Type: Cloud-Based Music Platform
I listen to a lot of music. Or at least I used to before I had so much of it that carrying around hundreds of CDs or an externa hard drive (or even a separate device dedicated to music such as an iPod) became cumbersome for me. I’m pretty sure this is the case for a lot of people.
Enter Google Music. As a person who frequently mistrusts any new product Google launches , I was wary of what Google Music might be and how they’d find a way to screw me over. It claimed to offer 20,000 songs of my choosing in cloud based storage, accessible anywhere there is an internet connection or a mobile internet connection. Sounds great, but how is it in practice?
This might be a little preemptive, but surprisingly I think they’ve nailed it. Google Music takes the best aspects of iTunes, Pandora, and listening to locally saved music on a handheld device and weaves them all together to seamlessly send music to your phone (or in my case, to my car’s stereo) as long as you have internet available. If the internet drops out, it will just play the local music. For my test run, I began uploading 14,000 songs to Google Music while at work and within minutes I had a few songs uploaded. As I type this, the Google Music app on my phone is being populated automatically with all of the songs I added and it will be automatically updated every time I download a new song. These songs can be accessed either via a web browser on any computer in the world or via the new Google Music app for Android phones.
In the past when I’ve listened to music in my car, I merely connect my phone to the car’s stereo via a USB cable and it will draw music from the phone’s SD card. Now, it began drawing from a hybrid of local and cloud-based songs and honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference in quality. The only reason I knew which songs were streaming to me was because only about 400 songs had been uploaded by the time my test began and all of the cloud-based musicians were artists whose name started with an A.
After searching through the help documents that Google provided, I learned that Google Music will gauge a person’s internet connection and automatically alter the bitrate of playback appropriately so as to decrease the amount of lag time between songs, similar to how YouTube will play back a lower definition of a video if your connection is slow. This is the digital equivalent of analog radio. With analog radio, a signal will get weaker the further the receiver is from the source, sometimes fading out and crackling if the receiver is too far or there’s interference. With this digital signal, it will always try to playback at 320kbps (the highest an mp3 can be) but the bitrate will drop if you’re on 3G, G, etc.
Speaking of your phone’s signal, you’re still going to be hindered by your phone’s data plan. For people with 200 MB data plans, just go ahead and end your life. 2 GB dataplan users might get a little use out of this service, but those with unlimited data are the ones that will get the most mileage out of Google Music. I use T-Mobile and though I do have “unlimited” service, I will more than likely see my audio quality begin to drop towards the end of any given month because T-Mobile is notorious for slowing down speeds after a certain point of usage.
In my opinion, Google Music has effectively murdered satellite and the so-called HD radio that people kept swearing were the future. Now I can listen to any song from my own personal library at any time without hauling around a bunch of crap with me other than the phone I was going to put in my pocket anyway. And it’s commercial-free. If I do want to listen to music I’ve never heard before, Pandora is just an app away.
It should be noted that the advertised “20,000 songs” is a lie. Similar to the old model of a 160 GB iPod holding “40,000 songs,” Google Music will limit the number of songs based on the space available, which obviously fluctuates based on song length and file quality. So all of you bros with your 320kbps rips of 20,000 vinyl records, don’t get you panties in a wad when you can’t upload all of them. My rough estimate is that you get about 80 GB of space, which is still pretty ludicrous.
On playback in my car, there was noticeable buffer between songs at first, but I think that under the hood, it’s constantly buffering new tracks. So if you just let the thing play for a while, eventually you’ll stop hearing gaps between songs, but if you skip around a lot, it will have lost the buffer it had built up and it will take a little time to load up new songs (just as on YouTube how sometimes it takes a little time between when the page is loaded and the video starts).
When compared to similar services that have been launched recently by Spotify (and Apple’s joke of a service the iCloud), I think that Google Music is the best. Is it perfect? No, but it will likely evolve to user taste in the near future just like all of their products. Unlike Spotify, Google Music doesn’t have commercials for its free version and at “20,000 songs,” you can have a pretty deep selection of music at your mobile fingertips without having to pay for anything.
Unlike iCloud, Google Music offers so much more space for free. iCloud users get 5 GB of cloud space for free. This sounds pathetic at first, but apparently all of the m4a files that Mac users have wasted their money on through out the years will not count towards their 5 GB cloud storage limit (most likely because these songs were never really available locally on a person’s machine to begin with, nor were they mp3s but rather DRM protected hyperlinks to an already cloud based copy of the music, but that’s beside the point). For Mac users that have large CD collections, get ready to pay Apple $100/year to have access to your full music library in the cloud, because if there’s one thing Apple loves more than anything, it’s charging their users for things that other companies provide for free.
Also apparently there’s a lot of Google+ integration to share music with friends quickly and easily, but fuck that shit because Google+ is a horrible joke. If you’re on that site, you can report into Tears of Time with your findings about the Google+ integration if you want.
At the end of the day, I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Google Music. I’ll no doubt be experimenting with it some more. Just like with all of Google’s recent advents, it seems like experimentation is the way to go. It’s always worth checking out to see what kind of hair-brained schemes they’re cooking up to try to steal people’s souls, but I recommend just putting a toe in the water. Those that jump in and abandon their previous ways of doing things (like those that migrated from Facebook to Google+ only a week after it had been around) might find themselves losing out in the long run. I’m taking a wait and see approach, but a the same time, it can’t hurt to have my 14,000 songs backed up online, can it?
8.5/12 (The coming weeks and months will determine if Google Music is an actual useful tool or just another nefarious plot to take over yet another aspect of our lives that backfires on the users due to piss poor implementation on the part of Google.)