It’s no secret that Google has its fingers in a lot of pies. From search engines and maps to email and mobile operating systems, it has tried its hand at most things and scored a pretty high success rate in the process.
Unsurprisingly, then, its music service looks pretty promising too.
Launched less than a year ago, Google Play Music All Access was originally Android and web-only until its iOS app launched in November 2013.
It has just one level of subscription at £9.99 a month, which offers unlimited streaming, smart recommendations and a personalised radio station.
Music playback through your laptop is handled via a web-based app. It’s little more than a page within Google Play that allows you to search for music using the usual search box.
Listen Now highlights albums recently played so you can pick up where you left off easily, while Explore is where you’ll find playlists and recommendations.
There’s a nice feature called ‘I’m feeling lucky radio’ that piles together tracks based on your previous listening – and it’s good, having plenty of variety.
Google Music is able to scan your library and match it with music from within the service: simply uploading any that it’s missing.
You can do this with up to a generous 20,000 tracks. You’ll use Google’s Music Manager desktop software to do this, with the benefit that all that music stored on your laptop is then available across your smartphone and tablet too.
Some 18 million tracks are available for streaming and offline listening on up to four devices, with the bonus that you can buy albums or individual tracks directly from Google Music.
These will play back at a guaranteed 320kbps, while streaming can be variable. You can force high-quality playback via the apps though, and the result is one of our favourite-sounding streaming services.
It’s got the subtlety to give real insight into a track, with more detail than at lower bitrates.
A touch bright perhaps, but it sounds good – only really topped by the FLAC-packing Qobuz.
There are some niggles, however. Web playback can be patchy and its platform compatibility is relatively low.
Also, if social features are important to you, you may feel short-changed. All Access won’t allow you to share your music on the biggest social networks, restricting you to Google+.
This feels short sighted, and lessens the feeling of community you get with other services
And so we’re torn. Google Play Music All Access sounds great and packs some real USPs, but is let down by fixable issues that make up a large part of a successful streaming service.
Google, loosen the reins a bit; then maybe we can talk about that fifth star.
Catalogue: 18 million
Bitrate: up to 320kbps
File format: MP3
Mobile platforms: Android, iOS
Desktop app: No
Tablet optimised: Android
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