or the iPod, simply because the songs will not work on any other machine than the laptop you download them on. While we appreciate the fight against piracy, it is important to note that a service like this won’t really work if restricted to this extent. I mean, I wouldn’t personally download the same song from Connected Music for listening on the laptop and also from iTunes for listening on the iPod. Interesting to note that Nokia’s similar music service on their smartphones offer DRM free tracks.
Secondly, the streaming option on Connected Music is rather handicapped. There are times when I may not want to download songs on the local storage, for the want of free space. In that case, streaming would have been the safest option. But, Connected Music only offers around 30 seconds of streaming per song. Essentially, you will need to download every song you wish to listen to. Keeping the popularity of music streaming services like Saavn in mind, this seems a bit odd.
Now, the good bits! The songs are downloaded in the 128kbps bitrate versions, in the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. The download size remains well in check, and since most HP machines now come with the Beats Audio hardware and software, the listening experience is actually surprisingly good. However, for the future, we would prefer if there is an option to download higher bitrate versions as well, just for the sake of choice, so that the pedantic ones amongst us can get better quality versions.
The songs are free, for the time being, and that is a huge bonus. Once you do invest in a new HP laptop or ultrabook, you can pretty much download every song in the library and that’ll probably be worth equivalent or a lot more than the cost of the machine. However, the service does need to rethink certain aspects, before it can truly become the primary service any user will access. At the moment, no pricing details once the free offer is over, so you would do well to download these songs before that anyway!