Streaming music services have gone from something that is a niche market a few years ago to something that has overtaken all other ways to get music. The market has a few big names – Spotify, Apple Music and the subject of today’s review – Google Play Music. Play Music Launched in 2011 and was rebranded in early 2012 following low uptake. The rebranding worked and the service is now offered in 63 countries although user figures are hard to obtain.
So what makes it different? Google Play Music consists of four parts. A music locker, podcasts, a streaming library and curated radio stations.
The music locker is unique to the service. Instead of using Google’s library you take the music that you’ve already got – whether in iTunes MP3’s or ripped from CD’s and upload it to the locker. At this point, you can stream it to your PC or mobile devices. The locker can take up to 50,000 songs and lets you stream them back to yourself. The advantage of this is that if you have any MP3’s that won’t be in the Google library – anything from a bootleg from your favourite band to your daughters’ piano recital you can add it in. It also makes a decent backup from your MP3s and you can upload files of up to 300mb which don’t count towards your Google Drive storage.
Podcasts are a newer addition to Play only arriving in the UK in July 2016. It’s a basic service and doesn’t have a lot of the facilities that dedicated podcast listeners will want like variable speed and removal of empty sounds but it’s functional and a worthwhile extra.
The Streaming Library is what most people would think of as the traditional streaming service. They have just over 35 million songs which compares very favourably to other services and means you’re likely to find almost anything you’re looking for. The music is stored and available as 320 kbit/s MP3s although there are lower quality versions available if you want to save on streaming data or storage. The songs can also be purchased individually (or by album) although if you plan to stay a member this is a little redundant.
Finally, there is a radio service. This was born out of the company Songza that Google bought in 2013. It offers you music depending on your mood, what you’re doing and the day curated by ‘actual people’. It’s surprisingly spot on in it’s recommendations and it’s great to have the thought taken out having to select the music you want and for discovery.
Retailer: Google +
Price: ± Free, £10 to £15 depending on plan and number of users
Ships to: Available in 63 counties
Playing apps on Android, iOS and Web, integrated into Google Home and uploading apps for Windows, OSX and Linux. There are also specific connectors to allow it to work with Sonos, Chromecast Audio and Chromecast.
Google as a company needs little introduction being one of the world’s biggest tech companies and holding dominant positions in search, email, mobile operating systems. They have a number of media and cloud services perhaps most notably YouTube.
The design of Play music is generally simple with a column of options and menus on the left, a search box at the top and player controls along the bottom of the screen. This general design persists through the web, Android and iOS versions and works well. There is also a mini player extension that works with Chrome that looks like (but isn’t actually) a standalone player.
Play Music has three tiers – Free, Paid and Family. The free services lets you use the locker and stream all your uploaded music forever. The Paid tier lets you stream as much as you want from their library, sync to play offline and play on one device at once (although you can be signed in on up to 10 devices). The Family tier costs £15 a month and lets you use six separate Google accounts as individual paid accounts at once. All the tiers also give you a 10% discount on any purchases in the Play App store and in the US and New Zealand give access to YouTube Red for free and when (if) this roles out to the UK would be another bonus
If you’re looking to stream your own music the free tier with it’s 50,000 free song storage is a no-brainer. Even if you don’t want to stream them it’s a great backup.
Google also offers a free 30 day paid trial for new users and several of their devices come with multiple free months available. If you buy a Chromecast for £30 from the Play Store you get a 90-day voucher for Play Music which is actually the same that you’d get for
Google Play Music requires a free Google account. If you want to subscribe to the paid tiers a payment method such as a debit card must be tied to the account but it is possible to buy a pre-paid certificate card. It also requires internet access to download or stream music although with a paid account it’s possible to cache songs on your device if you’re going to be away from a connection or to save on mobile data costs.
If you’re looking into streaming music Google Play Music is a clear contender. Their special sauce music locker is very appealing if you have a lot of MP3’s already and want to save money or have some rare songs and the Family Plan is appealing if there are a number of people wanting to stream together. The website and apps are well designed and if you’re an Android and Youtube user integrate particularly well. Highly Recommended.
The review is based on the paid Google Play Music. Read more about Ergohacks’ eco and access icons used in reviews. This article was first published on 21st August 2016.