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Hands-on: Google's All Access music service is still a rough cut

Jonathan Seff | May 20, 2013
On Wednesday, Google joined the likes of Spotify, Mog, Rdio, Rhapsody, and Slacker with the U.S. launch of its Google Play Music All Access subscription music service. For $10 a month (or $8 a month if you sign up before the end of June) you get access to untold millions of tracks on Android phones and tablets, as well as via your Web browser.

On Wednesday, Google joined the likes of Spotify, Mog, Rdio, Rhapsody, and Slacker with the U.S. launch of its Google Play Music All Access subscription music service. For $10 a month (or $8 a month if you sign up before the end of June) you get access to untold millions of tracks on Android phones and tablets, as well as via your Web browser.

I spent some time playing around with All Access and the updated Play Music app on a Samsung Galaxy S4, and here are my initial impressions. Hint: All Access looks promising, but needs more polish.

Selection and quality
Obviously, the most important part of a subscription music service is what you actually get when you subscribe. In terms of sound quality, I was very happy with what Google serves up. I couldn't find any info on the format or bit rate that Google uses, but there is a Stream at highest quality only option in the settings. (I had it unchecked and still found the quality good.) You can also limit streaming to Wi-Fi only to keep from burning through your data plan.

Google touts more than 18 million tracks for sale on Google Play, but only speaks vaguely of "millions of tracks" when it comes to its streaming service, so it's hard to say just how it compares to the likes of Spotify. A quick check of both services, however, showed that All Access stacks up pretty well in terms of the depth of its catalog. Or to put it another way, you won't feel cheated by what you get in return for you monthly fee.

There are a few strange things about how All Access chooses to display content, however. In addition to an artist's abums, the service seems to also list albums on which that artist appears. For example, under Eric Clapton's albums you'll find Buddy Guy's Blues Singer, presumably because Slowhand plays on a few tracks. But you'd never know that from the album because all you see are track names.

Another oddity: In a list of top songs for Ray Charles, Kanye West's "Gold Digger" shows up. Yes, I know it's built around Charles' "I Got a Woman" but it doesn't belong on the list.

Main interface
After updating the Play Music app and signing up for the 30-day free trial, I was immediately able to start listening with All Access. The main screen offers five menu options: Listen Now, My Library, Playlists, Radio, and Explore.

Listen Now shows songs or albums that you've recently played, purchased, or added to your library, as well as recommended and recently played radio stations. At any point you can tap a triangle to choose between displaying just what's on your device, or all musicwhich includes local content, cloud-stored locker content, and All Access content. (This option is available with other menu choices as well.)

 

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