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Humanizing Tech

Review of Playster’s All-In-One Entertainment Streaming Service

Get free headphones and a tablet when you subscribe to their movie, music, book and gaming service

I. Setting the Stage

A newcomer to the streaming music and movie battle has come to the market with some serious upgrades. Playster’s $25 per month gets you unlimited access to not just music and movies, but also books, games, and audiobooks. In addition, this new streaming company gives you not one, but two physical products along with its service: headphones and a tablet. If you like, you can also break apart that bundle and only subscribe to the type of service you’re looking for. Just books? Just music? No problem. From their website:

After all our time spent in the video streaming industry, we have yet to come across a novel approach that bundles all different types of content together, in addition to the devices you’d use to engage with them.

A smart concept for a smart price. The question, then, is does the reality live up to the seemingly too-good-to-be-true promise?

Playster’s homepage

In this Part 1, we dig into the Playster product experience. In the upcoming Part 2, we’ll compare it to other major players in the industry to see how it holds up.

You can view the Playster product and their content without signing up or logging by going to play.playster.com.

In terms of content providers, which is likely the single most important thing about a digital experience, they have made some important partnership announcements. In addition to the 800-pound gorillas of the publishing space, they have movies from Paramount and Stars to go along with music from Sony and Warner. Suffice to say, you’re going to get access to some truly popular content with their service.

II. The Unboxing Experience

Playster was kind enough to send along a Combo Box that we could test in order to write up this review. We waited until we had everything in hand before we logged into the service so our experience was much the same as a brand new customer using it for the first time.

The box comes with a welcome sheet, a user guide, a new fully functional Android tablet complete with a 5 megapixel camera and native apps already installed. The headphones aren’t bluetooth but do come with a standard wired connector between the cans and any device, including your current smart phone or iPod.

Below is what logging into the Playster browser experience for the first time looks like. Navigation seems easy enough. A few quick sections right there in the middle depending on my use case. The left-hand sidebar showing the various services from music to movies to games and books.

Desktop, tablet, and mobile responsiveness of Playster’s web app.

The user experience is self-explanatory so no issues there, and it’s responsive across various mobile devices to checks that box nicely. Below is what their service looks like from the native Android tablet. It shows the interface for browsing music, listening to music, playing a game, navigating for something to watch, the video player itself, and even the included web browser.

III. Streaming Music

The first thing we reviewed was the music streaming services in an office setting. The initial loading experience on fast wifi took a few seconds, but the quality of the sound is great. One interesting thing I noticed a few minutes into the experience was changing the volume using the on-screen slider. With Apple Music you notice the volume changing as you drag it, but in Playster’s case, the actual volume didn’t change until you released the mouse to the desired place on the slider.

We compared the sound quality of the free headphones to a pair of high-end Bang & Olufson BeoPlay H8 bluetooth headphones. As you might imagine, there was a difference, especially when one costs $0 and the other costs $500. But we have to isolate hardware from streaming quality.

We have to say, listening to the headphones for about an hour while we navigated throughout the various sections of the included tablet experience, our ears didn’t start hurting, nor did we experience any sort of cheap tinniness that you might expect from free headphones.

If you’re an audiophile and pore over hundreds of reviews online and spend thousands of dollars on headphones, then yes of course you’re not going to be happy with the in-the-box phones just like you wouldn’t with Apple’s included EarPods.

But, if you’re a casual user, or you’re getting this for your young child, then it’s going to work just fine. I was jamming out to Hip Hop, R&B, Pop, and EDM during my hour-long test and only had the volume up maybe 30%. I never once thought to myself, “Wow, these sound like crap”, which is what my going in expectation was just simply because they’re “free”.

So, if you’re looking at signing up for the $25/month service to get the tablet, headphones, and access to music, gaming, movies, and books, but are worried that the hardware, software, or streaming quality is crap, let me allay your fears. You are getting a helluva deal here!

To give you a sense of what it’s like to navigate through their music streaming product, create your own playlists, and find new music to listen to, view the gallery below.

Ooh they got Bruno Mars and Hamilton and Dua Lipa and John Legend and Meek Mill and Calvin Harris and Chainsmokers and Kings of Leon and Trolls (yes, the major motion picture soundtrack :)

Gallery of images from the desktop version of Playster’s music streaming service.

Ok, so I’m digging their music library. At first glance Playster seems to have a range of titles to suit most people’s needs. They likely negotiated content rights to a package deal much like the other streaming music services, which is why you’ll see a lot of the same titles across different services. Save for maybe TIDAL. Which means, if you’re into music streaming, you get to choose between the one that you like best, or that offers other benefits.

If Apple Music is $10/month and you can get free headphones, a tablet, gaming, books, and movies for $25, Playster seems like a much better deal. Or, if you want to keep it at the $10 price point, you can subscribe to just their music service.

We haven’t seen an API so there will likely be less app development over the top of it like Spotify and more recently, Apple Music, but frankly we don’t think most people really use other apps around music other than to just listen.

Interestingly, while a game was loading we discovered a new track that’s pretty hot. A few of us subscribe personally to Apple Music and we hadn’t come across this track over there so this seems like a novel benefit.

