Google just unveiled its new cloud music service to the world, and we've checked out the beta to see how it works. Here's a tour of some of our favourite features.
Google's new music service aims to make all your music available everywhere you go. You can upload up to 20,000 songs, and play them back in any desktop web browser as well as the new music player on Android. It goes above and beyond the call of duty to include some extra features, too, like a Genius-like playlist creator and thumbs up/thumbs down tool for easy shuffling of your favourite music. Here's a look at how it works. (Note that right now only US customers can sign up to the service, and they need an invite; there's no firm word on an Australian release date, though given that the service uses your own music, licensing issues shouldn't slow it down.)
Once you get your invite to the beta, you'll be able to sign into the service at http://music.google.com. It'll first ask you for your favourite genres of music, and give you some free song packs to try out that match your tastes. It's a nice touch, especially if you just want to see how the player works before you go uploading all your music. Once it's done, it'll prompt you to download the Music Manager to start uploading your music.
Uploading Your Music
Google's Music Manager tool is available for both Windows and Mac, and will import music straight from iTunes, Windows Media Player, or a folder on your computer. After signing in with your Google Music account, you can tell it where you store your music, and even have it watch for changes. That way, whenever you add new music to those folders or to your desktop client, it'll automatically upload those tracks to Google Music as well, so you don't have to worry about it later.
Note that it does actually upload your music, which can take awhile. It isn't like Grooveshark or Lala, that has all the music stored on their servers and just matches your library to their tracks—you're actually uploading the files of the music you own. It's also worth noting that they're looking to crack down on piracy, so depending on how well it works and how much of your music is illegal, that could be a deal killer for some.
Google Music understands it will take a while to upload your entire library, so once it has done scanning, it'll remember its position as it uploads. That way, you can restart or turn off your computer, and it'll pick back up where it left off when you come back. You can also limit its bandwidth, if you need it for other things like video calls, or games.
Using The Player
If you're still skeptical about Google Music, use the player. This thing is smooth. It's got nice animated transitions all over the place, and looks great. It still feels like a webapp, but it's way cooler than most of the other music streaming webapps out there. It doesn't feel "native", but it's almost more fun to use than an actual desktop music player, even if you do have to keep it open in a browser tab. I'm not about to ditch iTunes for it, but it's pretty great.
Not only can you listen to your music and create playlists, but you can edit album info, "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" songs (which add them to a smart playlist of songs you like), and even create "instant mixes", which are shuffleable mixes spawned by a specific song. Like iTunes' Genius mixes, it'll grab music from your library that it considers similar, so you have a one-click playlist of music that fits your current mood.
Google Music On Android
The other half of what makes Google Music amazing is its Android integration. The newest version of the Music app, available in the Android Market, will automatically grab all your music from the cloud after you log in. From then on, you can play it as if it were on your phone — it'll even cache recently listened to songs so you can play them when you lose connection. You can also "pin" specific songs to your device and make them available offline, by pressing and holding them. It's got all the same features as the desktop app, too, like instant mixes and thumbs up, so you can carry over all those playlists to your phone.
For a webapp that's still in beta, Google Music is one of the most polished cloud music services we've seen yet. Not only is the webapp a joy to use, but they've got some nice touches—like monitoring your local music folder for changes, and remembering your upload position for seamless library transfer, that already give it a few advantages over alternatives like Amazon Cloud Drive. Got a favourite feature that isn't yet in the beta, or just general thoughts on the new service? Share them in the comments.