Well, it looks like Google’s much-anticipated music streaming service is here. With little fanfare, as with most of their product roll-outs, Google has entered the highly competitive and exponentially growing cloud storage and streaming arena.
Google is no stranger to cloud storage(or at least semi-cloud, since so far most of these services don’t use real cloud technology but instead house the information in traditional data centers). In fact, Gmail has been a de-facto cloud storage service since it’s inception, when it promised to allow significantly more storage space than any other web-based mail service at the time. More recently, Google Docs has been a little-heralded but extremely useful cloud storage service. Though it started by only storing certain file formats, it has recently expanded to allow users to store any file they want on Google’s servers. Google Music is then a natural growth for the company, following a long and well-charted path that the company has been on since the beginning.
So what is Google Music and what does it do?
In short, it’s just like your standard music library on your personal computer, just hosted remotely. You upload all of your music collection (Google allows up to 20,000 songs for free at the moment, which should be plenty for all but the most hardened collectors), and the service allows you to access those songs from any computer or Android 2.2 or higher device. Because of negotiation issues with labels and music publishers, Google doesn’t offer the ability to buy music yet, but they do include a fairly large collection of free music that can be added to anything that you upload. The streaming aspect comes into play when you want to listen to your music collection on the go on a mobile device. Instead of carrying around a full memory card, the service will pre-download a number of songs, and will stream the rest either over your wifi or 3G connections (if you’re on a limited data plan, the Android app conveniently has options to turn off streaming or downloading unless you’re plugged into WiFi.)
And how’s the quality?
I have been rigorously testing their service since I got the beta invite a week ago, and my major complaint is the streaming service. It feels little bit spotty, especially compared to the excellent streaming quality of Pandora. Hopefully as they continue to get feedback from the beta run and seeing the networking strains, this issue will be resolved. The computer app that allows you to upload music is smooth and easy to learn and navigate. Uploading is a little on the slow site, but again, this could well be something they’re working on. The BIG thing is that Google Music has one-upped Amazon and Apple and supports lossless formats like FLAC. This is important if you’re the kind of person who has more than 20,000 songs to upload, but significantly less so if you’re a normal listener who has nary an mp3 file encoded at anything past 126k. The sound quality when streaming is working well is excellent, and the Android app is simple to use. I wish they included a better music player than the one that comes with Android. If they can fix that, and the bandwidth issues, this will be a great free service.
Is it better than Apple or Amazon?
I’ll be honest, it’s still a little hard to tell. Amazon has had a couple of recent well-publicized issues with up-times and reliability, and Apple is, well, an evil, soul-sucking corporation that will crush, undermine, and destroy any competitors at every opportunity. Amazon will give you 6GB of free storage on their Cloud Drive service for free, which is not as extensive as the 20k songs that Google offers. Apple also gives 20k songs. Both services have exceptions to the limits for apps and music purchased through them. Google is the only one of these services that doesn’t offer some sort of music purchasing ability, though the company is still in talks with record labels to allow them to do so.
The Good: It’s free, it’s 20,000 songs, and it’s the reliability of Google products.
The Bad: Streaming is a little off, uploads take a while, no way to purchase new music from within the program.
So what do you think? Will you trust Google with your song library? Throw your music to the winds and pull it on demand? Or do you prefer the security and peace of mind in knowing exactly where your digital collection is on your hard drive? Let us know.