Review: Google Play Music All Access

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If you thought the streaming music market was getting crowded, get ready for one more service to jockey for your earbuds.

Google added its own mouthful of a service, Google Play Music All Access, to the fold at its yearly I/O conference last week. The service, which follows the all-you-can-eat model of popular services Spotify and RDio, has been available in browsers and on Android since Wednesday. But is it good enough to leave your third-party subscription service in the dust?

The name is pretty bad, but Google Play Music All Access’ interface is near-infallible. By adopting the more unified look Google has been going for the last year or so, Google Play Music All Access becomes the de-facto best-looking streaming music service out there. The look of the web browser app is largely unchanged from the old Google Play Music music locker, save the added streaming capabilities. But those who have used the Android app will be appreciate the orange-on-white update from the busy interface it replaces. If you’ve ever griped about Google’s apps and services being ugly, one look at Google Play Music All Access’ interface will put those complaints to rest.

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Using the apps is pretty intuitive too, if a little bit too similar to Spotify. Search for new songs, albums and artists in the search bar at the top. Add them to a playlist or a play queue with a simple click or couple of taps or start a radio station based on similar artists. In the Android app, you can also tap an pin by any album or playlist to make it available without an internet connection. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t work in the browser version of Google Play Music All Access.

Google does add one wrinkle to Google Play Music All Access–you don’t have to add songs, artists or albums to playlists in order for them to appear in the “My Library” section as you do with Spotify. This small wrinkle makes all of Google Play Music All Access feel more like a full-featured music library application than just a streaming service. Don’t want to have to search for your favorite artist every time you want to listen to them? Just add their albums to your library, and they’ll show in the main area of the app every time you load it up.

The name isn’t the only thing that could use a little improvement in Google Play Music All Access though. For starters, it’s not nearly as social as Spotify or Rdio. If you want to use social networks to discover new music, you’re completely out of luck. And if you want to share your favorite song, your only option is Google+. In some cases this can be an upside, like when you’ve got that Mandy Moore album on repeat, but its an annoyance if you’re used to being connected to social networks while you stream songs.

Also, Google Play Music All Access may have a competent radio mode, but you should forget about fine-tuning stations, as you can with Spotify or Pandora. When you start a station, it shows you about two dozen songs at a time, and while you can delete songs from the queue, you can’t change the selection process in real-time. With other services allowing for customizable radio stations for years, it’s a little bit of a shame that Google Play Music All Access doesn’t have this feature from the get-go.

And finally, there seem to be some kinks that still need to be worked out in the web browser app. Several times while using app, the music would be replaced by an awful grating sound. The problem seems to occur more often when browser multiple tabs are open, which could be a deal-breaker if you’re planning on using Google Play Music All Access while browsing or working on the web.

So, is Google Play Music All Access worth cancelling your Spotify Premium account? The answer depends on. If you’re an iOS or Windows 8 user, the answer is definitely a no, at least right now, just because the apps aren’t there. But it’s a much more compelling option for Android users. If you’re already using Android, you’re getting a service pretty similar to Spotify for two bucks less per month (if you sign up for a trial before June 30) so it makes economical sense. Even better, some Android devices already use the Google Play Music as the default media player, so communication between the app and others is more streamlined than it is with Spotify. If you’re on the fence about the service and have an Android device, it’s at least worth the 30-day free trial.