Impressions: Google Music Beta

 |  June 22, 2011
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Clouds are all the rage these days and established companies from Amazon to Apple are getting in on the craze. Google’s Music Beta’s looks to get the drop on the competition providing a temporary, free pass to patient testers. I recently got my invite to Music Beta and, after spending a little more than two days messing around, it shows promise in spite of some noticeable quirks.

The Beta’s introduction is pretty basic. You’ll link your previous Google account to the service, or create a new one, on a PC or Mac. Then you download the beta’s Music Manager. From there you choose the folder(s) holding your music library and send the files off to Google’s servers. Upload time varies greatly depending on your library size and upload speed. The player loads in your browser and lets you add some free music across various genres while your collection hits the net.

Google Music Beta’s player is as straightforward as it gets. Music Beta’s layout makes it easy to sort through, edit and delete your records as well as feature rudimentary playlist creation options. You shouldn’t have a problem using it if you’ve accustomed yourself to iTunes, WMP or any other popular music player in the past decade. The player’s presentation is pretty minimal but its simple functionality makes up for its no frills UI. Your library can be streamed on up to eight supported devices ranging from PCs and Macs with online access to Android-based phones and tablets.

Using beta software oftentimes comes with all kinds of hang-ups. GMB, in my time with it, hasn’t crashed or chugged considerably. Nevertheless, the experience hasn’t been totally smooth. I previously mentioned the library upload process depends your upload speed. The computer I used for the beta has about 30 gigs worth of music sent over a roughly 2 MB/s of upload. I got about 60% of my library on the cloud over the span of two days: clocking in about 12 hours per day towards uploading.

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So, as you can see, getting everything up and running has been pretty slow. Thankfully, Music Manager suspends your upload progress whenever you shut your computer off on default. Then it resumes on start up while running in the background: making it quite unobtrusive while you go about your e-business. The lion’s share of the music on the cloud has played back fine even though a few noteworthy file formats (.wav, .m4a, .ogg) aren’t supported. A small amount of my mp3′s yielded upload errors and, so far, only one of my songs didn’t play back properly in the browser. There’s also no store in the beta or planned in the future which, in all honestly, doesn’t bother me as a physical copy purchaser. That said, online music retail still needs more competition and Google could’ve been a formidable opponent to Apple’s dominant reign.

My experience uploading also highlights another problem with Music Manager. You can’t pick and choose certain songs and albums to send to the cloud. Manager simply monitors your iTunes folder(s) and adds the files automatically. The feature’s nice to have if you already sent your whole library to the cloud. Then again it’s not available if you don’t store your music in an iTunes folder. Also it’s backwards to forbid users from selecting a few songs or albums to upload at any time.* For instance, I’m using the GMB player now and there are a few LPs I want to hear. Manager didn’t get around to them yet so I’ll have to wait until they arbitrarily get queued up. Additionally, it’d be nice to download songs from your cloud to a computer so you don’t have to be online to hear them. Android devices can do this in a roundabout way by enabling songs for offline access but, since I don’t have an android device, I didn’t get to test it for myself.

One can expect Google to address things in this beta sooner or later. At the same time I’m wondering if I’d pay to use this service. My overall experience has made listening to my library away from home quite convenient. Google’s been tight lipped about price plans but, all things considered, I wouldn’t drop cash for the service as long as Music Manager remains as-is. The service is handy but its feature set doesn’t make me want to put money down on it just yet. Plus, I can imagine Google Music doing a number on heavy users on ISPs with monthly bandwidth limits. Google Music Beta, as it stands, provides a relatively smooth service on computers with internet access once your files get prepped. The means towards getting there need necessary tweaks to become more efficient.


*Update 6/23/11
– You actually can choose individual folders to upload outside of the default choices. You can’t upload individual files manually unless the folder only has one song in it: a technicality to say the least.