For the last few weeks (from 1/23/2016 to 2/18/2016), I have been using the 30 day free trial of the Playster subscription service. With the current membership changes at Scribd, other options for subscription services become even more important. Here’s my review of the service:
Playster is a multimedia subscription service owned by Playster Corporation. The corporation has offices in New York and the UK. The service offers a combination of books, audiobooks, movies, music and games and calls itself “the Netflix of everything.”
You can access content on up to six devices. There are no usage stipulations per se, although there is a clause in the TOS that states the service can “take any action that imposes or may impose (as determined by us in our sole discretion) an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our (or our third party providers’) infrastructure.” Theoretically, I suppose that could be used to stop someone who was using too much content, but there are no other explicit restrictions.
An Internet connection is required to use the service. It is a streaming service, not a download service. According to TOS, “Playster does use some data, and an Internet connection is required to access and consume our Content.”
You can access the service via a web browser or through the Playster app, which is available for IOS and Android.
The service offers a bundled combination of books, audiobooks, movies, music and games for $24.95 month. Each of the services are available individually. Books and music subscriptions are $9.95 each monthly. Game subscriptions are $4.95 per month and movies are $3.95. There is a 30 day free trial before you are actually billed for your subscription and a credit card is required at the time of sign up.
In the United States, if you sign up for unlimited books, movies, music and games for 12 months, Playster will include the Playster Combo Box, a branded tablet, with your subscription. The tablet is shipped right away and you pay a $9.95 shipping cost.
Playster’s home page says that each subscription component is available individually Perhaps because I had signed up for the free trial for the bundle, I could not see any way to change my subscription to only an ebook or movie one, although on the sign up page, you could sign up for a single component. Originally, I saw advertising stating that the service is capable of multiple logins so that it can be used by an entire family. I could not figure out how to set up multiple logins through my account, although those features may not have been available on the free trial version.
The subscription auto-renews “successive renewal periods of the same duration as the subscription term originally selected starting from the anniversary date.” You can read the whole terms and conditions here.
To use the service, you must consent to automatic upgrading on your mobile device, and agree that the Terms and Conditions will apply to all upgrades.
Playster’s website states that you can cancel your membership at any time either online or via telephone by calling 1-844-825-6276. If you are on the 12 month Playster Combo Box plan that includes the tablet, you must call to cancel membership. The TOS states that any payments already made are non-refundable. (The payment terms are here.)
I had a choice of signing up with Facebook, Google Plus or using an email and password. I chose Google and had a problem because of it. While I had no problem on the Playster website, when I tried to download the android app on my phone, it only gave me the option to login via an email/ password combo. For some reason, it did not recognize me as logged into Google on my phone. The forgot password link took me to the browser which did recognize me as I signed in (meaning the website recognized that my phone was signed into Google services). But I still couldn’t get in to the app. I tried going to the website and changing my password, but found I could not create a new password because it required an old one (which I didn’t have because I signed up with G+). I ultimately had to email customer service to reset the password for me.
For the purposes of testing the service, I used the following devices: Win 7 Dell desktop computer with 6GB RAM, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tablet, a Galaxy Note 2 phone, a first generation iPad mini ((IOS), a Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (2012 model with an HDMI port) on the Silk browser) and my Fire HD 6. I used the older 8.9 because I wanted one that I could connect to my TV. I tried the HD 6 because that’s my default device to use for reading Scribd and I wanted to compare the reading experience.
I tested all devices except the Kindle Fires with all types of media on both the app and the web version. Other exceptions are noted in the text below. The Kindle test was browser only (I didn’t want to sideload an old APK version of the app). App versions used were Android 220.127.116.110 (phone), and IOS app version: 2.0.2 (103).
Playster gives you the opportunity to see some of the available content at http://read.playster.com. Whether they actually have that content may be a different story. There were a quite a few titles in the preview section that I was unable to find once I had signed up. I don’t know if this is a geo-blocking issue. I have read a lot of complaints about Playster not having content they advertised as having as part of the service.
Playster’s terms of service does state:
Our library of Content is ever-changing, and we reserve the right to alter the Content available without notice. We do not guarantee that any Contentwill be made available (or continue to be available) on the Site or through the Services. For example, the availability of Content may vary from Device to Device, and may be affected by a number of factors. These factors include (but are not limited to) your location, the bandwidth available through and/or speed of your Internet connection.
Currently, Playster offers books, audiobooks, music, games and movies. Because Playster allows you to subscribe separately to each type of content, I am going to discuss each type of content separately.
There is one caveat to keep in mind as I describe the content in each category: The search function on the service is terrible. I found a lot more content by browsing than I did by searching, so when I talk about the limitations, it could be that I simply could not find content in a particular category.
Selection: There’s a fairly wide variety of books in numerous genres and categories: New York Times Bestsellers, romance, literary fiction, non-fiction, business books, young adult and more. The books are a mixture of both newer and older material. The age of the titles varies with some newer (What the Dog Knows is from 2015), and some a couple of years old (American Sniper, 2012, Veronica Roth’s Four the Transfer,2013 and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, 2013). There are also classics like 12 Years a Slave and Huckleberry Finn.
