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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.

With it you can pin music for offline listening. But to start things off, the icon itself is confusing, and changes depending on what state the album is in. It begins as an angled gray pin in an also gray circle, which indicates you haven't downloaded the content. Tap the pin and it changes to an upright white pin in a gray circle, and a Keeping requested music notification flashes at the top of the screen briefly.

After that, you have no idea what's going on because there's no progress bar to indicate that it's actually caching the music, just a white pin that sits there for a long time until an arc starts to appear on the circle. Only when I swiped down to access the phone's settings and notifications did I see a download percentage, but when I swiped out and back it no longer showed me the progress there either.

In any case, the process took a very long timetwo and a half minutes to download a single 2:44 song. And when the downloading was finally complete, the icon turned into an orange pin. There's also no way to set the size of the offline cache or see how much storage you're filling up. Google's help page on the subject nicely tells you to "please make sure that you have enough storage space before saving music from All Access." Of course, without knowing how much room albums or playlists require, that's rather difficult.

I did finally get full albums to download, although I'm not sure if that was my doing or because the Automatically cache option was selected in the preferences. Still, the process was slow and the feedback was minimal.

Sticking points
Google is late to the streaming music game. In addition to the five major streaming services mentioned at the beginning, there's also Xbox Music. That's not to say that Google doesn't have the muscle to make All Access work, but to do so it will have to crush the very services that have to date been strong partners for the Android platform. iOS users are also left out in the cold with All Access, at least for now. And given that Google doesn't even offer an official Play Music app for iOS devices, I don't expect to see All Access on the iPhone or iPad anytime soon.

Services such as Spotify and Pandora are also very popular on connected devices like set-top boxes, streaming music hardware, HDTV, and the like. I'm sure that Google will work toward such integration in the future, but the company didn't even mention its own Google TV platform for TVs and set-top boxes, which doesn't bode well. (Google did point out in a help document that All Access won't work on the abandoned Nexus Q, however. Take note, in case you're that one guy who actually owns one.)

 

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