Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Google "Play All" music service initial review

Today (5/15/2013) Google announced the "Play All" subscription music service.   Play All adds unlimited streaming to the Google Play Music store and app.     I have previously tried to use Google Play to store and playback music and had some problems, but I was willing to give it another go to try out this new Spotify killer service.

My history with cloud music
I am currently a Spotify premium subscriber, a Pandora premium subscriber and I have tried to use Google music and Amazon Music with limited success.    I have a very large MP3 collection that I started back in 1998 when I started ripping my own CD collection to my computer.   I have been using network based streaming music players and portable MP3 players for about 15 years.    Putting music in the cloud makes my life easier because it is available wherever I go.

The Good
The terms and signup are good: 30 days free to try it out and only $7.99 if you sign up this month.    I already had a Play account so registration was super simple.   I simply agreed to a new TOS and approved a zero dollar Google Wallet transaction.   (The same process as buying an app on the Google app store)

I started to browse around and found basically the same music selection as Spotify.    I did find some surprises when I searched on Led Zepplin and The Beatles.   In both cases I got music while Spotify is missing those artists.    As it turns out Google doesn't have them either, but music that was previously uploaded to Google Music is automatically searchable and playable.     This turns out the be the best feature of Google Music in my opinion.    All of the subscription music services are missing important artists like The Eagles, Led Zepplin, The Beatles and many others.    With Google music you can upload your own collection, up to 20,000 songs and fill in the holes that are left by the licensing problems that the music world is experiencing.    With this feature I can finally have a fully complete library with cloud convenience.

The mobile app is not as polished as Spotify is yet, but the basic features are there.   Search is good, playback is fast and I can sync and store my playlists for offline playback.    So no major problems for me, and my experience with Google apps on an Android phone has been generally very good.   I don't know how good the app is on iOS.

There is a radio feature that seems to work well.   I haven't had a chance to listen to it over a long period of time so I don't know if the algorithm is good, but time will tell.

As an experiment I started converting some of my large Spotify playlists to Google Music.  There is no automation for this, so it involves looking at the Spotify list in one window and then searching for the same song on Google Music and then adding it to a playlist.    The process is long and boring, but it did confirm that Google Music has most of the same catalog as Spotify.    There were some missing songs like "Big Yellow Taxi" by the Counting Crows but nothing really surprising or significant.   Converting playlists did bring up an important switching cost.   I have lots of playlists on Spotify and moving them will be very hard.

The Bad
I already mentioned that converting my own playlists is hard, but the other feature that I love about Spotify is that many of the people I know are also on Spotify and they share playlists with me.     Without a playlist converter I'm losing one of the best features of a socially connected music service.    This is a huge problem for Google.   If they can solve playlist sharing I can coexist peacefully with Spotify, without it I need to choose between them and the logical choice is to go where my friends are.

The other feature I'm not satisfied with is the social aspects of Google music.   Right now I can only have a private playlist or a public playlist.    I want a playlist shared with just my friends, not the whole world.   I also want collaborative playlists.

Update: I found another nit.   Google play doesn't currently work with 3rd party music players like Sonos or Squeezebox.    Since I use these in my home it's a big problem for me.    I hope that Google releases a supported API so that the service is accessible.   

Great pricing, the ability to upload my own music and integrate with the rest of the streaming catalog.    Overall the feature set is good to very good.     The downside to all this is your friends are probably on Spotify now and you will lose your social features if they don't move over.     The industry is still pretty young so Google has a reasonable chance to gain big market share here.    Spotify still loses money every year, so they might not even be around in a few years.  I think I will keep my subscription for a few months and see how it goes, but right now I'm not canceling Spotify.   (And if anyone from Google reads this, please create an app or plugin that converts Spotify playlists!)