The buzz around music-streaming service Simfy Africa has been growing ever since the company opened registrations.
Representing one of the first platform-agnostic music streaming services in SA, the company is hoping to make a big splash upon its launch next week.
We were fortunate enough to be granted a VIP subscription to Simfy Africa, allowing us to make use of the service ahead of its launch.
Upon registering for the service, users can then choose to listen to tracks via the website, download the dedicated player or use a mobile application.
Pick your poison...
The website is pretty polished, with the player interface sitting at the bottom of the page, freeing the rest of the screen up so you can browse the site. It's a simple yet practical decision, letting you share your music, search for artists and more without having your music interrupted.
There are a few downsides to using the website however, with the most glaring omission being the inability to save tracks for offline listening. The other disadvantage is that you can't use the site on your mobile device. Well, you can, but you can't listen to music. So, if you have a Symbian handset or Windows Phone, you're out of luck for now.
Despite these disadvantages, the website is a great avenue for accessing your music and one that you'll want to come back to time and again.
The Desktop Player is what many people will spend their time with though, and it's quite a capable application.
Built on Adobe AIR, the Desktop Player is reminiscent of iTunes, with a main window for displaying music and a navigation bar on the left for music discovery, favourites, radio features and playlists.
The Desktop Player isn't too heavy on resources either, with my work machine experiencing no hiccups, even while multitasking. Of course, your experience may vary, but the work computer, with 2.5GBs of RAM and a single-core 3GHz chip, coped without a hitch.
Our biggest qualm about the Desktop Player was that it refused to work on Windows 8. I tried installing it on my four-year-old laptop running a Windows 8 preview but an error message popped up. Nevertheless, I simply switched to the website to get my fix. Of course, Windows 8 isn't even out yet, so any incompatibilities are to be expected.
The next option for music consumption is with a mobile application, and Simfy Africa has your bases covered. Android and iOS support is par for the course, but the addition of a BlackBerry app is sure to keep the RIM hordes happy.
We downloaded the application to our Android tablet and immediately noticed that it wasn't optimised for the form factor. For instance, there's a ton of wasted space and it looks pretty stretched. Additionally, the app only worked in portrait mode.
Despite these annoyances, the application is packed with features, such as a music discovery tool, offline functionality and the requisite artist/album search.
The mobile application also has some useful settings, such as the ability to force offline mode and controlling the app via your headset.
But who cares about apps and all that if the actual experience sucks, right? Thank goodness it doesn't.
Getting down and dirty
On my 4Mbps internet account, using the website, music streaming was judder-free 99 percent of the time. If anything, the other one percent was due to my browser seizing up.
On our tablet, making use of 3G connectivity, the experience was smooth too, with the song often being fully loaded within the first minute of the track playing. So if you're on a 3G handset, your only obstacle will be whether you get decent coverage or not.
In terms of music, Simfy has plenty of material, with roughly 18 million tracks, but there are a few glaring omissions. For instance, we found that with many artists there are a few albums missing.
Another annoyance we had about our whole experience was with the playlist feature. Call me stupid but trying to add songs to a playlist (on the website and in the PC app) was overly complicated.
For instance, in the Desktop Player, you have to drag and drop tracks to the relevant playlist on the left-hand side, but it's never obvious nor explained to you.
On the website, adding songs and albums to your current playlist is easy, with users simply clicking the plus sign next to it. However, trying to add a track/album to any other playlist means you'll have to load up the relevant playlist first.
The mobile application is much better in this regard, at least while using the Android version on our Galaxy Tab 10.1. Users can add a track to any playlist they want, not just the current playlist, by simply long-pressing it. It's definitely something we'd like to see implemented on the website and Desktop Player.
The ability to create a radio station based on bands which sound similar is also welcome. While it's not quite as accomplished as Jango's radio feature, it's still pretty well-realised, helping you find new favourites in the process.
Aside from Nokia's exclusive MixRadio feature, Simfy Africa is unarguably the best music streaming and download service out there.
However, Simfy stands out thanks to its offline features, platform-agnostic nature and cheap price-tag, at R60 per month.
Disclaimer: Simfy Africa is brought to you by ExactMobile, also owned by Primedia.
To read our interview with ExactMobile's Davin Mole, click here.
Correction: We stated that the Simfy Desktop Player doesn't work on Windows 8. We retried the installation and the application works just fine.