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Two months with Google Play Music All Access

After using Spotify for a couple of months, I decided to try Google Play Music All Access. My experience was quite good from the start:

Music selection

My music tastes include some very popular artists as well as some less popular ones. I found that Spotify and Google Play almost always had what I was looking for. Some artists only have portions of their catalog available for streaming and I found the selection of music in both products to be identical.

One feature of Google Play that I really enjoy is the ability to upload music. It’s somewhat similar to iTunes Match. You can upload up to 20,000 tracks and then you can stream them to any of your devices after that. This really helps if you have some obscure music stored locally or if there’s an album from one of your favorite artists that isn’t available for streaming. Any music that you actually purchase from Google isn’t included in that total. All of that is streamable anywhere, anytime. If there is music that you want to buy and keep forever, you can buy it and keep it without continuing your All Access subscription.

Interface

There are several options in the interface depending on how you want to listen to your music. If you know of an artist or album you want to listen to, you can go straight there and begin listening. However, Google offers many options to discover new music.

One option is to find your favorite artist, album, or track and click Play Radio. Google tries to find very similar music to what you selected and it has an uncanny ability to get it right most of the time. It’s almost creepy how well it finds the right music to go along with what you selected. I’ve found a slew of new music this way simply by finding an artist I like and then playing the radio station from there.

There are also curated lists from other users and from Google. In addition, you can choose your mood or situation and let Google suggest some things. For example, Google lines up different selections depending on the time of day. Here’s what I get during the day on a workday:

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Selecting one of those options leads to a submenu where you can hone in on a genre of music. From there, you’re offered three radio stations that meet your criteria with explanations of the music as well as a sample of the album art.

The interface is snappy in Chrome and rarely throws any errors. Various rich clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux exist if you’re not a fan of playing music in your browser. As an added bonus, you get to watch music videos of tracks from Google Play Music on Youtube without ads.

Mobile

As you might expect, the Android integration is superb. Playing music on Wi-Fi or 4G is quick and you can broadcast music to Bluetooth receivers or Chromecast devices from the interface without much fuss. The basic music controls, like play/pause and prev/next track, are all available even from the lock screen.

I listen to music quite a bit in the car and you get three options for audio quality when you’re off Wi-Fi. The lowest quality is pretty horrible but the middle and high settings are quite good. The middle setting seems to shave off 20-30% of the bandwidth requirements of the high setting but it still sounds reasonable.

You have a few options for offline caching. Any album, artist or track can be saved to your mobile device on demand. You can also create playlists and set those playlists to always be kept offline. Your mobile device will automatically download the music you add to those playlists within a few minutes. That’s handy if you add music to playlists at work and then want to listen offline in the car while you drive home.

Improvements

You can only stream on one device at any one time. Offline playlists are excluded from that restriction but it would be nice to be able to stream to more than one device for an additional fee.

The “Feeling Lucky” radio station tries to guess what I like but it often seems to choose one genre of music. I’m probably an oddball since I bounce between quite a few different genres of music but this has caused me to avoid using that feature.

Conclusion

I’m definitely a promoter of Google Play Music All Access. At only $10/month (plus some tax), it’s much cheaper than what I was spending to purchase albums regularly and it allows me to access a huge supply of music from wherever I’m located without loading files onto my mobile devices’ small storage volumes.