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App Review: Nokia Mix Radio

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Having listened to music on Nokia devices since c.1997 it was a privilege to meet Dean Pattrick (Nokia’s Mix Radio Evangelist) and the Nokia MixRadio team at Nokia’s stand at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014. It is refreshing to talk with the Nokia development teams due to their willingness to listen and discuss your user experience and improvement suggestions compared to other companies. The discussions I had have brought me back to the fold after a period of using Microsoft’s Music & Video Windows Phone app due to a past lack of Album Artist support in Nokias mobile music apps over the years. Although the Mix Radio team rectified the issue in an update to the last incarnation of the app (Nokia Music) I had become accustomed to opening the Microsoft alternative on my Lumia devices. The main advantage of Nokia MixRadio over the default app is the music streaming, although in our test location streaming is not possible outside of our WiFi range due to poor mobile signal. This being said, the development team have tried their hardest for those of us tormented by poor mobile reception enabling streaming in both 3G and 2G network areas bringing music streaming functionality to emerging markets like India. Sadly our problem is complete loss of connection which the development team cannot help with other than large pre-cache sizes.

I am happy to say that my returning user experience is all positive with the following observations.

Rather than previous Nokia offerings, Nokia MixRadio is biased towards live streaming of music rather than on device tracks, although it supports both. During a conversation with Dean Pattrick at MWC he advised us that:

 “The main premise behind the online mixes created for Nokia MixRadio is that of new music discovery and old music re-discovery.”

The App

App Start Screen

When opening the app the user is presented with a number of different tile sizes providing links to the current playing track and the last three tracks played, showing their album art, the last two streamed Mixes played with mix image and finally the ‘play me’ tile. The various tile sizes and offsets introduce a fresh look to the metro app styling. In addition to these tile based 8links, tapping on ‘recently played’ brings up a long list of the recently played songs and mixes. It is a pity there are not additional recently played lists for album and artist as this would make retrospective favouriting easier, although we will cover this in more depth later. You will note on the second image (below) a new top banner has been added to almost all screens, showing progress through the currently playing track and shortcuts the App Start Screen (tap on icon to the left of the screen title) and the Now Playing screen (tap on the playing time on the right). Sadly there are no shortcuts from App Screens Two and Three.

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 PlayMe

‘PlayMe’ is a major differentiator for Nokia MixRadio automatically generating an on the spot online streamed mix based on the artists that you favourite from other online mixes, offline mixes, your own on-device music and the sister PC ‘Music Scan’ app which adds music preference information based on the music found on your PC. Not all your music may fit on your phone after all. In addition to the interaction buttons provided during normal mix playback (discussed later in the Now Playing section) ‘PlayMe’ retains the thumbs up and thumbs down buttons from previous releases of Nokia MixRadio.

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The fact that the ‘PlayMe’ button and functionality is simple (one touch), personal (built from your music profile) and social (share what you are listening to) is the premise behind the  Nokia MixRadio tag line:

Nokia MixRadio – Your own Personal Radio Station, with the one touch ‘PlayMe’ button. It’s simple, personal and social’

Notifications Icons

Just under the MixRadio logotype you will notice a ‘Notifications’ icon (small circle with a speech bubble within), which provides streamed information on your favourite artists including any upcoming gigs in your region. This will be covered in more detail with the ‘Favourite’ section.

Downloads Icon

The last feature on the app start screen is the ‘Downloads’ icon, which is located directly to the right of the ‘Notifications’ icon when displaying. The reason we say this is that it only displays when you are downloading or refreshing an ‘Offline Mix’.

App Screen Two

A quick swipe to the left brings up a more standard metro style screen with five tiles and a soft button bar at the base of the screen providing access to settings and online application help.

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From the top left to the bottom right, the tiles provide access to online Mixes, Create a Mix, Favourites, My Music and Offline Mixes which are all described below:

Mixes

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Tapping on the ‘Mixes’ tile provides access to a plethora of online streamable mixes, curated by the Nokia MixRadio team of music DJs and specialists, ranging from Bangra to Dubstep. On my Vodafone contract the breakdown of mixes is as follows:

  • Vodafone Exclusive – 1 mix
  • Charts – 11 mixes
  • Featured – 16 mixes
  • Moods – 24 mixes
  • Music Discovery – 15 mixes
  • Decades – 20 mixes
  • Fitness – 9 mixes
  • New Releases – 6 mixes
  • Specialities – 20 mixes
  • Global Charts – 13 mixes
  • Celebs Recommend – 13 mixes
  • Best of British – 15 mixes
  • SXSW – 6 mixes

Streaming is a nice feature enabling you to listen to music you didn’t have to pay for, you will be paying through data usage unless your mobile contract comes with unlimited data. This said the issue we have is that poor mobile reception where we are based means that streaming away from WiFi is a non-starter. Luckily this is where ‘Offline Mixes’ take over, although this is covered later in the ‘Offline Mixes’ section.

Create a Mix

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In addition to the curated mixes the ‘Create a Mix’ tile enables you to generate your own online streamable mixes by selecting three favourite artists. Once selected the Nokia MixRadio magic elves generate a mix of recommended tracks similar to your three selected artists.

Favourites

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The ‘Favourites’ tile provides access to a list of the artists that the user has favourite and additional automatically added artists based on the most played music the user has loaded onto the device, which can be found in ‘My Music’.  In addition to the ‘Favourite’ artists list, a swipe to the left displays new singles, albums and gigs by the favourite artists in the SIM card region of the devices.

