V CAST music can be downloaded via a cell phone for $1.99 or directly to a PC for $.99. The songs can be synched between phone and PC automatically and will be converted using a more aggressive WMA bit rate to play using minimal amounts of the memory inside the cell phone. The problem is there isn't a whole lot of available memory inside these phones to begin with. So, extra memory will have to be purchased if you want to carry around a lengthy play-list. SD memory or secure digital memory is required. 1GB has a street price of around $30 so that's not too bad.

Verizon partnered with Microsoft and built the V CAST music store to run directly in Windows Media Player. We love the quality of the 160Kbps WMA files and find them superior to downloads offered from competing services that use the traditional MP3 codec. The WMA codec offers more body, dimension and presence without any of the sonic artifacts and distortion present in lower quality codecs that tend to flatten the sound and mush the high-end. It takes a little longer to convert CDDA tracks to the WMA format compared to the MP3 format but it's worth it.

However, the downside to Verizon choosing Microsoft as a partner is the Windows Media Player interface is just atrocious. It works and it sounds great but it's not nearly as much fun to use as it should be, see iTunes. This is entertainment not another business task. Using Windows Media Player feels like working in a spreadsheet. Sure it gets the job done but it doesn't make you smile. Verizon's music store running inside the player looks okay but the functionality is still tied to Windows Media Player. And because of the digital rights management you're forced to use Windows Media Player to burn your CDs. Alternatively you can burn audio CDs, extract specific tracks back on to the PC and use any software to make mixes and burn tracks but that's a bit of a hassle.

Verizon also needs to work on the navigation in its store. It takes way too much effort to download several albums from the same artist. Also, if you happen to download an album and accidentally delete it for whatever reason, Verizon will acknowledge that you've already purchased the recording but will make you pay for it a second time. Yes, you can call customer service and get issued a credit but who wants to waste time doing that' Once you pay for a song you should be able to download it a few times without a hassle. Why not associate an account with a primary PC' As long as that PC is used to access the store the experience is hassle free. If the account is jacked into from another system than make it harder for multiple downloads of the same material.

The other thing is the store feels a little like a ghost town. There's no community and very little editorial offered on the music that's available for download. The hot list and the current features don't change enough from day to day. The service should also tell me about artists I might like based on an analysis of previous downloads similar to what Amazon and Netflix both do.

Verizon acknowledges its service is a little rough around the edges and is developing improvements to the software and a native MP3 player. The company wouldn't share specific numbers on the success of the service thus far but is hoping for strong growth this summer.

Verizon clearly has the marketing dollars to get the word out on its new V CAST music service and it's recent promotion of tracks by the Black Eyed Peas and and exclusive release of a new Shakira track have been right on the money. With a little fine-tuning Verizon could become a force in the music download business. The lynchpin will be some type of ruggedized cell phone that you can truly take jogging and not worry about dropping. Until that happens, music on the cell phone will be another novelty to kill time. Of course, add up all the people in airports, dentist offices and DMV lines and a couple of tracks from each adds up to a nice revenue stream.

Visit Verizon for more information about the V CAST service.