Music Beta, Google’s long-awaited cloud streaming service has finally arrived, invite only, for US users. We were lucky enough to get an invite across the pond.
The service allows existing Google customers to upload their music library to Google’s servers to enable playback anywhere where there is a Wi-Fi or 3G connection – either through a web browser or any Android device (2.1 and above).
But with no opportunity to stream or download new tracks can it possibly compete with the Apple iCloud streaming service, due to be announced next week at the WWDC? Let’s put it through its paces.
Google Music Beta: Uploading
Once you receive an invite, you can download a Music Manager to a PC. You can select the iTunes folder and plug-in an external hard-drive and set about uploading your entire collection.
The one caveat to that is the length of time it takes to upload your songs. Depending on your Internet speed (our upload speed was a miserly 0.39Mbps in this case) and the amount of music you have, it could be a good while before you get your tunes on the cloud. It’s best to leave it running at night, as it can cripple your connection.
Google gives you 20,000 tracks-worth of space (MP3, AAC, WAV and all the popular formats), regardless of the quality. For now, the service is free, although Google plans to introduce a price scheme when it comes out of Beta.
Google Music Beta: Music Player interface
As a little starting gift, Google has already put a bunch of free songs, from various genres on your music player, and you’ll probably want to get rid of those quick sharp. Google has arranged things in a way that offers a infusion of both iTunes and Spotify. Album covers represent the artists, while the songs can also be viewed in long-list form. It’s really easy to create playlists, but it also brings in your pre-created playlists from iTunes, which is a handy little feature. Playback is swift using Wi-Fi, just like Spotify.
Google Music Beta: Music app
If you want to be truly mobile with your music, not just free up space on your hard-drive, you’ll need the free Music app companion that invited guests can obtain from the Android Market. Your music and playlists are automatically synced to the app whenever the Music Player is updated with new stuff, which means you don’t have to do anything to keep your music in check. You can also make an Apple Genius-like Instant Mix based around any song in your library.
The design of the Music app is a lot nicer than the bog-standard Android app, which a nice dash of colour, and it’s much easier to navigate. It’s pretty faultless.
Once again, playback is pristine over Wi-Fi, but naturally 3G depends on your locale and signal strength. To that end, you can make a certain number of tracks available offline, so if you know you’re going on a train journey, you can set aside an album or two to be stored locally on the device. Also, recently played tracks will be cached and available for streaming again regardless of connectivity. Apple fans may feel aggrieved about the lack of an app for playing their music collection through the Safari browser in iOS.
Google Music Beta: No new music
The one major disappointment of Google’s venture into cloud music streaming; there’s no opportunity to listen to new music that you don’t already own. You can’t stream it like Spotify, and you can’t download it like iTunes. Google was reportedly unable to agree deals with the major labels, whereas Apple is said to have signed-up with all of the major labels ahead of the iCloud launch. That’s going to give Apple a massive, massive leg-up on Google’s service.
Google Music Beta: Verdict
Music Beta is a welcome new arm of Google’s mission make full-hard-drives a thing of the past. Uploading is simple, yet time consuming, and the interface of both the music player and the companion app is simple and well designed. Music Beta does its best to make streaming your own music a painless experience. Connected playback is great.
With this being a free service, at present, it’s difficult to complain about what’s missing because what Google has served-up provided is absolutely faultless. However, until Google can agree deals with the major record labels to compete with Spotify and Apple, it’ll feel incomplete.
Google Music Beta launch date: Out now by invite in the US. Link Google
Google Music Beta price: free