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The ability to ‘favourite’ artists is nice, but it would be nice to favourite albums and mixes also.

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My Music

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‘My Music’ is where Nokia MixRadio becomes a standard mobile music player displaying the music that the you have loaded onto your device, listed by Artist, Albums, Songs, Genres and Playlists. Each entry in the lists has an instant play button to the right along with the option to tap the text to delve deeper into the Artist, Album, Genre and Playlist screens.

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Sadly there is no way to create new playlists or modify existing ones in app, meaning that they have to be created on a PC and imported via a USB cable.

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A nice feature on the Artist list is that tapping on the Artist name provides more than just a list of the artist’s albums loaded onto the device as swiping to the left provides a list of all of the Artist’s songs loaded onto the device. A second swipe to the left provides details on the Artist. At the top of the ‘About’ screen is an instant play artist mix button. Below this is access to an image gallery of the artist, the artist’s last tweet which doubles as a button to show the artist’s last 10 tweets.

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Tapping on one of the 10 tweets opens the artists twitter page in Internet Explorer. Finally, at the bottom of the screen contains shortcut tiles to the online streamable mixes featuring the artist.

Now Playing

Once you’ve found an artist, album, song, playlist or mix to listen to you are presented with the now playing screen. The two images below show the ‘Mix’ now playing and ‘My Music’ now playing screens. You will note that the ‘Mix’ version has a single next track button, whereas the ‘My Music’ screen has skip forward and a skip backwards button and both screens have a show song ‘Lyrics’ and an add artist to ‘Favourites’ button. Whilst the ‘Favourites’ button feature is free, the ‘Lyrics’ functionality requires the ’Premium Service’ (discussed later).

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In addition to this the ‘Mix’ screen adds a ‘Share’ song button and the option to download the song/album by tapping on the song/album art.

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In comparison, the ‘My Music‘ screen replaces these features with a random play order and an auto-repeat button which can be set to repeat all or repeat current. All of the additional functionality buttons on the ‘Now playing’ screens highlight in the phone’s accent colour when activated.

Offline Mixes

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For those out there with poor mobile reception, negating the ability to stream music on the go, Nokia MixRadio permits the user to download up to 4 mixes for offline listening. As mentioned in the ‘Downloads Icon’ section, the ‘Offline Mix’ download status can be quickly accessed from the ‘App Start Screen’. Once downloaded, a long press on an ‘Offline Mix’ tile provides the option to ‘refresh’, ‘delete’ or ‘pin to start’. Although a tap at the bottom of the screen provides the option to ‘delete all’, sadly, there is not an option to ‘refresh all’ to go with it.

The latest update to Nokia MixRadio provided improvements to ‘Offline Mix’ enabling playback of offline mixes whilst they are downloading, greying out of mixes which require refreshing as mixes a time limited, expiring after 30 days, and a nice little informational letting you know that the download/refresh is paused due to low battery power.

Settings

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The settings screen is the final area of the app to discuss, providing the main access to upgrade to MixRadio+, the premium service, access to a list of currently downloading ‘Offline Mixes’ and the ability to redeem store vouchers. Tapping on ‘favourites’ opens yet another screen providing to slider buttons enabling/disabling ‘live tile notifications for favourite artists’ and ‘automatically add favourites based on you music profile’ which both need no further explanation. Finally changing ‘audio quality’ from standard to high definition requires the premium service, enabling location is required to provide gig information and enabling usage data is required to enable the app to provide recommendation based on you musical preferences.

‘Computer scan’ which is intended to use a separate computer based app to scan your music on your computer to create a more accurate profile of your musical taste for use in-app, most users cannot fit all of their music on their phone.

App Screen Three

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A swipe to the left from the second app screen transitions to a search screen enabling searching for artists, music and gigs, which includes a list of previous searches. Entering a search criteria and tapping enter brings up a simple search results screen with two swipeable list options; music, listing artist, album and single results and Gigs listing any gigs relating to the search criteria in the SIM card region. Selecting a specific artist, album or song accesses the store enabling the purchases if necessary whilst selecting a gig provides access to regional gig ticket sites.

The Premium Services

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All the features listed above a provided for free, but if you still want more, for a small fee of £3.99 per month, you can upgrade to MixRadio+ expanding the app to provide the following additional features:

  • Unlimited skips when listening to mixes
  • Unlimited offline mixes
  • High quality audio mixes
  • Premium services enhancement spans across Windows Phone and Windows 8 PC apps as well as web browser options on other devices.
  • Live access to the lyrics to songs as they are playing
  • MixRadio+ is available as a 7 day trial prior to the paid service commencing.

Conclusion

With the latest updates Nokia MixRadio has certainly come of age, becoming our favoured on-device music app and we have been advised that this release paves the way for future updates providing even more features and enhancements. We love the ‘PlayMe’ and ‘Offline Mix’ features the most with the favouriting feature coming a close third. If it wasn’t for the poor, including complete loss of, mobile reception in our location hindering streaming we would be seriously tempted to sign up for MixRadio+ for the measly cost of £3.99 per month which is substantially cheaper than Microsoft’s own premium Xbox Music streaming alternative. It’s also half the price of one digital album purchase per month and you get a lot more.

Verdict

4/5

 

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