Currently, Playster has announced licensing deals with Findaway, Harlequin, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins.
None of the subscription services have The Girl on a Train, so I was not surprised to see that ebook missing, although they do have it in audiobook form. I did not see The Hunger Games or Harry Potter as ebooks either.
The sheer numbers of certain kinds of books was interesting. There are lots of books by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps), plenty of Star War tie-ins and more Star Trek tie-in books than I have ever seen in one place in my life…. In fact, the science fiction collection was pretty amazing. There were collections of old SF magazines like Amazing Stories, Astounding, Weird Tales, Galaxy, IF – the list goes on and on. There were Best of Year anthologies from the 1970s that I would have loved to read.
There are a lot of books to choose from, depending on what genre you like to read.
Reading experience: I have to say, the e-reading experience with Playster was really awful. I actually did not get to read one book during my trial period. Yes, the experience was that bad!
One of my biggest problems was an inability to dramatically change the font size. I have had two surgeries on my eyes, so I am somewhat visually impaired. I need a large font size to read comfortably. On all devices on the web version, I found that I couldn’t change font size at all. On the android app, there was a limited ability to change the size, but I couldn’t get it large enough to meet my needs. On the Kindle, it changed the font for the introduction but not for the main text of the book.
Another source of frustration was the page turn display itself. While the page turn experience on the web was similar to Amazon’s Cloud reader, on the Android app, every time you turned the page, it would generate a blank page which showed for approximately two seconds. That made the reading experience so choppy, it was miserable and frustrating to try and work with. The iPad experience was better due to the real page turn effect that the iPad uses for books. The Kindle page turns were the best of all of them, but I still could not get the font large enough to be able to read on it.
The search experience on Playster is really bad across the board: bad on the web, on the app, in the category suggestions and so on. You cannot search by author at all, only by title. The genre and category placements were not well organized. I had a hard time finding specific books, so the browse function was basically the only way to find a title you wanted to read. Definitely disappointing.
I could not recommend this service for anyone who had and kind of vision impairment or special needs. The reading app is just too poorly designed.
Selection: There seemed to be a fairly nice selection of audiobooks from Blackstone audio and other publishers. They had a lot of the current audiobooks I see on Scribd: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, E.L. James’ Grey, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, and Girl on a Train. There we well-represented genre sections that included romance, kid and teens books, even a section for Star Wars audiobooks. There were also audiobooks of some classic radio shows.
I found a number of non-fiction books, many in the history and business categories. The Earworms series of language learning audiobooks were particularly interesting as part of an unlimited listening service – these were premium listens on Scribd (before the new service terms).
Listening experience: The real problem with the audiobooks is the lack of a player in the app. There is no access at all to audiobooks on either the Android or IOS app. You can only access the catalog and listen to books on a web browser. Even there, the controls are very limited. It does not let you exit and resume at the same spot you stopped reading. Once you close out the web browser, you could only choose a chapter to begin to play a book. You couldn’t resume. Audiobooks also do not seem to sync across devices. Remember, this service is streaming only ( no downloads), so it is impossible to play content on another app.
One thing that is not clear is what category audiobooks books belong in. Are they bundled with the books or as part of the music category? I am assuming books, but don’t know for sure, so I am uncertain how to evaluate it.
Given Scribd’s new pricing structure for books and audiobooks, if Playster had a decent player, it could be a better alternative than Audible or Scribd for audiobooks. As is, the audiobook experience is just not good enough, especially if you have used another audiobook app like Audible’s.
Selection: Playster has a very odd selection of music. They do have some newer albums and artists – they had dubstep, hip hop and newer albums. But a lot of the music offered is quite old. For example, in the Country category, I found a lot of older artists: Gene Autry, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams. They also had a lot of interesting folk recordings, many of them early recordings of successful artists like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.
There was a lot of classical music to listen to. The majority that I found were recordings of well-known pieces by little-known artists and obscure European symphonies. (If you have ever bought one of those 100 Pieces of Classical Music albums for 99 cents, these are the same kind of recordings. Good, but not necessarily definitive recordings.) Blues and Jazz classics seemed pretty well represented: There were recordings by Etta James, Robert Johnson, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis.
The site offered popular and genre recommendations, but the results were quite strange. An Elvis Presley gospel album was listed in hip hop. Dean Martin listed in pop music might have worked in 1965, but now? And how do you justify putting Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman in the world music category? I really think the algorithms for the service needed a bit of work.
Listening experience: Except for the search and recommendations issues, the music experience was probably one of the best of all the Playster categories that I tried. The controls were straight forward and there were no volume or streaming issues. Given the content, I don’t think that I would pay $9.95 a month for it, but it would be okay as a part of a subscription package if your tastes run to older material.
Selection: The service has games for Android and PC. I was fairly unimpressed with the Android selection. Many of the games that I saw for Android were from a company called Playtouch and, for me at least, they left a lot to be desired. Many of the android games were geared at children, not adults. The Playtouch games also had a lot of misspellings in the descriptions.
