So why is everyone so excited about Spotify‘s way overdue launch in the U.S.? After all, we have no lack of music streaming services here.

Well, it pretty much blazed a trail in Europe, where it is still hugely popular. Unfortunately, the Swedish-based music-streaming company seemingly took forever for it to negotiate the deals it needed to launch service in America. But now that it’s here, let’s take a quick look at this service and see what we’re dealing with:

(1) Spotify is similar to, but not quite like its competitors. It’s like Spotify takes the best parts of various streaming companies and mashes them together. There’s offline download available, dedicated mobile apps, a free version, and much more. But it doesn’t force you to pay through the nose for all of it — users can choose different subscription options. (For more on the competition, scroll down below the list.)

(2) Spotify offers free accounts (but only for people with invitations). Get invited, and you don’t have to pay a single cent if you don’t want, and you’ll get six months of unlimited streaming. But there are trade-offs: First, you’ll have to deal with advertisements. Second, after that six months is up, you’ll be capped at 10 hours of streaming per month. (Word has it that a maximum cap of 5 plays per track may also be instituted.) And there are no downloads or mobile access with this option. For that, you’ll have to get a Premium subscription.

(3) Spotify has two paid service tiers. Aside from the free account, there are two other options: Desktop-only, no-cap Unlimited plan for $5 monthly, or $10 Premium, which offers both PC and mobile access, and offline music downloads. (In other countries, Spotify eventually changed its TOS over time, and now many European users are apparently quite upset about the U.S. service’s currently cheaper prices. So enjoy it while it lasts.) [EDITED: Corrected to transpose Premium and Unlimited.]

(4) Spotify music catalog may or may not vary from those available abroad. Licensing negotiations can be tricky, and even though some are reporting that Spotify’s full inventory is available in the U.S., some users have complained about some missing artists or titles. Confusion and roadblocks may just be a fact of life for now — at least until the music labels (not to mention TV/entertainment companies) get their heads out of their… well, you know.

(5) Spotify doesn’t have every song known to man, though. Spotify’s catalog — with 13 to 15 million tracks — practically doubles Rdio’s, but can’t touch GrooveShark’s. So it’s a respectable size, but don’t be surprised if your favorite indie band’s not on here.

(6) Spotify lets you create playlists. Find songs you want to hear, and then drag and drop to create playlists for listening. You can also share with friends, thanks to simple and easy Facebook integration.

(7) Spotify offers desktop and mobile apps. You can listen to your Spotify songs and playlists via Android or iOS apps, or via the desktop client.

(8) Spotify lets you upload your own music. This is actually pretty nice (and sort of iTunes Cloud–ish): If you have something that’s not in Spotify’s inventory, you can upload it. That will give you cloud access to it, and let you add it to playlists along with Spotify songs.

(9) Spotify has awesome audio. Who’s not into deeper, richer audio quality? If you are, then Spotify’s “high quality streaming” option may just fit the bill. Tick that, and you’re rocking 320kbps Ogg Vorbis that is noticeably better than average.

(10) Spotify e-Gift cards are available for Premium subscriptions. The service sells Spotify Premium e-gift cards, which is actually very smart. It makes life easier for gift givers, while also turning them into Spotify evangelists prompting friends to try the service. (Even if you didn’t know what Spotify is, wouldn’t you give it a whirl if someone gave you a few free months?) It’s available in 1, 3, 6 and 12 month subscription increments.

So will Spotify revolutionize the online music market? Well, it probably would have if it arrived earlier. Now the market is saturated with options, and none of Spotify’s individual features are really earth-shaking at this point. But the service is definitely worth a look for the simple fact that it puts the best features in one place.

For example, I’m a fan of Pandora and Slacker, but since I can’t handpick songs, they don’t work when I want control over what I listen to. (These work better for passive listening, or as music discovery tools.) Subscriptions with Rhapsody, Rdio and Mog, on the other hand, do let you choose songs or artists. But other than a trial period, these paid services have no free option. GrooveShark offers free accounts, not to mention a colossal music library. But there are no dedicated mobile apps or downloads for offline play. Right now, it’s only accessible via the browser at (And this doesn’t work for iOS. Only jailbroken iPhones can enjoy GrooveShark mobile via a cydia application.)

Grooveshark also didn’t strike deals with music labels, as Spotify took great pains to do. While this enabled an epic library of tracks, it may also be its undoing down the line. Users might find that they soaked a lot of time and energy into their playlists, only to see them go “Poof!” in a cloud of legal smoke someday.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about music in the cloud without mentioning Google Music Locker, Amazon Cloud Player and iTunes in the Cloud. When it comes to iTunes — comparisons are a no-brainer. Spotify’s UI is similar to Apple’s music management software, and it can also search everything in a given iTunes library. Reviews are even coming in claiming that Spotify is everything iTunes in the Cloud should have been. But this, as well as Amazon and Google, is simply storage and access for á la carte music (which only two of the services sell). Spotify, on the other hand, is more like a large buffet for a flat fee. For less than the price of one album per month, Spotify offers unlimited access to millions and millions of tracks.

So, given everything you know about the service so far, think you’ll be taking Spotify for a spin? Or will you stick with another service provider? Let us know what you think below. And if you’re already a Spotify user, share your impressions from your own real-life experience with the service.

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