Review: Lobstertunes - Stream PC Audio to Smartphone, Rock Lobster Style
Perhaps Electric Pocket knows something special about these marine crustaceans that made them name their mobile music streaming utility LobsterTunes. (Could it be a B52s reference?) This $19.95 utility, used in conjunction with media server software running on a PC, will let you stream your music collection to your Internet-connected Windows Mobile device.
We put LobsterTunes on a Vista Home Premium system and used the built-in Windows Media Player 11 as our media server, though LobsterTunes also claims compatibility with other media servers, like TVersity, that support DLNA and UPnP. The LobsterTunes install wizard also installed a mobile client on our T-Mobile Dash (running Windows Mobile 6), and detecting the lack of necessary media encoding software, downloaded and installed Windows Media Encoder 9 on our Vista PC. Before taking to the road with the Dash, we first had to configure WMP 11 to share media with our mobile device. LobsterTunes doesn't do this for you automatically, but it does step you through the process.
When we fired up LobsterTunes on the Dash from the Wi-Fi hotspot at our local Panera, the software took only about 10 seconds to locate and connect to our media server back home, aided by a UPnP-compatible router that automatically opens the appropriate network ports.
LobsterTunes lets you browse your music using a subset of the hierarchical menu you get in WMP 11. There's no search function, but you can browse by artist and song title as well as access music via your playlists. There's also a QuickMix feature that will automatically pull down and play random songs from your library. For most songs, LobsterTunes can use your Internet connection to summon cover art and band bio information, which is a nice feature.
Songs streamed to the mobile device begin caching in local storageincluding a memory card if available-before they start to play, so they're often still available if the connection is lost or gets squirrely. We had few problems using LobsterTunes over Wi-Fi aside from an occasional loss of the remote connection which required a restart of the application. We did encounter more frequent hiccups when connecting via EDGE, but the caching helped mitigate the impact.
LobsterTunes supports music files only - non-DRMed, naturally - in either MP3 or WMA formats, and music plays through LobsterTunes' own player software, which provides full audio controls like pause, rewind, fast forward, shuffle, and repeat.
When you want to listen to something other than your own music collection, LobsterTunes does offer access to a number of international streaming radio stations and last.fm. You can also stream a handful of news-oriented TV feeds. Unfortunately, LobsterTunes ability to stream video doesn't currently extend to video files stored on your own PC, though the feature is planned for an upcoming version that's currently in beta testing.
Additional radio stations are available by accessing the LobsterTunes site directly from your mobile device. You can also add your own custom audio streams, but it's a bit of a chore, requiring the creation of text files containing their URLs that must be copied to your mobile device.
LobsterTunes "market price" is a reasonable $19.99, but somewhat less reasonable is the download trial period of a mere 7 days. That may not be long enough to put the software through its paces before deciding whether to buy, especially since the support information available on the site is fairly sparse.
Nevertheless, if you're tired of regularly synching a handful of songs between your computer and Windows Mobile device, LobsterTunes offers a far better way to access that music collection.