We just went on Apple Music to see if this specific track is there. It is. So in this case, it’s even steven, though from a discoverability standpoint we found it on Playster, not on Apple Music.

IV. Streaming Movies

The next section we tried was movies. Most people are going to immediately compare this to Netflix or maybe HBO. And the first thing you always notice is the content library. Note: see the top of this post for the content partners and how to view the movie library before you sign up.

From landing on the Movie page to selecting a film, and then loading it in its flash player.

The piece that many in the video streaming industry like to lambaste about is the player. Everyone is building or using what’s called an HTML5 player, which moves away from the long-standing Flash player. Many folks cite reliability, security, and power usage as a reason to move to the new native web experience.

Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with Flash players. In fact, at Piksel we stream 50,000 live events annually without issue all at exactly the same time, which means we’re hitting peak load every week. It’s all done via our Live flash player as we don’t have the reliability yet baked into our new HTML5 player. So, should you be concerned now that Safari and Chrome don’t automatically load any flash video player, including Playster’s? The answer is no, you’ll be just fine.

It’s going to play your video on your new free tablet without issue and shouldn’t even be something most normal users ever think twice about.

V. Games

At this point, with Spotify, Apple Music and TV, most of us are familiar with streaming music and movies online. So going in we knew what to expect and aside from personal gripes you have with the content library, everything is as expected.

Which is why it was with great interest that we reviewed the gaming sections of the platform. Are they letting you download games to your device so you can play them on planes or in trains? Or are they streaming like Valve’s Steam?

So many curious questions.

Most of the games that show up are meant to be played on the included tablet so if you opt for the all-inclusive, $25/month tier, you shouldn’t have a problem.

But we also wanted to give a true test of just subscribing to the gaming service and only using it from a desktop or an iPhone to see what that experience was like.

So we went to Gaming > Best Sellers and chose the very first item that looked compelling in the first seat position. Loki. That sounds promising. Click in via our 13" MacBook Pro with TouchBar, and bam. No dice.

Ok, we get it now. There are compatability issues with some of the titles. This one only works on Windows machines apparently. Some stream via HTML5, and some are native downloads. Lets see if we can find one that works with Macs.

Ok, found one, lets download it and unpack the file. Ok, so it’s not the actual game I downloaded (that part’s confusing), but isntead a wrapper that I have to log into, which then pulls open the Mac app with the gaming content library.

A 200 meg download. This is going to take a minute.

Ok, downloaded. A new play button shows up, so we click it. And wait. Okay, it’s a new machine so we need to install some Java software. After clicking the OK button multiple times and nothing happening, we realized it’s an Apple dialogue box fail. We have to click the “More Info” button and off to Apple’s site we go to download more stuff.

So far this is not an awesome, or easily accessed, experience. And I’m beginning to get a bit worried that my brand new machine could be opening itself up to some vulnerabilities. I would urge the Playster folks to reconsider their strategy towards desktop gaming. And the fact that it’s not included in the mobile apps makes me wonder if it’s just an add-on and not a core product feature.

Okay we’re in and finally playing!

Lets try a second game now that we’ve gone through the setup process to see if it’s any faster. We often remark to each other, around the office, how crazy our belts are. So, consider us shocked when we saw a game with the same name. Don’t mind if we do.

The games feel very mobile friendly, but playing on the desktop with a mouse is as expected. Less than ideal compared to how it would feel if it were available in the iOS app.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any games in the iOS version of the app so if you have an iPhone, we wouldn’t recommend that you subscribe to only the gaming service. Again, getting the full-featured service is likely the best deal for the money.

VI. Books

We downloaded the iPhone mobile app and logged in to review the ebooks because that’s how we read them on our phone. We’re used to using Reeder for our news and iBooks for our books so were a bit curious what the experience was going to be like.

Interestingly, it has the same page turn functionality as iBooks though not quite as fluid. The typography handling also isn’t quite as lovely as Apple’s version, but it gets the job done. Have a look below at the end-to-end experience of first opening the app (after logging in) and getting into the reading experience.

Playster does have three necessary features for any ebook experience:

  1. Fast scrubbing through pages
  2. List of chapters
  3. Typography choices for size and font

Note that you will have unlimited access to books and audiobooks for a flat fee without having to buy additional credits.

Truth be told, iBooks is a bit nicer reading experience and likely have a much bigger content catalog with the latest and greatest New York Times best sellers. But it comes down to your personal reading preferences.

One nice feature for Playster’s marketing site would be to provide a list of their content catalogue without requiring a user to sign up for the free trial in order to see what they can expect.

Based on our review, the strongest aspect of the platform in terms of content is music. If we had to rank, it would be in the same order as this review:

  1. Music
  2. Movies
  3. Books
  4. Games

Incidentally, it’s also in the same order of time you’re likely to spend in each one.

That concludes part 1 of our review. In the next edition, we’ll be comparing it in a bit more detail to competing services to provide a comprehensive roundup of the streaming services.

Sean

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Review of Playster’s All-In-One Entertainment Streaming Service was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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