Google Music: Your Great Music Locker in the Cloud (Review)

Is Google Music perfect? No, far from it. But, for the price, zero, it's great.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Google Music lets you put all your music a cloud-touch away.

Google Music lets you put all your music a cloud-touch away.

I've been using Google Music since it was in beta. At first, it didn't interest me that much. Yet another way to save my music to the cloud? How much good really was that? Well, after using it for several months, and now that Google Music is open for everyone in the US to use, I'm here to tell you that Google Music has proven to be a great way for me to listen to my music wherever I am with whatever computing device I have at hand.

Why? Well, let's start with the basics.

Google Music enables you to you store your music on the cloud. While Google will now let you buy music from the Android Store, it's really more of an online music storage locker than a competitor with Apple's iTunes Store.

Unlike other cloud music and storage services, Google doesn't give you a fixed amount of storage space. Instead, you can it to store up to 20,000 songs. On the Google Music Web page, Google provides a counter to let you know how close you are to hitting your limit. At an estimated 5MBs a song that works out to about 100GBs of storage. The cost? Not one red penny.

Free. I love the sound of that. I especially love the sound of free since I currently have 13-thousand plus songs in my library.

Google Music: The start of a beautiful Internet music service (Photo Gallery)

While many other services offer cloud-based music storage libraries, Apple's iTunes Match, part of iCloud; Amazon's Cloud Drive and Player; and the pioneer of online music storage MP3tunes, no one else offers so much storage without restrictions for free.

To file music into your Google Music library, you need to use Google's Music Manager. This program is available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. You can use Music Manager to load files from iTunes, Windows Media Player, or directly from directories. You can load your entire music collection-up to the aforementioned 20,000 songs-or just certain play-lists or directories.

You can upload your MP3, AAC, ogg, and FLAC encoded songs into your Google Music library. You can not, however, load Digital Rights Management (DRM), AFLAC (Apple Lossless), wac, aiff, or ra files. You can load Microsoft's WMA files if you use the Windows version of the Music Manager. Once there, FLAC, ogg, and aac files are transcoded into Google Music's default 320Kbps MPS format.

How fast it will take you to upload your music depends on your Internet speed and the size of your music files. In my experience, with mostly 256Kbps encoded songs and a 60Mbps Internet connection I was uploading about 100 songs an hour. What I did was I just let Music Manager run in the background and in a few days almost all my collection was up on the cloud. I couldn't upload all my music at first. The troublesome songs turned out to be almost entirely songs I've purchased from iTunes when Apple still encrypted music with DRM. Once, I replaced them with copy-protection free files I was able to place them in my library.

You can also upload music from multiple PCs. While I haven't tested this, Google states that "Google Music will automatically combine duplicate albums if the metadata is identical, so you can prevent duplicate albums from appearing." For my friends with messy music collections I can see how that would be really useful.

Unfortunately, unlike iTunes Match. Google Music requires you upload every last bit of your tunes. It can't confirm that there's a good copy already available on the cloud and simply duplicate that song into your personal libary.

You can play your music using a modern Web browser on any PC. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer 7 and higher are specifically supported, but I was able to play music on Opera as well. You also need to have Adobe Flash Player up and running. If you're not running Google Chrome, you'll also need to have JavaScript enabled

On Android devices, you can listen to your music with the Google Music App.. This requires Android 2.2 and above with OpenGL2. If your smartphone doesn't meet those requirements you can still listen to you music via the Web browser once you have Adobe Flash installed. Curiously, you can also listen to your music on iPhone, iPads, and iPod Touches running iOS 4 or higher via their built-in Web browser without Flash.

That's actually one of my favorite Google Music features. I don't need to have a particular device or even run a particular program. So long as I have something that runs a Web browser, I've got my music. Nice.

You can play your Google Music tracks on any number of PCs and up to eight Android devices. However, you can only listen to them on one device at a time. So, forget about the idea of 'broadcasting' to friends to family. In my experience, and I've listened to my music for months now on a wide variety of Linux, Windows and Mac OS X PCs and, on portable devices on my mark 1 iPad and my Motorola Droid II smartphone. I have yet to run into any playback trouble.

The music quality, whether I was at home, using a coffee-house Wi-Fi signal, or Verizon 3G, has always been good. Of course, there was times when I was away from any Internet connection. For those times, I used the Android application to download music to my smartphone so I was never music-less.

So far, this is great, but Google Music is no Apple iTunes killer. It can't rip music from CDs. You'll still need a local program to get your music off all media into your computer.

The Google Music store is also nothing to write home about. The store has the basic features but not a lot of selection on its virtual shelves yet. While Google has signed distribution deals with three of the big four music companies, they couldn't come to an agreement with Warner Music Group. That means you won't be buying Led Zeppelin or Green Day from Google anytime soon. On the other hand, any music you do buy online from Google can easily be downloaded, without DRM and in 320Kbps MP3 format, to your PC with the Music Manager.

Another nice feature about the Google Music store is you can share any music you get via the store with your friends on Google+. People in your Google+ Circles can listen to entire songs or albums.

So, why do I like Google Music so much since it's certainly no iTunes killer and other programs offer similar services?

Well, I like it because 1) It's free; 2) It offers an incredible amount of music storage; and 3) and it lets me listen to my music anywhere I go. It also doesn't hurt any that, unlike many of the smaller musical storage lockers, I'm reasonably sure Google will still be here next year. Sure the Spotify and Pandora, Internet streaming music services, are great in their own right, but if you want free access to your music whenever and wherever you want it on any device, you can't beat Google Music.

Related Stories:

Google Music opens to public for free; 200M Android devices sold

Google rolls out music service to masses (video)

Google Music Beta: Cloud music done right

iTunes Match is live: Confessions of a cloud hog

A Quick And Extra-Dirty Music-Lover's Google Music Review

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