Music Services: Google Play (and All Access)

Part two in the online music services reviews. Today, it is Google Play and its All Access “Subscription” service.

In 2011 when Google announced Play and their music service, my hopes were high. I was an early adopter (from when you needed an invite to join Gmail), and I assumed Google would rock this. You could store your music in their services, and play it anywhere. Up to a whopping 20,000 tracks.

It seemed awesome. So I downloaded the sync application for both my personal Mac, as well as my PC. In about a week, all of my library was on the Google service.

Of course, there were wrinkles. If I synced something from both iTunes, and from my PC, one was in .m4a, and one was .mp3. One would think Google would know this and not duplicate the album/track.

You would think wrong.

You would think that they would have some facility to view duplicates, and allow you to clean them up.

Again, you would think wrong. So to clean your collection you have to manually delete the albums.

Early on, the quality of their streaming was sketchy. There were glitches aplenty. Hitches, drop outs, and freezes, all plagued playback. Google relied on their HTML5 wizardry, and their back end cloud infrastructures. Regardless of their technical prowess, there were plenty of glitches, and other things that detracted from listening enjoyment.

In 2013, Google launched the “All Play” streaming on demand service to counter Spotify. I tried it (and even paid to subscribe for a few months). Like the rest of the Google music experience, it was clumsy, and plagued with glitches. In my initial attempt to ditch Spotify, I gave it a good run, but Spotify’s application and streaming quality slaughtered Google.

In 2015, Google upped the number of tunes you can store on their site to 50,000, but alas, I have moved on.

As an avowed Apple disciple, you might be tempted to passing this off on fanboyism. However, I did buy a Nexus 7 tablet, to give Android in its purest state a try. Google Music on that device was just as clunky to use.

There is an app for the Chrome browser that helps navigate, but it still doesn’t match the performance of Spotify.

(“Google Play Music icon” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png#/media/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png)

Music Streaming – conclusion

TL;DR version: Spotify wins

To round out the saga, I needed to make a decision on whether to keep Google  All-Access or Spotify for my online streaming pleasure. If you recall, I signed up for a trial of the Google all access, and was comparing it to Spotify.  While I am an Apple fan, I am not sure their entry this fall into an ad sponsored offering is going to be worth my time. (Perhaps if it was free with my iTunes match subscription …) Primarily, it is because I need to use it on my windows machines as well as my Mac, my iPhone and my Android tablet. iTunes sucks donkey balls on the PC, so unless Apple does something amazing, I am discounting it without trying it.

Early on, Google All Access was plagued by the glitches that I experienced with my tunes in their database. Skips, pauses, and long halts in playing. Spotify pulled into the lead, because their dedicated application was really solid, and whatever magic they do buffering, it has almost no issues (except when my crappy work network connection flakes out).  But about 2 weeks ago, Google got their streaming act together, and it became solid. Almost as reliable as Spotify.

However, I am going to stick to my Spotify premium account, and turn off the all access.  While it is $2 cheaper, and it is better integrated with my Android tablet, the Spotify apps make the difference. A quality user experience across platforms, coupled with great streaming, and a good catalog. Spotify FTW.

Aside: One thing that I never did much of was use the radio option of spotify. I compared the radio option of Google All Access versus spotify, and I like the selections of the Spotify radio stations a wee bit better than on All Access.  Both services have holes in their catalog (due to licensing issues, I would believe), but points in All Access’s favor is that since I have all the Led Zeppelin and Paul Gilbert tracks (legally) they get in to the mix. But that isn’t enough to save its bacon.

Winner: Spotify

Google All Access versus Spotify Premium

Recap:  After Google announced their “All Access” plan for their Play service, I jumped on the free week.  The intent was to compare it to Spotify which I had been a premium customer for about a year and a half (I went premium there to get rid of the ads and the “sponsored tunes” which really sucked – being top 40 crap).

Early on, the reason why I went to spotify was that even with all 18,000+ tracks of my music collection being in my library, it was shitty for streaming. Lots of skips, halts, and “burps”. Spotify, whatever they do, was far more robust in streaming, and unless I was having major network issues, it never got glitchy.

