>Review: Google Music Beta

>Google’s cloud-based music service was announced at this year’s I/O conference to much fanfare and no surprise. While rumors of a music store had been rampant for quite some time, that wasn’t quite what we got. Yet. But enough talk about what is not present, here’s a quick sneak peak into Google Music Beta!

Before I get into this review, I’d like to make 2 disclaimers. The first and most important is that this entire service is Beta. There are imperfections that will no doubt be addressed. The second is that this is really 2 sneak peaks: One for the webapp and uploader, one for the Android app. Now, the good stuff.

First up is the meat and potatoes: The web interface and uploader. The uploading is incredibly easy. After a quick download and install, the Music Manager will scan your computer for the music. To avoid getting the random sound effects on your computer, you can have it scan through iTunes, Windows Media Player, or specific folders. Everything is done in the background, so you don’t need to pay attention to it at all. You can also have it automatically run upon start up, keeping this truly out of sight and out of mind. The average library has a lot of music, mine being about 19.5Gb of tunes. At the time of this writing, I’m at 387 track uploaded after a few hours in, so completing this task will take a long time. The good news is Google promises each user 20,000 songs. My 19.5Gb accounts for roughly 4,000 tracks. The one issue I have is that I use iTunes, which means I don’t really keep track of what the files are actually named. Since many tracks have numbers in front, and as far as I can tell the Music Manager uploads in alphabetical order, some albums can’t be listened to in full.

The web app will look very familiar if you’ve used the web version of the Android Market. Everything is very tab-centric, making it incredibly easy to use. On the left side, you have the traditional ways of sorting through your library (Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres). Under that you get to the mixes and playlists. The auto-playlists sort out the songs you’ve Thumbs Up’d, your recently added stuff, and the free music Google is giving out. There’s not a lot of it, and it’s mostly a song or two per artist, but it’s nice to get free stuff.

There are two kinds of playlists. You have your traditional playlists that you custom make by drag-and-dropping songs. The Music Manager also pulls your playlists from iTunes, which is very cool. You can also create Instant Mixes (a la Genius Mixes from iTunes) from individual songs or albums, adding in similar jams. Along the bottom is the Now Playing bar with the familiar Play/Pause, track navigation, Shuffle, Repeat, and Volume controls. I think the Now Playing bar could be a bit thinner. The width of it and the banners at the top make the song and album lists seem a little cramped. While the overall look isn’t as visually impressive as the Zune player, it looks a lot better than iTunes but still has the information that iTunes has. Overall it’s a very easy to use service while still looking very nice.

Now the dessert. The Android app is very basic, almost to a fault. First thing’s first, it works pretty well. It decided to scare me by force closing the first time I tried to play a song, but every time after it worked well. Songs take very little time to load up on WiFi, though it does take a little bit longer on 3G. Swiping left and right switches through album, artist, etc. views. When on the now playing screen, you see the album cover, Play/Pause, song and artist name. One cool thing is being able to make custom playlists in the Now Playing screen, though it would make more sense to be able to make Instant Mixes from this screen. Maybe we’ll get that later. You can also download songs or albums from the Library view and Now Playing screen.

The main problem with the app is a visual one. It’s just boring. Like really boring. You’re given a blurry, boring background picture. There’s no animation between screens, nothing. It’s just blah. It would have made a lot more sense to keep the color scheme and overall feel of the web app, while tweaking it a bit for smaller screens. The other small problem is that the name of the app is Music. So is the stock music app for Android. While the icons are different, this can be a bit confusing. They should made it Google Music for differentiation.

The biggest problem facing Google Music is the complete lack of a store. Google Music, as it is now, is just cloud storage and streaming. What’s weird is that in both the web and Android app, you can “shop for artist”, but it just does a Google Shopping search for that artist where you can buy the songs from somewhere else. This may work for now, but it isn’t a longterm solution when Amazon is offering very similar services. Google is trying to get the labels to get on board in some fashion, but how long it will take and in what form we’ll get the music remains to be seen. I’m hoping for a subscription service, and knowing how Google does things (and a fair amount of rumors supporting this theory), it’s very likely that that is what we’ll get.

Overall, Google Music is the best solution to having too much music to fit on your phone. While I’m also a big fan of subscription services like Rdio, they just don’t have everything I listen to. Amazon’s cloud storage is good, but it lacks a well done web player and uploading your stuff is obnoxious. Google nailed the upload and web version for sure. Once they lock in the record deals and make the Android app visually appealing, Google Music may just be the best music solution yet.

Want some Google Music action of your own? Click here to apply for an invite!

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