It has a been a good year for cloud storage, and music is no exception.
First, we saw the launch of Amazon Cloud Player, which gives you 5GB of cloud storage and lets you stream your music via a web browser or just about any smartphone. You can also purchase songs and have them stored for free in the cloud.
Earlier this year, we wondered whether Google was planning their own music store for Android. Details soon emerged that Google was at least looking at creating a music storage locker similar to Amazon Cloud Player. As expected, record labels seemed to be the anchor on the boat. Even as Google Music launched in beta and completely without the backing of the major labels, it was unclear how far things would go.
Now, Google Music is out of beta and open to the public. You can upload up to 20,000 songs to the cloud and stream them to your Android device or anything that has a web browser, including your home computer or laptop. Like most Google services, this all comes absolutely free. All you have to do is sign up and start uploading your tracks using Google’s Music Manager.
Besides opening the doors to the masses, there is one more thing: you can now actually buy music from Google. Music is available for purchase via the Android Music Store, now part of the Android Market on your mobile device or web browser.
The Web Interface
Google Music Artists View
The Google Music web interface is as simple as it gets, and probably familiar to anyone who has ever used any manner of media player application.
The left side contains your library, broken down into categories:
Home - Find your recently played songs and albums here, along with recommendations of albums and songs to purchase.
Songs - Basic list view of your entire library. You can sort the list through various metadata such as: Name, Time, Artist, Album, Plays, and Rating.
Artists - This gives you an overview of songs and albums by artist, displayed in a grid with album art. Multiple albums by the same artist will be grouped in one spot, which helps you figure out just how hardcore of a fan you are.
Albums - This is your basic grid view of all albums in your library with album artwork where applicable.
Genres - This is similar to the Artists view, grouping albums with similar genres and displaying album covers.
Auto Playlists – These are playlists generated automatically when you do certain actions like thumbs up a song, add a song to your library, or purchase a song. The Free and Purchased auto playlist is worth noting because it contains not only songs you’ve purchased, but songs that Google has added to your library for free.
Instant Mixes – These are automatically generated playlists based on a specific song. The feature works pretty well and is especially cool if you find yourself with a single song on repeat and want to broaden your horizons.
Playlists - These are your standard, manually created playlists.
Across the top of the web interface, you’ll find your Search box, which shows results in real time as you type and displays what type of content is being displayed (artist, album, song, and so on). We also find links here to Upload music and Shop for new music. Along the bottom of your screen is the actual player.
The controls stay in the same place and continue playing the current song as your navigate the rest of the interface. Here is where you find your play controls, album art, time scrubber, thumbs up/down, shuffle, repeat, and volume.
The Mobile Interface
Now Playing: OutKast
In order to access Google Music on your Android, you need the latest Music app. Most of us have already been using this app for a while now. Even for those not already familiar with the interface, it’s very similar to other mobile media players. The primary difference is in the ability to link to your Google Music account and stream your uploads. You may also find a new link to purchase music from the Android Music store.
The interface is pretty consistent between the web and the mobile application, so you will find you have access to the same categories and interface elements. By default, you will be streaming music using your cellular data or WiFi connection; you also have the option to make songs and albums available offline, which will download them directly to your device.
Busta Rhymes in the Android Music Store
Making music purchases is also pretty seamless. It’s the same procedure as purchasing apps, movies, and other content from the Market. This means that you need Google Checkout (now part of Google Wallet) setup with a valid credit card on file. You probably have already done this, if you’ve ever bought an app. From there, it’s as easy as a few clicks to download the music you want.
Sharing and recommending music from the Android Market actually takes a bit of explaining. (There is an entire page on the support site devoted to explaining it.) Primarily, you will be sharing songs to your Google+ circles. You can share songs from the Market or the player both on your mobile device or web interface.
A few notes:
You can only share songs that you got from Google Music, either free or purchased. Songs you’ve uploaded from your library cannot be shared.
If you share content as Public, those in your circles will get one free full play of the song or album. Everyone else gets a preview.
If you share with someone either privately or through a circle, they get one free full play of the song or album. Everyone else gets a preview.
We can’t talk about Google Music without talking about the competition. Both Apple and Amazon have cloud storage for music and offer their own online stores to purchase music. These two have also been selling music for much longer than Google and already have devoted customers. While the arguments as to which is “better” are legion, here are a few key things to consider when deciding what’s best for you:
Google Music lets you store 20,000 songs in your Library, regardless of where they came from. Apple’s iTunes Match lets you upload 25,000 songs from your personal library, meaning they were not purchased from Apple. If you have more than 25,000 songs not purchased from Apple, you can’t even sign up. Amazon Cloud Player gives you 5GB of cloud space. Neither Apple nor Amazon count purchased items against your storage totals.
Apple does not allow streaming to your mobile device, so you have to store the music on your device in order to listen to it. This also means that Apple’s cloud does not help at all if you’re running low on device storage. Google and Amazon give you access to your library regardless of your phone storage; you just need a data connection.
There is no iTunes app for your Android. There is also no web interface to access your library. If you are on Android, but somehow entangled with iTunes for your music, you may be better off making a switch.
There is no limit to how many devices can access your Google Music library, especially given that you can access it from any web browser. This includes iPhone’s Safari browser.
I believe that the ability to stream your library rather than download it to your device and play it gives you ultimate flexibility. You no longer have to worry about making space for your music, but have the option to download a select few albums and songs just in case.
However, I do think Google could simplify the purchase of new songs to one click as Amazon has done. And one feature I would like to see is the ability to stop/pause music on one device and continue from the same point on another – so that, when I finish this post and step away from my laptop, I can continue jamming on this brand new Busta Rhymes song on my Android without missing a beat.