Ed. – This article is part of our roundup featuring all of the mobile cloud music services currently available in the US. Click here for more.
When Google bought streaming media startup Simplify Media last year, the tech world waited with bated breath to see how they would use the technology that allowed users to stream their music collections to their phones. With the beta release of Google Music, we (well, some of us at least) now get to sample the fruits of their labor. Was it worth the wait?
20,000 songs (at whatever bitrate you upload them), regardless of amount of data. Free (for now).
Software Stability/Ease of Use
Normally, an app still in beta wouldn’t be considered for a review, but since Google has never been one to follow typical beta procedures (Gmail was famously in beta for 5 years), we shall follow suit. Their beta products tend to be very stable, and Google Music is no exception. The mobile app was not completely immune to crashing, but it only happened twice over several weeks. That being said, the app would occasionally repeat songs selected from a playlist without resetting the scrub bar and time counter. This results in such gaffes of a play time of 8:34+ on a song that’s only 6:39 long. A cosmetic issue for sure, and one of a few reasons the software is still in Beta.
The background images change frequently (and look nice) but all those graphics use resources that could otherwise be speeding up the app, as frequent lags and slow response times are the norm. The app is easily (if ungracefully) navigable by right to left and left to right swipes. The tab setup (Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists) looks simple and clean, but in fact feels awkward and unresponsive. Response to swipes is inconsistent at best; sometimes swipes will be unrecognized, and other times simply placing your thumb on the screen will cause the screen to wobble and shake.
On the mobile app, the view of your library can be toggled between your entire Google Music library and just the songs you’ve designated for offline access. Contextual menus for songs give options to: Play, Make Instant Mix (Google’s attempt at a “personal radio station”), Add to Playlist, Shop for Artist and More by Artist. The “Shop for Artist” tab sends you to a Google shopping link in an external browser; we rarely found it useful. A flashing “dB” icon shows next to album/song in browse view when that particular song is currently playing, and album art is prominently displayed.
We found Google Music’s much-ballyhooed offline caching to be a bit awkward in practice; buried in a submenu, it is accessed by clicking the main “Menu” button on the phone after selecting an artist. Albums can then be selected for offline playback. The option would not appear inside albums (in order to select individual tracks).
Google Music’s major fault lies in the counterintuitive nature of the user interface. For example, when a song in an album or playlist is selected, the app plays only selected song by default (as opposed to playing the entire album). If you want the entire playlist to play, you must select the triangle icon next to the playlist name and select “Play.” Unfortunately, there is no way to start the playlist from a song other than the first, so if you want to listen to track 5 of your playlist first, you’ve got to press the FF button four times after the first song begins. Good luck with starting on track 84 of that 125-song party playlist you made last weekend.
Over 4G, the stream buffer was problematic; it skipped frequently, especially when moving. Initial load times were painfully slow, but over a strong Wi-Fi connection, the stream was much more robust, with fast initial load times and almost no skipping.
Software Stability/Ease of Use
While the upload process was long (15 days to reach our 20,000-song limit), it was certainly smooth. The Mac application ran in the background (controllable through the menu bar or System Preferences), all the while remaining inconspicuous and bandwidth-friendly. Setup was smooth and easy to follow, the software was streamlined. It had a singular purpose: get your music to the cloud. It succeeded.
The upload time for beaming songs to Google Music is determined by the size of your collection. We filled the 20,000 song capacity in about 15 days, or nearly 1 song per minute. Not bad, considering the Music Manager software doesn’t compress the tracks at all before uploading.
Google’s player is simple, straightforward and features lots of storage space, much like most of their other products. We love the massive storage space and the fact that our music was not further compressed upon uploading. The feature set is admittedly limited, but we actually prefer a more streamlined experience, focusing on doing one thing (housing and streaming your library) and doing it well. The uploading software is light and unobtrusive, and putting music onto Google’s servers was a breeze. The current Android-only iteration of the mobile app is troubling, but not surprising. For the price, it’s hard to knock Google Music, even if it is still in beta. But it’s still not No. 1.
Link: Google Music (beta)
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.
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