Music Services: Google Play (and All Access)

Part two in the online music services reviews. Today, it is Google Play and its All Access “Subscription” service.

In 2011 when Google announced Play and their music service, my hopes were high. I was an early adopter (from when you needed an invite to join Gmail), and I assumed Google would rock this. You could store your music in their services, and play it anywhere. Up to a whopping 20,000 tracks.

It seemed awesome. So I downloaded the sync application for both my personal Mac, as well as my PC. In about a week, all of my library was on the Google service.

Of course, there were wrinkles. If I synced something from both iTunes, and from my PC, one was in .m4a, and one was .mp3. One would think Google would know this and not duplicate the album/track.

You would think wrong.

You would think that they would have some facility to view duplicates, and allow you to clean them up.

Again, you would think wrong. So to clean your collection you have to manually delete the albums.

Early on, the quality of their streaming was sketchy. There were glitches aplenty. Hitches, drop outs, and freezes, all plagued playback. Google relied on their HTML5 wizardry, and their back end cloud infrastructures. Regardless of their technical prowess, there were plenty of glitches, and other things that detracted from listening enjoyment.

In 2013, Google launched the “All Play” streaming on demand service to counter Spotify. I tried it (and even paid to subscribe for a few months). Like the rest of the Google music experience, it was clumsy, and plagued with glitches. In my initial attempt to ditch Spotify, I gave it a good run, but Spotify’s application and streaming quality slaughtered Google.

In 2015, Google upped the number of tunes you can store on their site to 50,000, but alas, I have moved on.

As an avowed Apple disciple, you might be tempted to passing this off on fanboyism. However, I did buy a Nexus 7 tablet, to give Android in its purest state a try. Google Music on that device was just as clunky to use.

There is an app for the Chrome browser that helps navigate, but it still doesn’t match the performance of Spotify.

(“Google Play Music icon” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png#/media/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png)

Music Streaming – conclusion

TL;DR version: Spotify wins

To round out the saga, I needed to make a decision on whether to keep Google  All-Access or Spotify for my online streaming pleasure. If you recall, I signed up for a trial of the Google all access, and was comparing it to Spotify.  While I am an Apple fan, I am not sure their entry this fall into an ad sponsored offering is going to be worth my time. (Perhaps if it was free with my iTunes match subscription …) Primarily, it is because I need to use it on my windows machines as well as my Mac, my iPhone and my Android tablet. iTunes sucks donkey balls on the PC, so unless Apple does something amazing, I am discounting it without trying it.

Early on, Google All Access was plagued by the glitches that I experienced with my tunes in their database. Skips, pauses, and long halts in playing. Spotify pulled into the lead, because their dedicated application was really solid, and whatever magic they do buffering, it has almost no issues (except when my crappy work network connection flakes out).  But about 2 weeks ago, Google got their streaming act together, and it became solid. Almost as reliable as Spotify.

However, I am going to stick to my Spotify premium account, and turn off the all access.  While it is $2 cheaper, and it is better integrated with my Android tablet, the Spotify apps make the difference. A quality user experience across platforms, coupled with great streaming, and a good catalog. Spotify FTW.

Aside: One thing that I never did much of was use the radio option of spotify. I compared the radio option of Google All Access versus spotify, and I like the selections of the Spotify radio stations a wee bit better than on All Access.  Both services have holes in their catalog (due to licensing issues, I would believe), but points in All Access’s favor is that since I have all the Led Zeppelin and Paul Gilbert tracks (legally) they get in to the mix. But that isn’t enough to save its bacon.

Winner: Spotify

Google All Access versus Spotify Premium

Recap:  After Google announced their “All Access” plan for their Play service, I jumped on the free week.  The intent was to compare it to Spotify which I had been a premium customer for about a year and a half (I went premium there to get rid of the ads and the “sponsored tunes” which really sucked – being top 40 crap).

Early on, the reason why I went to spotify was that even with all 18,000+ tracks of my music collection being in my library, it was shitty for streaming. Lots of skips, halts, and “burps”. Spotify, whatever they do, was far more robust in streaming, and unless I was having major network issues, it never got glitchy.

At the start of my evaluation of the Play All Access service, the issues with shitty streaming were still there. In fact, they were worse than I recall. In the last week though, I have given the All Access another chance (my free month is expiring soon, so I have to decide if I want to pay $7.95 a month for it). I am impressed. Three days this week, not one glitch or streaming issue. You still have to use the damn browser (no dedicated application), but at least it has been solid.

2 weeks ago, I would have put my money on Spotify, but now for reliability, the Google All Access plan seems pretty good.

Still to compare is the quality of music matching in the radio.  So far, I think Spotify is ahead there, barely (for the record, Pandora smokes them both, but I have doubts about their long term viability). But Google has my entire music collection, and I listen to much that isn’t licensed to Spotify (Paul Gilbert and Led Zeppelin come to mind)

Either way I go, I am now confident that my tunes on my work laptop will be fine being streamed.

The good and the bad about Netflix streaming

I will come out and say it, I love Netflix streaming video. I like being able to watch what I want, without having to fiddle with the queue to get the right disk sent next.

I have really enjoyed watching some of the series I used to watch while growing up, and that is where the “bad” comes in. Of course, I remember Knight Rider being pretty awesome. But it is completely ‘meh’ now. Cheesy special effects, and David Hasselhof is an annoying a-hole.

I did enjoy watching all the “Rockford Files”.  I loved that show when I was a kid, and I still enjoyed watching the episodes. Lots of fun.

But it isn’t all roses. I was a huge fan of the X-Files when it was first run. I kind of drifted away after the 4th season, and sporadically caught an episode or two.  Lately, I re-watched them on Netflix, and being able to get through 2-3 episodes at a sitting, you can almost see in real time the Shark being jumped.  Of course this reminds me of why I drifted away (it had become all too predictable, and boring) in the first place.

I just wish that they would get the agreements in place to greatly increase the available movies. For one, I hate not being able to queue up all the James Bond flicks for a marathon. But even some old classics like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff” aren’t in their library, except by disk.