Digital Life


Hands on: Google Play Music All Access

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Has Google waited too long to jump into the subscription music market?

Google's subscription music service is finally live although, as you'd expect, it's limited to the US for now. Australians will only see the option to upload their own music, similar to Apple's iTunes Match except Google's upload service is free. But if you engage your VPN and switch to your US Google account you're also presented with a 30-day trial of the new subscription service (you'll need to whip out a US credit card at this point). After that it's US$7.99 per month, but it will go up to US$9.99 per month if you sign up after June. 

Right now Google Play Music All Access is restricted to desktop browsers and Android handsets, although hopefully it will soon expand to cover iOS and Windows Phone devices. Once you've set up your US account you can stream music via a browser in Australia without the need for a VPN, which is certainly less hassle than trying to tap into other US-only music services such as Rhapsody. You can also tell the Google Play Music app on an Android device to use your US Google Play account rather than your Australian Google Play account, but I didn't have any luck tricking a Galaxy S4 into granting me access to the subscription service even with a VPN running.

A few years ago Google's subscription music service might have been worth getting excited about, but these days we're spoilt for choice from a range of established players such as Spotify, Rdio, MOG and others. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but Google will have to offer something pretty special to win across people happily using another subscription service. 

The ability to upload up to 20,000 of your own tracks is a handy feature not offered by all the competitors -- I think you'll find it in Spotify but not Rdio. It doesn't matter how big an online music library is, there always seems to be something missing. That's especially true for Australian services where some tracks are blocked due to regional rights agreements. Filling in the gaps from your own library would certainly be useful. Of course iTunes Match does this now, but you can only listen to music you own so it's not really a competitor to the likes of Spotify and Rdio yet. There's talk that Google's move might finally force Apple's hand regarding subscription music, but I suspect Apple is making too much money from selling music to be too worried about a subscription service.  

Google Play Music All Access also offers offline caching for both desktop and mobile devices, whereas most streaming services tend to support one or the other. The mobile caching is pretty straightforward, but unfortunately the desktop caching might not be what you expect. It seems Google's idea of offline caching is to simply let you download tracks to your computer and play them in other software, but not in the Google browser-based interface. In some ways it's a better option, but it's more complicated than simply ticking a box to say you want this album saved in your offline desktop cache.

It's obviously early days, but right now Google Play Music All Access doesn't really look like a potential Spotify killer. What would it take for Google Play Music All Access to win you over?