For the PC, you can only play games by downloading the Playster game player to your PC. Since I knew by this point I wasn’t going to keep the subscription, I did not bother to download the player.
The game categories available for both Android and PC included action adventure, shooter and RPG/MMO games and classics like Pong, Millipede, Asteroids, and Super Breakout. There were strategy and war games, sport and racing, as well as Arcade games. They also had puzzle, hidden object and casino games. They do have Duke Nukem 3D if that’s a deal breaker for you. 🙂
On the IOS version on my iPad, there were no games available on either the app or web version for the iPad.
Experience: I played a couple of Android games on my phone. I thought the card games I tried tended to lag quite a bit. Strangely, many of the games had to be downloaded instead of streamed and the wait time was also a factor, at least for me. On my Android phone and my Kindle, a couple of the games, downloaded directly and still played, even after I deleted the Playster app. I had to uninstall them manually. I assume that this is a glitch, because the content is supposed to be streaming only.
I think the value of the games portion of this subscription really depends on who this is for and how much of a gamer you are. This might be a great selection for games to amuse a child, depending on age. I am more of a casual card, puzzle and board games type of gamer and in this category, so there wasn’t a lot of substance to interest me, but YMMV.
Selection: Due to the lack of a decent search tool, I really can’t tell you what kind of content is in this category. There are a lot of movies. From what I could tell, the selection is heavy on documentaries and music video compilations. I spot checked some of the films and everything I checked seemed to also be available on Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix.
Experience: I watched three documentaries. The app for my phone updated between the first and the second film. With the first film I watched (with the first phone version of the app), the experience was less than stellar. There was flickering on the playback and the app stalled after about 10 minutes.
The second time (with the updated app) was a smoother experience. There was much less flicker. You cannot Chromecast directly from the app, so in order to watch on my television, I had to watch in the browser and then cast the entire window. This is a less than optimal experience from both the visual and sound points of view. The audio was too quiet and the lips were out of sync with the film.
The third film I watched on the iPad and the video quality was actually much better on this version of the app than anywhere else. On the Safari browser, however, the movie would not load. I also could not get a film to load on the Kindle, although that might have been a problem with the Dolphin browser.
There are no closed captions available that I could find. There also seems to be no way to watch part of a movie and then resume where you left off. These two factors alone are deal breakers for me. Add in not being integrated with Chromecast and not having a ROKU channel and this is basically way too limited compared to my experience with Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu.
Overall Playster Experience:
The number one problem with this service is that the search function across the board is so poorly designed, it is basically unusable. I couldn’t search for books by author or music by artist at all. I actually searched for specific titles, albums and artists that I had already found in the system, yet they still didn’t come up in the search.
The other feature that was really hard to work with was the sync across devices feature. Like the search function, this one is also practically non-existent. Items added to the MY Library section, never showed up on any version of the app or other browser versions.
It seems apparent that Playster is working on the service as the app actually updated twice during my trial. When using the first version, the app kept crashing on my phone. It did work on my Samsung tablet. The next time the app updated, it did work correctly on my phone.
Playster also really needs to work on the battery issues with its apps. On every device I used it on, the battery drained way too quickly!
Given the recent changes to Scribd’s services, I really, really wanted to like their ebook service. (I am currently a subscriber to Scribd and Kindle Unlimited.) The science fiction collection alone probably could have convinced me to subscribe to the books category. But no matter how great the content, if a customer is unable to use it, it doesn’t matter. The service totally failed to provide a decent ebook reading experience.
There is so much about this service that just isn’t technically “there” yet. Closed captions and resume and play features for video are essential, basic components of streaming video and I am shocked that the service doesn’t have them.
The ads I saw for Playster were promoting it as a family service. If Playster is a family service, it needs to be usable on a television or large screen. The inability to Chromecast directly from the app or integrate with devices like a ROKU, an Amazon Fire TV or another method of streaming to a bigger screen is definitely a missing component that the service really needs, especially for the premium bundled subscription price.
The member area of Playster’s website still says Beta, but since it hasn’t been updated for a long time, I am not sure if that is accurate or not. The technical issues on the service are those you would expect to find in the beta version of a service. The $24.95 price tag is a premium price for a service that is definitely not ready for prime time.
Help and Customer Service: As stated above, I had to contact customer service to get my login straightened out. The response from customer service was very prompt, friendly and helpful.
Because the service is fairly new, the help section online is pretty basic. As a person who likes to figure things out for myself, I would have liked to see a lot more information there. The site does have a little-used forum section for the community to ask questions.
On the web, there was a big “Cancel Membership” button at the top of my account page. The first time I tried it on the desktop, it looked like that button just goes to an error page. I had to scroll down further to see the cancel membership button. You must go through several screens in order to cancel. I was asked to take a brief survey to explain why I was canceling.
And in case this was a question, I have not had any additional charges from Playster after canceling. (I have run across reviews from people saying that Playster continued to charge their credit cards after they had canceled. I have had no problems.)
Have you tried Playster? What did you think of the service?