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Mobile Music: Top 4 Streaming Services Compared

One of the best trends of 2010 was the rise in prominence of mobile applications for popular online music services. Companies like Pandora (Pandora) have had mobile apps for some time, but the past year has seen services like MOG, Rdio and Spotify (Spotify) (whose mobile apps are, admittedly, a bit more than a year old) get into the game as well.

The distinction here is that, unlike Pandora, these other services enable listeners to carry with them their entire music libraries, allowing for listening to specific songs, albums or artists, on demand.

Contrary to the iTunes (iTunes) approach, where listeners must pay for each track or album, they all function on the “all you can eat” subscription model. Since Android (Android) and iOS devices are finding their ways into the hands of more and more music lovers, we’ve decided to take a look how the mobile apps for these services stack up.

1. Pandora

In some sense, Pandora is among the purest of music experiences. It replicates radio in a way most of us would have paid for back in the day of FM dominance.

Through its underlying Music Genome Project, Pandora has mapped the attributes of about 1 million songs. So when you say, “I like ‘We Used to Wait,’ by Arcade Fire,” Pandora will create a station comprised of tracks with similar sequencing that usually plays close to your tastes.

Its mobile application adheres to these principles, enabling you to both queue previously created stations and create new ones. Like its wired services, you can “like” and “dislike” tracks to further personalize your listening experience.

The downside is that it doesn’t exactly allow you to listen to specific tracks, but it is unparalleled when it comes to easy listening — and, no, I don’t mean the “easy listening” genre, though you can probably get it on Pandora too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Most Pandora users opt for the free version, which allows 12 tracks to be skipped over 24 hours, and 40 hours of use per month.

Listeners can sign up for the premium version for $36 per year. Pandora One provides unlimited ad-free listening, along with higher bit-rate (better quality) audio. It’s not a necessity, but if you like the service, it’s a nice upgrade. It’s available on Android, BlackBerry (BlackBerry Rocks!), iPhone, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile 6.

Added bonus: If you own a TV, Blu-ray player or any other streaming device, Pandora is probably on it.

2. Rdio

Rdio (pronounced ar-dee-oh) is the newest kid on the subscription block, but it was founded by two guys who know how to disrupt industries. Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis are probably best known for founding Skype (Skype), but before voice messaging service existed, the duo created a peer-to-peer file sharing service called Kazaa, where (mostly illegal) music and other files flowed freely.

Fortunately, Rdio is a legitimate service with actual label relationships. For about $10 per month, users can utilize the Rdio mobile apps, which are available for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 (Windows Phone 7) — which was just announced on Monday.

The mobile service brings with it all of the features found on its desktop service (which costs $5 per month), but allows the convenience of listening on the go, even when there isn’t a mobile connection. Through its sync-to-mobile feature, listeners can download music directly to their mobile devices for playback anywhere.

Rdio has a fairly comprehensive database of tracks, but there are definitely gaps, particularly with some of the more indie faire. For instance, the service only features one album from Sufjan Stevens (Seven Swans), but it has most of Radiohead’s catalog.

It also suffers from a less than intuitive interface across all of its mobile devices. But because the service launched publicly just a few months ago, these factors can be partially overlooked. We can’t, however, recommend it just yet.

3. Spotify

Currently available only in Europe, Spotify has become something of an underdog in the space, despite having been around longer than many of its competitors. The problem is that Spotify has been threatening to launch in the U.S., but has so far failed to do so.

Spotify does boast a more comprehensive collection than Rdio (all of Sufjan Stevens’ albums are here, as well as Radiohead, The Pixies and many of the other bands I’ve sought). At £10 (about $16) per month for its full mobile service, it also costs considerably more than its competitors.

Having been around for a couple of years has enabled Spotify to refine its mobile applications. Like Rdio, you can sync tracks to your device for offline listening. You can also opt for 320Kbps music for higher quality listening. It’s also available for Android, iPhone, Symbian (Symbian S60), Windows Mobile 6 and Sonos (Sonos).

Despite the price, if you’re in Europe, there isn’t a better option and for what it’s worth, it is a good option — it’s just not our favorite.

4. MOG

MOG has actually been around since 2005, but not in its current incarnation. Back then, it was essentially a social network built around music. Members would catalog their collections, wax poetic about how music made them feel and share 30-second clips with their friends.

These days it’s still home to some of the features that it was built on, but the focus now rests strongly on its subscription service. It’s home to about 10 million songs (though it too only has Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans), all of which are available through its mobile apps.

While the MOG Basic online service is available for $5, you won’t be able to use its mobile apps without MOG Primo. The premium service costs $10 per month and allows both song caching for offline playback and 320Kbps audio. It’s currently only available for Android and iPhone, but both apps are well built.

MOG’s ease of use combined with its comprehensive and constantly updated database and affordable subscription make it our current top pick in the mobile music space.

Added bonus: MOG is available for Roku, so you can easily stream music collections through your home theater.

Which music streaming services do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.

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