Last week’s Google annual I/O developer conference didn’t bring any new hardware announcements. However, it was rife with news from across the company’s vast services. One of the exciting pieces was the announcement of the rumored streaming service dubbed “All Access.” This streaming service expands the utility of the existing Google Play Music service. Similar to existing streaming services such as Spotify, MOG and Rdio, Google Play All Access is nothing groundbreaking of course, but has a handful of features that make it stand out. Likewise, there are a bunch of drawbacks that leave much room for improvement.
This week we’ll take a quick look at Google Play Music All Access and five features that make the service awesome, five drawbacks to the service and five additional suggestions to help tip the scales and make it the best streaming service available and draw people away from whatever service they are currently using.
Basics The ridiculously named service, “Google Play Music All Access,” offers many of the same features that the other streaming services provide including access to millions of tracks, ability to download for offline use, recommendations, customized “radio” stations, playlists and a free trial to check it out prior to committing to pay. If you do like it, you’ll shell out $8/mo if you commit prior to the end of June and $10/mo thereafter.
Five Great Features
- One of the best things about All Access is the integration with the existing Google Play Music service which allows free upload of up to 20,000 tracks for playback anywhere. Playlists containing both your own tracks and those tracks that you find from All Access are easily created. Tracks that you find on All Access are easily added to your “library” and live next to your existing tracks.
- Fully interactive radio queue. When streaming a “station” created from a song, the resulting queue can be rearranged and individual songs “swiped” away easily so you don’t need to skip them when they start playing. This queue is both beautiful and functional and among the best “radio” features of any of the other streaming services. Selections are typically spot-on with a decent variety. If you like the resulting play queue that was randomly generated, you can also save it into a playlist or add it to an existing one for future playback. With an unlimited amount of “skips” or “swipes” from the queue, no ads, and ability to create unlimited stations, this is Pandora on steroids: unlimited and endless tunes in any genre you want. Check out the radio queue I built off of Brent Mydland’s Blow Away from his unreleased album (below). Radio queue was built with Page McConnell, Robert Hunter, Neil Young and other appropriate tracks and artists. I tried creating a radio queue for comparison in Spotify. MOG and Pandora and couldn’t. None of those services even recognized Brent Mydland as an artist. In most other cases, when I compared queues, All Access always had the best song selections.
- Downright beautiful. I have used many music, streaming and radio apps and All Access is among the best. Album art is crisp is subtly pans from left to right when playing providing a nice visual element. Artist pictures on each artist page are also a great touch. Fonts are easy on the eye, extremely legible and the layout is uncluttered but filled with all the commands and menus you’d need on any given page. Regardless if looking at your queue, browsing albums, suggestions or playlists, all the pages are well designed and simply look nice.
- Search is awesome. Google knows a thing or two about search. Music search is powerful, instant and accurate. Start typing and results instantly start appearing just like Google Instant search. No need to press enter and no need to switch from page to page for artists, tracks and albums. The results are neatly, beautifully and instantly displayed. You can search any music in your own collection that you have uploaded as well as the millions of tracks available on All Access.
- Quality and stability. All Access streams up to 320 kbps and the music sounds as good, if not better, than any of the other streaming services I have tried (most of them). I do have force high quality enabled on my mobile as I have unlimited data which helps. Of course, with lower data speeds you may get lower quality, more compressed tunes. Likewise with the web player- playing through my desktop speakers and the music is very high quality. After a week of using the mobile app, I have had zero crashes, error messages or lags. Music simply plays when it should without hiccups or problems.
[Android Player while browsing an album]
- No official iOS app. This is an egregious oversight and hopefully will be promptly rectified. Third party apps, such as gMusic, may fill the hole, but there’s no reason that Google shouldn’t offer an official app. This should be like GMail- platform, device and system agnostic.
- There’s no ‘Free’ option. Barring the locker/upload service to the cloud, which is awesome, there’s no “light” or “free” option. Most of the streaming sites have free tiers that allow limited streaming, streaming to desktops, or some other way that cripples the full blown, paid level but still gives some functionality of streaming. As a way to hook people into buying individual tracks from Google Play and a way to hook them from other services, this seems like something that Google ought to do.
- No gapless playback. Gapless playback really adds to the enjoyment of listening to live music and full albums where tracks seamlessly blend into one another. Gapless is becoming more prevalent on players and apps and it is a shame that Google is not providing this out of the gate.
- No built-in Scrobbling. For those that like to “scrobble” their tracks to Last.FM, you’ll have to find a third party app to handle that for you.
- Limited sharing features. Yes, of course I can Google+ a track, but if you are into sharing your “now playing” or playlists with others, All Access does not give you many options. Music apps seem to be thriving on the social aspects, but All Access isn’t jumping on that at all. While not a feature I use, I know that many enjoy quick sharing links.
- Up the ante with the amount of local tracks that can uploaded to the cloud! 20,000 is a decent start, especially for free. But to kick this up a notch and put it over the top- why not 100,000? Or 1TB? Hell, Flickr is giving people a free terabyte of storage online, why not Google? If I could get a much larger percentage of my collection into Google Play Music, this would be an absolute deal maker. For most people to have ALL their tunes everywhere, without having to sync or use a cable is pretty compelling.
- Queue Sync. This would be a killer feature. Now that Google has FINALLY figured out a way to sync chat notifications and conversation across all platforms, devices and services with their new “Hangouts”, why not add similar functionality with All Access? I could build a queue on my tablet, pick up the queue where I left off on my phone, and finish it at home on my laptop. THAT would be a HUGE win- with the player knowing exactly where I paused in a song with the same queue built. I’d pay just for that feature.
- Lossless playback! C’mon Google! Here’s a chance for Google to REALLY stand out from the competition. They can obviously handle the bandwidth of lossless streaming as YouTube can playback 1080 HD video flawlessly. Why not give music listeners the ability to listen to their own lossless tracks without compression and add lossless tracks to All Access library? Listening on earbuds or tethered to car radio with Bluetooth, really makes no difference, but to use as a home stereo streaming option, it would be a welcome quality boost.
- Stats. Google should build a robust stats section that would eliminate the need for Last.FM if someone wants to tracks listens by track, artist, genre, etc.
- Support for third-party players is CRITICAL. Many people listen to their music services through things like Sonos, Roku, and other such devices. Without support for players and devices, All Access is at a major competitive disadvantage.
Bottom Line Google has built a great streaming service that seamlessly integrates with your own uploaded or matched tunes. The radio feature is fantastic and sets the bar in that arena. Search is brilliant and the Android app is rock solid and beautiful. However, without an iOS app, limited sharing options and no free tier of service, it may not be enough to move people away from their existing service. There’s a handful of things Google can do to really stand out and lead the pack in the streaming arena and it will be interesting to see what features and enhancements are added in the future.
WINNER Last week we reviewed Monoprice’s great Action Camera. I’ve had a couple people tell me that they’ve already bought one and look forward to seeing some killer footage in the coming months from all your summer adventures. We had an Action Camera graciously donated by Monoprice for one lucky reader. Congratulations “tallboycan”. You’ve been randomly selected as the winner! Please get in touch with me to make shipping arrangements. And remember the rules! You promised to send footage! Enjoy your Action Camera.
Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
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