It's been a long wait, but more than a year after Nokia announced its Comes With Music plan--free music downloads built into the price of the phone--the first Comes With Music phone is apparently coming to the U.S. in February.
According to The Nokia Blog, the Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (a.k.a. The Tube) will go on sale at U.S. retailers on Feb. 26 for a suggested price of $399. No carrier partners have been announced, so there's probably little chance of a carrier subsidy reducing the price at launch. CNET reviewed a preview version of the phone back in December and liked it fairly well, but I'm most interested in how the Comes With Music plan will stack up against Apple's iTunes.
The experience is a little clunkier than iTunes from what I've read in the reviews. The phone comes with a card containing a code; enter that code into the Web-based Nokia Music Store and all prices in the store disappear. Everything has to be sideloaded--there's no direct over-the-air downloading to the phone as you can do with the iPhone--and it's PC only. You can't transfer the songs to any other phone, even another Comes With Music phone, nor can you burn them to a CD without paying extra. Songs are encoded in the Windows Media Audio format (which I've always thought is an excellent audio codec, for all of the other flaws with Microsoft's digital media strategy and products), and of course come with DRM to limit what you can do with them.
Still--everything you download lives on your PC forever. So while $399 is a significant premium over the iPhone, add in the price of a few thousand PC-tethered downloads, and it looks pretty competitive. At the very least, it could be an extremely convenient way to discover music--you can always buy full CD-burnable tracks of the songs you really like, then transfer them to other devices in other formats later on.
Will it make a dent in iPhone sales? Not without a carrier agreement, no.