Sunday, 14 April 2013

Google Music: the vegetarian alternative to consuming Apple’s

Google Music logo from Android Spin

If you are trying to decide which music player to purchase, give some thought to Google Music.  Ok, so it is yet another music player, do we not have enough choice with iTunes and all the other nefarious players out there, I hear you say?

If, like me, you run predominantly Windows and Android devices, apart from an Apple iOS iPod, then you will often come up against the problem that if you need to use iTunes. When iTunes was first released it was revolutionary, and a landmark program, that enabled users to upload their whole music catalogue and store it on their chosen computer for downloading to an iPod or mp3 player.  It was brilliant because you could also upload covers for the music and create playlists etc.  iTunes is possibly one of the reasons for the iPods success at conquering the personal audio marketplace.  Thus people started to move from defunct Vinyl and CDs and start to store music virtually. With the developments in computing such as the cloud and mobile computing digital music is now the norm.

Every computer comes with some form of digital media player on it as part of the software but often an alternative is best.  For me as a Windows user, the alternative I have always used is MediaMonkey which does everything iTunes does, and more, including converting music formats and downloading artwork and autotagging (metadata such as song, artist, album, genre etc.) details.  As music collections increase in size, most music devices are a little cranky due to the size of the database they are using to keep the details of your music together.  Both iTunes and MediaMonkey tend to collapse if you have more than a few Gigabytes of music stored on your hard drive.

I was therefore really interested in the new Google Music platform. Like Apple’s iCloud, Google Music uploads your music (up to 20,000 songs) to the cloud.  This is a great way of backing up your music.  If for no other reason having your music collection backed up is worth the charge of the programme, but it is available for free. 

So let’s concentrate on Google Music and see what it really is. 

Google Music is a free programme, which you can download and run on Windows computers, it is working on a version for iOS devices, but currently is limited to Android and Windows devices. Download Google music from Google Play for the Android devices and for the PC download it from here.  The PC link also offers music uploads facilities for Mac and Linux users, so everyone can upload.

It is easy to play a song from a stored mp3 file

Google Music allows you access to your music through the app and on the Internet, so your music is always available. Having installed the app on a mobile device and/or a computer you can let the device upload the music you own to its virtual stores.  This is free but does consume bandwidth and takes time. I have been uploading my collection for some time now and it has hardly made a dent in it, but once the upload to the Google Music store is complete I will not need to reupload the songs again, ever.  More importantly they are stored for life, attached to me and my Google id. 

I found that in order to reserve some bandwidth on my computer and not allow Google Music to completely monopolise the Internet and computer resources in uploading the music I had to fiddle with the options and change the upload speed to “Medium” otherwise Google will use almost all of it.  Changing the bandwidth is simply achieved by right clicking on the headphone icon in the taskbar – option – Advanced tab – Bandwidth available for uploading drop down menu. Uploading at maximum capacity can be great when you are in bed and asleep, but not when you have deadlines to meet on a computer or want to use if for something else like writing this.  

Having uploaded your music it is now available to you on any device you are logged into.

You can even find your next track whilst listening to something else easily

So my initial impressions of how it performs are that it is great, in fact even better than great. 

It works via the cloud so there are limited resources being used on your computer/mobile device required to play your music.  Most importantly, wherever I am my music collection, and I mean all my must collection is available to be played. I can make playlists of songs I like at the moment and even download songs I want to listen to all the time by a long press on the track. 

By Clicking on the head[hone in the top left, you can choose the type of list you want to be shown.

 Some of the initial things I have spotted which I am certain will be cleared up in due course are firstly, that if I have not tagged a song correctly, or the tag has become corrupted then it is stored permanently as this incorrectly assigned track.  This could be very annoying in time.  

Secondly, you cannot reupload the music you have deleted from the store. 

Thirdly, in terms of privacy, you are providing Google with all the music you have downloaded and there are a number of privacy issues that you might want to think about before you do this, such as what are they going to do with this information? Are you Google advertisements going to be tailored to your music tastes? I think this is especially the case with people who already use predominantly Google products.  On the other hand Apple have all this information about you already, so perhaps this is evening things out.  Also it is your choice to use the service. 

Fourthly, bandwidth is a real issue with any streaming service and it is especially important that your network provider allows unlimited use and will not cap your service by you listening to your music.

Negatives aside, I amazed I can stream my own music through all my devices without needing to take up storage space on the phone unless I want to listen to them offline.  Google also convert each track to 320kbps making the sound quality better than a CD, but again means large bandwith issues if you have a poor internet connection. Google also can make suggestions of music I might like which could be interesting and helpful or ridiculous if anything like Amazon's suggestions. 

Locating tracks is not difficult as Google’s search does that for you.  So if I plan another trip to India, instead of taking a Walkman with a few tracks on it, I can take every piece of music I own in the Google virtual cloud.  Most importantly, I can access my music easily and quickly.  

If like me you have spent many days of you life transferring CDs to mp3 format then this is the option you have always wanted. This is the missing step that Apple failed to deliver on.  Google Music a lightweight web-based programme interface running as a browser in the background of my pc and a light app running on the Android devices I have.  I look forward to the official iOS version of the app.  

To me the positives outweigh the negatives.

So would I recommend it?  Certainly.

With Twitter announcing its music app and other social media hubs jumping on the music cloud it will be interesting who actually comes out on top and whether Apple still retain their crown. To me, Apple’s iTunes is the shiny fruit that comes beautifully packaged but does get a bit boring over time.  Google on the other hand is more like a potato, a trusted vegetable that is adaptable and versatile and tastes great.  But I do not recommend frying your iPod just yet.