September 1, 2014

Google Play Music review (Android)

google_play_music
Google Play Music review (Android) Reviewed by on . Rating: 5

To say that the streaming music space is a crowded one would be an understatement. Thanks to services like Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, and Rdio, we’ve got plenty to choose from. How does Google’s service stack up next to the others? Specifically, how good is the Android app for Google Play Music?

I was fortunate enough to be in at attendance at Google IO when the service was unveiled. As such, I was able to jump in on the grandfathered rate of $7.99 per month for the All Play Music. But, more on that later.

Screenshot_2014-03-06-10-04-17Because it is a Google application we hold it to a higher standard for design, interface, and aesthetics. We should expect that Google is able to provide best-in-class UI and layout for its own platform. Does it? Yes, it most certainly does.

Google Play Music allows users to upload up to 20,000 of their own songs to the cloud and access them from anywhere. Be it a smartphone, a PC, or logging into the website, your music is accessible for streaming. That alone, makes for a pretty great service; however, there’s much more at play here. Perhaps, one of the more notable features is that it lets us hear music without interruption – no ads whatsoever! Should you find a song or album you like, you can purchase it directly from the Play Store.

All Access

Google Play All Access is a service which provides unlimited access to songs, albums, playlists, or radio stations for $9.99 per month. I have found that almost every thing I’ve ever looked for is available, save for maybe Led Zeppelin and a few electronic music albums. There are, of course, one-off albums for artists that might have come from a particular record label, but largely it’s everything you want.

Additional features bundled in All Access include recommended radio stations and new album releases, unlimited skipping, and fully customized playlists. If interested in checking out the paid service, you can get a 30-day free trial without obligation to continue.

One of my favorite features is the “I’m feeling lucky radio” which starts playing music based on your listening preferences. Indeed, it stars immediately with tracks you’ve added to your library or songs you might have never heard. Over time, the more you use Google Play Music, the better it gets. Thumbs up and skipping, album downloads, repeating tracks… it all goes into a secret sauce that “gets” you.

Android App

Screenshot_2014-03-06-10-04-12Regardless of which service you opt for, the app will operate the same for users. Menus slide out from the left to provide quick access to your library, playlists, radio stations, and more. Looking for something new or timely? Check out the “Explore” option and you’re treated to playlists based on certain artists, events, and genres. Swiping left and right brings up recommendations and new releases, both of which get more accurate with time.

I like the manner in which Google mixes the whites, greys, and oranges to achieve the overall design. It feels clean and modern yet never comes across as cluttered or busy. This goes, as well, when you’re looking at the full-screen artwork.

Google does a great job of getting out of your way and not overwhelming the user with buttons. Like a song? Thumbs up. Want to skip or fast forward? No sweat. Feel like checking out the queue to see what’s up ahead? Nice and easy. Speaking of which, I really enjoy being able to rearrange playlists on the fly, sliding songs off the list and juggling the order.

The best part, to me, of Google Play (All Access) is the three dot menu option that is found all over the place. Tapping that brings up a menu to add songs to your personal library, add to a playlist, go to the artist’s info, jump to the whole album, and more. Have one you’re really digging and want to share? You can do that, too, providing a link to the song and its Google Play Music listing through social media and other apps.

Chromecast

Casting your music to a television or monitor does just that, it plays your songs directly through the device. We wouldn’t expect it to be a visual experience so much as an aural one, but Google throws us a little bone. Our screens show the album cover or song artwork in random little squares that pop up from place to place. Once in a while we also get treated to the full-screen display; each track change shows the artwork across the entire screen with a progress bar.

Conclusion

We really like Google Play Music and certainly recommend the All Access service, if only to test it out. The Android app is quite slick and does a great job of balancing tons of options with a clean user interface. This was one of the first apps to launch with Chromecast capability and is one we use quite a bit. If you have your Chromecast hooked up to a TV with great speakers then you’ve got the recipe for mood music, party soundtracks, and more.