At the start of my evaluation of the Play All Access service, the issues with shitty streaming were still there. In fact, they were worse than I recall. In the last week though, I have given the All Access another chance (my free month is expiring soon, so I have to decide if I want to pay $7.95 a month for it). I am impressed. Three days this week, not one glitch or streaming issue. You still have to use the damn browser (no dedicated application), but at least it has been solid.

2 weeks ago, I would have put my money on Spotify, but now for reliability, the Google All Access plan seems pretty good.

Still to compare is the quality of music matching in the radio.  So far, I think Spotify is ahead there, barely (for the record, Pandora smokes them both, but I have doubts about their long term viability). But Google has my entire music collection, and I listen to much that isn’t licensed to Spotify (Paul Gilbert and Led Zeppelin come to mind)

Either way I go, I am now confident that my tunes on my work laptop will be fine being streamed.

Spotify vs Google “All Access”

Last week, I posted about pitting spotify (premium) against the newly announced “Google All Access”, and today I am going to post an update.

To be fair, I have only been using it for 4 or so days now, but the one thing that drove me nuts about using my collection in Play was that it would skip, stutter and freeze periodically.  And by periodically, I mean at least once an hour. I figured that Google would have addressed that by now, with their play to go large and challenge Spotify.

But the skips, pauses, stutters, and even long freezes (up to a minute at a time) are still plaguing the service.  I have submitted feedback, but naturally no response (I expect none, as Google is notorious for their lack of direct support).

I am not sure how much this is caused by it running in a tab on my Chrome browser, versus Spotify’s dedicated application. This is all on my PC (HP Elitebook 8640p, core i5, with 16 G ram, and my work network). But Spotify either does a better job of routing packets to me, or queuing up a buffer to avoid the follies of internet packet delivery.

It is a shame, as I was grooving on the All Access radio stations. Their matching algorithms aren’t as good as Pandora, but they aren’t bad. And having my 18K files in their storage means that even the artists that don’t do streaming will be mixed in with my radio selections. (I could do that with Spotify, but I would need to dedicate 120G of disk locally for it, a big negative).

So, I am back to Spotify, and enjoying their service, and performance.  I will continue to try the Google service, on my Nexus 7. Maybe with an Android native app it will be better?

Google’s “All Access” vs. Spotify Round 1

I have written in the past about the music “locker” services. I have been a user of Amazon, Google’s Play, and Apple’s iTunes Match.

But I have actually gone to using Spotify pretty much across the board. They have a great library, very deep, and lots of great genre’s to experiment with and explore. Since my work laptop has limited free space, I have pretty much resigned myself to streaming.

I joined spotify when they came to the US, and I liked it.  I didn’t like the ads and the really bad recommendations they made (I am pretty sure I only listen to a top 40 song by accident), but the streaming was solid, and they had a lot of music on tap.  THe recently got “Metallica” in their inventory. Of course, I pay the $9.95 a month to get the premium service. Syncing files to my iPhone, and their application on my PC and Mac work quite well, with very few glitches.

Apple’s iTunes Match was a distant second. Not on my mac, but on my PC, the iTunes application pretty much sucks donkey balls. Slow, resource heavy, and when I was streaming music, there was lots of stuttering and dead spaces. Groan.  Of course, I have all my music in the Google Play service. But their streaming, while better than Apple was still third rate compared to Spotify.

Now Google has launched their “All Access” streaming service for about the same price as Spotify premium. I signed up today, and will exercise it for the full 30 days before deciding whether to drop it or Spotify.

So far, it has been pretty good, and it does mix in items from my collection that are not licensed for streaming (Led Zeppelin, and Paul Gilbert are two I note.) But a downside is that it runs in the browser.  I may be a luddite, but I prefer it to be a sticky application (like spotify), and not something that will cut off if I have to quit Chrome (which happens with too much regularity).

I will report back a few times to share how the test goes.