May 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Review: Music Beta by Google

Google Music's player gets its look from iTunes' interface.

The most recent addition to Big Tech’s race towards the cloud, Google Music, arrived this month in “beta” form — a distinction that warrants just a bit of sympathy for the free, cloud-based music storage app.

Undoubtedly, Music Beta by Google has its share of bugs and quirks, but this a U.S.-only, invite-only beta version should help Google’s developers to find areas upon which to improve.

Music Beta by Google is available on any computer that supports OS X 10.5 or higher or Windows XP or higher, and it comes ready available on Android phones as a free mobile app. Account holders can authorize their accounts on any computer and up to eight Android devices. Supported file types include MP3, M4A, AAC, WMA, and FLAC.

Storage and Uploading

Google Music allows you to store up to 20,000 songs in your personal locker, a staggering amount when you consider that the service costs no money to use. By comparison, Amazon Cloud Storage is only free for 5GB of storage and after that prices out at $1/GB of storage annually.

The uploading process runs through Music Manager, which on a Mac can be opened and operated through System Preferences. This process will undoubtedly take longer than you want it to. In my case, it took roughly 25 hours to load 1,000 songs, but your mileage will vary based on bandwidth and file type. Some reports have Google Music uploading at a rate of 2,200 songs over thirteen hours – better, but you’re still looking at a lengthy endeavor if you have more than a couple hundred songs.

Playback and Functionality

Google Music’s cloud-based player is quick and effective — a streamlined system that responds to commands just as quickly as if you were playing iTunes and storing your music files on an external hard drive. Listeners can choose to listen to music by Song, Artist, Album, or Genre, or they can flip through one of many playlist options. Most notable among these options are the Thumbs Up auto playlist, which presents songs in your library with positive ratings, and the Instant Mixes, which Google Music creates based off a single song of their choosing. (We hear through the grapevine that Google is improving that feature after some early criticism.)

Google Music makes creating Instant Mixes as easy as clicking one button.

You can create playlists traditionally, too, by merely highlighting a song (or songs) and dragging it over to the Playlist “+” button. Playlist names default to the day’s date, which is better than iTunes’ unhelpful habit of defaulting to “Untitled Playlist.”

As one might expect from the search giant, Google Music’s Search function works great, updating instantly and pre-filling results as you type (MOG does the same).

Problems

As we pointed out earlier, this is still a technically a “beta” version, so these bugs will hopefully be taken care of before the app becomes widely available. Here’s what we found not to like, in addition to the licensing-related lengthy upload issue:

  • No Omnipresent “Now Playing” Button: You can return to the page with the currently-song by clicking on the song info along the player’s bottom banner — but how are you supposed to know that?
  • Instant Mixes: For two of the three days that we spent playing around with Google Music, Instant Mixes were unavailable. In addition, they failed a WTF test.
  • Stability Issues: Google Music Manager crashed after 30 hours of uploading, and refused to get back to work until I restarted my computer.

This third issue is probably most pressing — especially because uploading this music will take a very long time, and hiccups in that already-lengthy process could encourage those sampling Music Beta by Google to retreat from the cloud in favor of iTunes and iPods, or to stick with non-locker cloud music services like Rhapsody or Pandora in these option-filled days.