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Get Down, Get Down
I love music. As a former musician, there is nothing better than a great song and being able to not only take it with you, but to share it among others. The invention of portable music players made my day -- that was the whole reason for getting a cell phone (and that keeping in touch with people thing).
The new trend now is the cloud, a place in the Internet where you can keep your files, documents, and yes, music, so that you can access it anywhere. Have you ever really wanted to listen to a song and discovered that it's not on your laptop or worse, not on your phone? Sometimes I get a song stuck in my head and I just have to listen to it, only to discover that it's on a CD, at home, and with my recent out of state move, I don't have my CDs here yet and worse, I don't have a portable CD player to listen to them on.
But this summer, both Apple and Google brought hope to folks like me - a way to access your music collection from anywhere, be it your phone or your friend's computer. Since I'm a PC and not a Mac and I have an Android phone, I of course was eager to try the offering from the new Google Music beta.
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What is Google Music?
The new music player is the next step in Google's total global takeover. Okay probably not, but Google has shown that they have the stuff and the chops to declare that all our bases belong to them. The player basically streams your music from your computer hard drive to both an online interface and an app for Android phones.
As with many things that Google likes to try out on its users, you have to ask for an invite and wait for Google to say you're okay to get in. In order to receive an invitation, you'll of course have to have a Google account (whether it be Gmail or YouTube) and head over to their main page. Sign up and wait for them to say you're okay. Unfortunately, it's only for us folks in America; for the moment.
So while I waited for Google to state that I could be one of the cool kids, I decided to try my hand at another cloud music player, mSpot. For this purpose, I'll be using mSpot, as well as the stock music player that comes with Android to compare against Google.
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User Interface - WebRating
Because the music player will have both an online and a smartphone interface, I'll look at these separately.
First up is the online interface. This is where you can view your music listings online from any computer. When you first set up Google, it'll have you download a music manager; this will find your music and then will upload it to the Google cloud. The user interface isn't much when you just look at the song listings, especially compared to mSpot (mSpot is on the left, Google on the right in the image shown). However, when you begin to look at the assembled artists and albums, you'll get a nice picture view of what you have up.
The downside with this is that, depending on how you have your songs named, there may or may not be actual album art to correspond or worse, the wrong art will be with the wrong song. You can, however, customize your own album art, but it's a bit time consuming, especially if you have a lot of songs.
One awesome thing that will jump out at you is free songs. Yes, I did say free songs and not crappy ones, but actually good songs! After Google has uploaded your own music, it will ask if you have any particular genres that you like and will give you the standard genres, like rock, hip hop, world, etc. Wanting to test this, I chose jazz, classic rock, and indie (or alternative, one of those two). To be honest, I wasn't expecting much, especially in terms of jazz.
I'm a huge big band jazz lover and usually when I choose jazz as a favorite I get stuff like Kenny G -- basically stuff that is not jazz and not big band. Imagine my surprise when Google's free music offering to me included Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Thelonious Monk. Now, I can admit that some of the choices are probably based on what I have already uploaded, but I don't have any of my big band stuff on my hard drive (just one lone Billie Holiday song and it's not a jump, jive, and wail one), so that was spot on.
Point to Google.
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User Interface - Android AppRating
The Android app for Google music is kinda hit or miss and I found that I had to remind myself that this program was in beta. The app itself is fairly cool, obviously pulling down your music catalog in order to play it on your phone. There's even an offline mode so you don't need to be connected to the Internet in order to listen to music. One thing I thought was neat was that the player incorporated the podcasts that I have on my phone into the app. While kinda cool, I would prefer to keep the two separate.
Another thing that I liked was the ability to create playlists, something that I can't do with the mSpot app. With mSpot, I actually have to create a playlist, as well as add songs through the online interface, which is kinda annoying. No issues with that, so thanks Google.
You can put up a widget on one of your phone's screens, so that you can just play without going into the app itself. I wasn't really impressed with the widget, especially when mSpot not only shows you the song with accompanying album art, but there's also both a back and forward button so you can listen to a favorite again (and again). Even Beyond Pod's big widget player is a little nicer, showing you how many listings you have left.
Another aspect of the live player is that the background colors change randomly. That's kind of nice eye candy as you move from album listings to your playlists and finally all of your songs. Both mSpot and Google do a good job of updating your list whenever you add or delete songs from your collection folder, but I have to give Google a point for letting me change the name of a song without making a duplicate.
The two really annoying things for me are the time it takes to load a song and a weird glitch I've encountered twice now. In comparison to mSpot, Google takes way too long to load a song, especially a new one. I have a tendency of skipping through songs and the space in between feels like fifteen minutes vs the seconds it seems to load on mSpot.
So far, I've encountered a weird glitch where I pause a song and it continues to play. The play button will even show that it should be paused, but yet it's still playing. Worse, sometimes hitting pause will pause it, but then a second later, it'll start back up again.
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So what does my inner music nerd think about Google Music? It's a decent player, but the betaness of it does pull away some points. On one hand, the player is looking good. The core ability to listen to your music catalog without having to put every single song on your phone is great and it frees up space, especially if like me you have a large collection of music.
The downside is mainly the app interface, which is very so so in terms of some of the other players that people can download. My issues with timing and glitches I want to place on the fact that it's a beta and beta releases are always sketchy at best. For now, I'll probably be using mSpot more just because it's slightly more stable, but I'm certainly going to look for the update that takes this player out of beta.
With all of that said, if you haven't tried cloud music players and you happen to be all over Google, this might be something you should try out.