Rdio redesign hands-on

With Spotify getting all the love from the tech press since its US launch last year, fellow music streaming sites have no doubt been scrambling a bit to get back on the radar, a fact likely only compounded by its embrace of Facebook and a number of third-party apps. Late last year, Pandora, a site synonymous with internet radio, offered up an HTML5-packing redesign, dropping its 40 hour listening cap in the process.

Now Rdio's getting in on the act. The tricky-to-pronounce service was all the rage when it launched a couple of years ago, thanks to a social networking focus and some prestigious founders (with properties like Skype and Kazaa on their resumes). The company used this year's South by Southwest as a platform to launch a redesign of its desktop and web-based players -- we'll walk you through the latter, after the break.

The absence of a browser-based player has long been a bit of a sticking point for Spotify. Granted, the service has done a good job focusing on its mobile app, but we've often found ourselves wishing we could just open the service up in a Chrome tab and be done with it. On that front Rdio's been fine, offering up a fairly dynamic experience from the comfort of a browser, but a quick look at the old UI shows a service that isn't really doing its most to take advantage of that real estate, with two large blocks of blue nothingness on either side of the player. The new site certainly scales better than its predecessor, filling up the browser window from end to end.

The first thing you'll notice upon switching is the similarity to iTunes. The service seemingly takes a few cues from Apple's long-standing music player, right down to the gray and white color scheme, which has been adopted in lieu of a former love of blue gradients. The new design does manage to cram a lot into the page. Along the top, you find a toolbar with links to settings and your own personal account. A search field offers up predictive results drawn from available selections and other Rdio users. Along the bottom lie controls for play / pause, forward / back, track status, volume, shuffle and a link to the listing for the album that track was pulled from.

Album artwork for the track is displayed along with its name and the artist in the left bar. Above this is a number of selections that can be used to refine the album content that appears in the center frame -- you can browse by your friends' heavy rotation and recent activities, or your own collection, history, music queue or playlists (here you can simply drag and drop an album onto a list). There are also some more generic choices like Top Charts and New Releases.

It's worth noting, however, that as before the default setting is based on your friends' activity. Such social discovery is, as ever, at the center of the site's functionality. If your friends have listened to a given album, an image of them will appear beneath the artwork. Hover over this and you'll get a more complete list of bros. Hover over the album art itself and you'll get options for adding it to your collection, a playlist, sharing the album and syncing to your mobile device.

On the right side lies a Facebook-like list of your friends, beginning with those who are online, including what each person is listening to at a given moment. Clicking on this, naturally, will bring you to their page. If you're looking for more friends, simply click "Who to Follow" at the top of the page. Rdio gives a long list of suggestions and offers up a way to find people you know via Facebook, Twitter and And, really, it's in your best interest to add as many of your friends as possible. That's kind of the whole point -- services like Pandora are great for offering up suggestions based on listening habits, but Rdio is all about social discovery. And here that functionality feels like less of an afterthought that it does in Spotify.

The web interface is also quite speedy. Save for what seems to have been a momentary blip (perhaps due to all of you checking out the redesign), the site was quite responsive. The newly revamped Rdio isn't revolutionary step, but it ought to bring a bit more focus back to a quality service that has been nudged out of the limelight in recent months.