Users that “pre-registered” for Simfy in South Africa will receive early access to their 14-day trial today (24 August 2012), the music streaming service has announced.
The German start-up revealed earlier this month that it had partnered with Exactmobile and would be launching its service in South Africa.
For R60 per month, Simfy promises access to over 18 million tracks from artists distributed by the four major labels (Sony, Universal, EMI, and Warner), as well as Finetunes, Merlin, and Orchard.
Through its various applications for PCs and mobile devices, Simfy also offers an “offline mode” that lets subscribers download tracks to a maximum of three devices for when they don’t have an Internet connection.
Simfy has an Adobe Air application for PCs, and mobile applications for BlackBerry, Android, and iOS.
Your list of devices authorised for offline listening can be refreshed twice every six months. Removing all offline songs from a device does not remove it from the list.
According to Simfy, a new device is added to your list of registered devices the first time you download something to it. The iPhone app, however, seems to cause itself to be added to the list even if no songs are explicitly downloaded.
Simfy for PC: Adobe Air
The Simfy PC application gives you all the basic features you’d expect from a music player and streaming service.
When you first fire up the application you’re presented with a localised “Discovery” screen, which highlights a few of the artists and playlists available on Simfy.
At launch, South African artists such as Die Heuwels Fantasties, S’fisu Ncwane, and Chiano Sky were featured, along with a few playlists showcasing other SA musicians.
The PC application also features a “radio” option that lets you enter an artist or band’s name to automatically play similar music.
A “Genre radio” is also available that lets you select a number of genres from which to generate a mix of songs. The usefulness of the genre radio is limited by its lack of granularity, however.
Nokia Mix Radio, for example, has playlists for categories such as “South African Rock” artists.
The playlist generated by Simfy radio can’t be saved, but you are able to save the song being played to your favourites, as well as share it on Twitter and Facebook.
Simfy’s smartphone applications have a different “Discovery” screen and don’t include the radio feature, but playlists and favourites are synchronised across your devices.
Android devices running version 1.6 or later of Google’s mobile operating system (OS) are supported, and BlackBerry users need to be running OS version 4.7 or later.
BlackBerry devices also need at least 3G support, though simfy said there is a known issue on the BlackBerry Torch that causes problems when trying to use offline mode.
As Simfy is a streaming media service, it doesn’t run over BlackBerry Internet Service, which is flat-rated in South Africa. Users are also not warned that they are about to be charged for data usage.
CEO of Simfy Africa, Davin Mole, said they are planning on adding such a warning in future.
Another issue with the Simfy BlackBerry app is that many of the menus are in German at the moment. Mole said that they plan to have the English version of the app available on BlackBerry App World by their Monday launch date (27 August 2012).
“As an interim solution the English version of the app is available via a direct download from a BlackBerry [device],” Mole said.
iPhone, iPod, and iPad app
The Simfy iOS apps also have their fair share of app store quirks.
While the German iTunes App Store had both an iPhone and iPad app listed, the UK and US stores had only the iPad app and the South African store had only the iPhone app.
iOS users who prefer a US, UK, or other overseas iTunes account will have to create a South African iTunes account to install the Simfy Africa app and then switch back to their normal account.
Asked about the anomaly, Mole explained that apps will only be available in the app stores of countries where Simfy is available (currently Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, and South Africa).
He added that a new iPad app is in development with an improved user interface that “completely blows the socks off” the current version that is still in beta.
Apps are only half the story when it comes to a service like Simfy, however.
Without the song library to back it up, a premium streaming service falls flat on its face.
Although some albums and bands appeared to be missing during my testing, Simfy still performs admirably in this area.
Not only are more esoteric artists such as Walk Off The Earth, George Watsky, and Rhapsody of Fire listed, Simfy will also be launching with a fair amount of South African music.
Old greats such as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba are available alongside (comparative) newcomers such as Zahara and Lira, and the ever-popular Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Albums from groups such as Foto Na Dans, Moses Metro Man, Tumi and the Volume, Isochronous, and Dance You’re On Fire are also listed.
It was sad that some albums from personal favourites such as Delain, Nightwish, and Alestorm weren’t listed, as well as local artists such as SciCoustic and Cutting Jade not being listed at all.
However, Mole explained that content is still being loaded by the local agents of some labels and may appear in the coming week.
“We always try to offer the full discography however bands change labels and some labels are better at digital distribution than others,” Mole said. “Within Temptation, for example has some albums on Sony and some on Warner. Eluvetie is on Warner so you are only seeing the albums that are up already, the LIVE album is on a different label,” Mole said.
An unforgivable travesty, however, is the complete absence of Rammstein’s music. A German service (albeit localised) without Rammstein is simply unthinkable. This oversight will be addressed swiftly, one hopes.
Voting with your Rand
At less than the cost of a CD per month, Simfy offers pretty good value for money.
It’s also important that South Africans show labels that there is a market for legal digital music distribution in South Africa if we are to see more of such services here.
That said, by streaming 192kbps MP3s Simfy is neither for the bandwidth-strapped who might have preferred the AAC format, nor the audiophile who settle for nothing less than lossless encoding.
Simfy estimates that an hour of streaming would use around 85MB of data, which for those on mobile broadband or even capped ADSL connections may not be feasible.
Offline mode mitigates this somewhat, but the bandwidth conscious will have to watch how many songs they download every month.
Everyone’s music tastes differ, so the best way to see if Simfy is for you is to just take them up on their 14 day trial.
If you’re tired of trying to manage your personal MP3 collection across your devices you certainly won’t be sorry for giving them a whirl at least.