Getting to Know Your Google Apps: Google Play Music

Google Play Music is a free tool everyone with a digital music collection should use. While you get the most benefit if you are an Android user, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone and non-smartphone users should use it as well. Yes that means that even though you use iTunes, you can get a big benefit by using Google Play Music.


What exactly is Google Play Music?

Google Play Music is Google’s answer to Apple’s ubiquitous iTunes software. However, with the usual Google flair, it is nearly completely cloud based. After uploading your music to your Google account, you can access it anywhere you have an internet connection. To play your music on an internet connected desktop or laptop, simply navigate to your Google Music page and sign in. There you will be able to access your entire music collection.

Why should I use Google Play Music?

If for nothing else, use it as a backup. Think of all the money and time you’ve put into amassing your collection. For iTunes users, unless you pay for the extra iCloud storage, or you’ve bought every single MP3 from iTunes, you are limited in the amount of music you can back-up. Amazon’s cloud storage is a bit cumbersome and closer to Dropbox (referral link) than iTunes. Also, Amazon’s cloud player is limited to 250 imported songs. I won’t even compare Xbox Music.
Google Play Music on the other hand allows you to upload 20,000 songs to your Play Music account. Any purchases you make from the Play Music Store don’t count toward that limit. This is a huge music locker that is 100 percent free. It accepts most major file types. However, FLAC, ogg and aac filees are transcoded to 320kbs mp3. One caveat, Apple Lossless is not supported. 

Google Play Music for Non-Android Mobile Devices

Stream music from any of your connected mobile devices via your browser. The interface is very nearly cloned from the Android app. While not quite as smooth, it works well enough and in a pinch it is better than nothing. 

Google Play Music Android App

If you have an Android device and are not using Google Play Music, you probably fall into 3 camps:
  1. You don’t listen to your own music on your device
  2. You have an explicit reason for not using it
  3. You don’t know how to use the Google Play Music app
So let’s start with number one.

You Don’t Listen to Your Own Music on Your Device

Why not? Google Play Music makes it super simple to listen to your music on the go. Read on. 

You Have an Explicit Reason For Not Using it

In this case you probably store all of your music locally and play it via a third party music player like PowerAmp. That’s cool. Your only limit at this point is how much storage you have on your device. Many of the top end Android smartphones like the Nexus 4 don’t come with removable media and limited space. In the which case, you have to actively manage your music collection. For most people this is more of a hassle than it is worth.

You Don’t Know How to Use the Google Play Music App

Google has made it really easy to use Google Play Music. First there you need to download the Google Music Manager to your computer. After you go through a quick setup process, it will automatically begin uploading your iTunes or Windows Media Player library. If you have a substantial music library or a really slow internet connection this could take a few hours or more. Be patient.
Google Play Music web interface

The second part is to open up your Google Play Music app on your Android phone. If you don’t have the app pre-installed, you can download it here. If you don’t have an Android device (say the iPhone or a Nokia Lumia 920) you can simply navigate to play.google.com/music via your smartphone’s browser to access the web interface. Your music will automatically appear as it is uploaded to your Google account.

Pinning Music

Caching Music in Google Play Music
Tap the pin button to cache music or playlists to your phone

It is a fact of life that most of us are on capped data plans. That means we have to keep an eye on how much  data we use, lest we incur overage charges. Also, there are times when you want to listen to music in an area where you don’t have data coverage. That is where pinning comes in.   In Google Play Music speak, pinning your music means caching it to your device and making it playable offline. If you have a large amount of music you are wanting to cache to your device, you’ll want to make sure you do this while connected to Wi-Fi. You’ll blow through your data cap for sure if you try and pin music to your phone while using mobile data.

Stuff That Needs Improvement

Not everything about Google Play Music is all roses and daffodils. The interface hasn’t had a substantial update since it first came out more than a year ago. It is getting long in the tooth and really could use a refresh. 
Next, playlist creation is not nearly as simple as in iTunes or DoubleTwist. There is no “smart playlist” functionality which is a bummer. It does however have an “Instant Playlist” feature that is very similar to the “Genious” feature in iTunes. It works just about as well.

Conclusion

Google Play Music is a free online tool that everyone, even die-hard Apple/iOS fans should consider using. At the very least as an emergency backup. Remember, you can access your music anywhere you can use a web browser.  If you are an Android user, you really should consider using the Play Music app on your phone. I’ve been using it since day 1 and haven’t turned back despite the (very) minor drawbacks.

Kenny Larson
Onetime Apple/Android/Windows fanboy. Now a firm agnostic when it comes to OS. They all suck in their own special way.

"Be excellent to each other."
--Bill & Ted

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