ANDROID APP REVIEW

Google’s All Access Music Service Starts on the Right Note

Google Play Music is free at Google Play.GooglePlay Music

Google has refreshed its music app. It’s a big deal, because Google has introduced custom radio and an a la carte music streaming service, All Access, for an introductory price that’s $2.00 cheaper than a la carte streaming leader Spotify.

Fee-based Spotify, Rdio and now Google Play Music All Access are different from free streaming mobile apps like Pandora and Slacker because they allow a la carte listening, rather than offering a curated stream.

You can try the service free for 30 days, and if you start a trial by June 30, it will then cost $7.99 a month to continue. Current leader Spotify’s equivalent premium mobile and download-friendly pack is $9.99.

And yes, Google’s product looks good, with a fresh orange interface. It looks good and sounds good. However, there are issues.

I was heading out this week on a long drive, so I was keen to try it.

What’s New

You can now listen to songs or skip songs with no limits; you can access custom radio stations; and you can download music.

Google Play Music already let you add songs from your own collection; automatically sync your stored music across devices; purchase music; and share songs with friends — all ad-free.

For the purposes of this review, I’m looking at the newly introduced streaming-related features only.

The Good: Quality

First, sound quality is excellent. Google reckons that it plays your cloud music at up to 320kbps, which is outstandingly good and comparable to premium Spotify and Rdio.

Google Play will adjust the bit rate of its stream based on your connection speed, but I couldn’t tell the difference between the paid Spotify and the streamed Google product over WiFi.

Free services like Pandora, stream at a noticeably degraded 128kbps, although paid upgrades are available.

More Good: Offline Listening

Google Play allows you to listen to streamed music offline — streamed music being the music that you haven’t purchased outright or uploaded from a PC.

Here’s a reason to buy the heaviest specified phone you can get your hands on next time around, because Google’s All Access songs won’t save to an SD card — it stores the offline music on the device.

Dodgy Naming Conventions

If you want to read the help files online, don’t do as I did and read the files related to Google Play Music Manager, or music on Google Play.

You need to read about Google Play Music All Access. They are three different things.

To further complicate matters, the Google Play store app page is called Google Play Music, not Google Play Music All Access. Scary — are we seeing the new Microsoft being born before our very eyes?

No Sonos

There’s no Sonos support. This is a serious omission, because Sonos is the ipso facto standard for high-quality Internet-based streaming audio in the living room.

I had to Bluetooth a connection from my phone to my Sonos hi-fi, which results in a degradation. I’d have liked a native Sonos stream like Pandora, Spotify, Rdio and others provide.

Compatibility Problems

I had to try three different devices before I got the app to work. I won’t bore you with the details, but I got a hip-hop scratching, echo-like reprise on all tracks on a smartphone and memory isssues on a tablet.

I finally got the streaming element of the app to work on a cheapo Samsung Galaxy Y smartphone.

Downloading Problems

Even though the app showed that I had half a dozen entire albums saved in the My Library On Device section, once I drilled down, I could see that only one or two tracks of each streamed album actually had made the download. The rest were still in the download queue.

Downloads appeared to drop when the device’s screen timed-out. I’ve found this to be a common issue with WiFi and Android. There likely needs to be some kind of WiFi keep-alive in the next release — as there is with some Voice Over IP apps like GrooveIP.

Watch this, or you’ll have a disappointing car ride, as I did. Look for an orange pin that indicates a full album download. Bizarrely, even with an orange pin I experienced unplayable track issues on the Galaxy Y due to an apparent lack of memory — this was the same device that had worked at home base.

Conclusion:: Google Play Music All Access is promising, but stick with Spotify until the next release, which hopefully will fix some of its teething problems.

Want to Suggest an Android App for Review?

Is there an Android app you’d like to suggest for review? Something you think other Android users would love to know about? Something you find intriguing but aren’t sure it’s worth your time or money?

Please send your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Android app review.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

2 Comments

  • I was a little taken aback by the title, but I was happy to see a well balanced take up the ups and downs of Google’s new service.

    As a long time fan of on-demand streaming music subscription (since 2004), and having used a number of services over the years, and being a musician, I was eager to see how Google’s entry into the field would hit the ground.

    Sadly, I can’t say it hit the ground running. To be literal, it was broken when I first signed up and only became functional later in the day. If you’re charitable with your definition of functional, anyhow.

    The three primary things an experienced consumer looks for in a streaming service are: selection, audio quality, and the user interface.

    (An added consideration these days is social media integration, which can be both fun and a source of robo-recommendations based on what friends are listening to on their own streaming service.)

    First off, and, perhaps, foremost, the selection on roll out was shockingly anemic.

    Ever heard of the Rolling Stones? The aforementioned MOG has about 70 albums (some dupes, different masterings, etc) from the Stones. Google All Access listed 10.

    Other artists were similarly sketchy — when I could find them at all.

    The user interface was primitive and a bit clunky (as we may have come to expect from Google’s online efforts) but worked well enough.

    With regard to fidelity of the streams, well, honestly, the selection was so bad I didn’t even bother comparing them with, say, MOG, the service I currently use. The Google streams sounded OK but I did not get the impression they were streaming all ‘hi fi’ streams like MOG. But the Google audio quality didn’t strike me as awful. Just irrelevant in the face of the selection issue.

    With regard to stream quality, Spotify hit the US promising to try to get all 320’s but apparently they have given up on that effort and now stream ‘whatever the labels send us.’ Some premium subscribers have complained. Rdio, as I recall uses all 256 kbps streams, which is what most purchased downloads are from places like iTunes and Amazon. Not sure what Rhapsody uses now, but they used to be on the lo fi-ish side.

    I’m not aware of any US based streaming subscription companies sending out all 320s besides MOG. Something to watch out for, though, is that MOG’s new owners, Beats, are supposedly planning a new, ‘curated’ streaming service. How that will affect MOG, if at all, remains to be seen.

  • Patrick,

    Thanks for a timely, complete review of +’s and -‘s

    of Google All Access. Many of us are waiting for Google to make the move to allow its use within Sonos. Without it many will not convert from other subscription services. I use MOG and have been quite pleased with it. As I understand it the move has to be made by Google rather than Sonos. Sonos has all the hooks needed for Google to cooperate.

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