Google Play Music Review - Comprehensive web-based music service

What is Google Play Music and should I get it instead of iTunes Match is a good question? Google has thrown its hat into the busy ring of cloud music services and delivered a comprehensive web-based music service. And it’s free.

Because Google and Apple are becoming somewhat arch-rivals it’s becoming increasingly easy for Apple fans to become dismissive of  Google products. This is a mistake: if anybody knows online services it’s Google. And Google Play music shows that they can deliver.

Google Play Music is a free product that enables you to store up to 20,000 music tracks in your own personal locker. To put this in perspective our test music collection had a whopping 8,800 tracks taking up 64GB of space. So you could probably store up to 150GB of music online for free.

This compares favourably with Apple’s own iTunes Match service, which allows you to store up to 25,000 tracks but costs £21.99 per year.

See: Guide to using iTunes Match

Upload tracks with Google Play Music Manager

The way it works is that Google provides you with a Mac program called Google Play Music Manager. This is a Mac OS X System Preference that enables you to upload your entire music collection to Google’s server with a single Upload click. You can also download everything as well. From that point on you can automatically include any tracks that you add to iTunes, so it sits pretty happily alongside both iTunes and even iTunes Match.

Once your music is in Google’s Play Music cloud you can access it through a web interface. Here you can search and play your tracks, create playlists and form a queue for upcoming tracks. If you own a desktop Mac and a computer with little storage space, such as a MacBook Air then you could find using Google’s online service a real space-saver.

Google Play Music Manager

What else does Google Play offer

There is a premium service to Google Play Music called All Access that costs £9.99 per month, although there is an ‘early bird’ offer of £7.99 per month until 15 September 2013. If you pick it up prior to the 15 September you only pay £7.99 from then on.

The premium service is best described as a web-based Spotify. You get access to ‘millions’ of tracks and it easily rivals Spotify. You can also create custom ‘Last FM’ style radio playlists from any track or artist.

Another fairly neat feature is that you can share tracks that you’ve listened to with other people. Although they can’t listen to the track repeatedly if they’re on the free account; they can listen to all of it and it’s integration with your Google+ circles make it a great way to pass music around.

See: Google Play vs iTunes App Stores

How does Google Play compare to iTunes Match? Spotify?

The fact that Google Play Music runs completely from a web-browser is a reason to both love and hate it. It certainly makes access a lot easier than Spotify, and it’s great to be able to jump into your personal music collection from any computer.

Beyond that there are plenty of reasons to want to move your music collection out of iTunes. The principal one being, well… iTunes. Although Apple’s perennial music program has improved a lot lately it’s still slow, clumsy, and complex and it’s especially poor on Windows computers. But it’s tight integration with iOS devices and iTunes Match integration make it a good option to stick with: moving away from iTunes is often more hassle than it’s worth. Google Play Music enables users to carry on using iTunes to organise their music collection, but access it through a lightweight web interface.

And wanting to get all of your music out of a physical hard drive and into the cloud offers benefits in itself: like no more syncing. Like Spotify it’s great to have a complete music collection, with properly tagged tracks and decent album artwork. All without the hassle of having to sort it all out yourself.

See: Spotify review

And Google’s web interface can be good at times. It has great search facility, and provides really good suggestions based upon your listening history. And the way your tracks mingle with the Google Play All Access tracks is particularly nice.

Perhaps the only real downfall is browsing: Google  Play seems to take you through the entry point, then the store, then your music, then All Access. There’s a surprising number of clicks and searching from the Music homepage tends to direct you to the store to purchase tracks; even if you’ve got All Access. It’s definitely not as intuitive as Spotify.

See: Apple close to Spotify-esque deal

Google Play Music

Google Play Music and iOS apps

Perhaps the killer for Mac owners is the lack of an iOS app (Google says that it’s coming). There is a web-based interface but the lack of local storage, and clumsy navigation make it a poor relation to either the iTunes Match or Spotify.

But for all this it’s a great free service, and once Google gets its iOS app sorted it’ll be a truly good rival to both iTunes Match and Spotify at a price that is cheaper than both.

OUR VERDICT

The free service can be set up now, and it’s great to see all your music wing its way from iTunes to the Google cloud. And once it’s in the cloud you can access it using a Mac laptop just like iTunes Match (but without the £21.99 per year charge). All Access is a little less convincing, but mostly because of the lack of an iOS app. Once this is in place it’ll be well worth considering instead of Spotify and iTunes Match.