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I admit it: I’m pretty late to Google Play Music. It’s been around for more than five years, and even though I’ve dabbled with it from time to time, I never gave it a proper “use it seriously for one month” chance. So when my new Chromebook came with three months for free, I decided to delve deep into Google Play Music.
Before we do that though, let’s clear up a bit of confusion. Google Play Music has two components: the music locker and online store (free) and the All Access subscription (premium). All features in this article should be assumed to be part of All Access unless specifically indicated as part of the basic service.
So, is Google Play Music worth trying? Here are the most compelling features you’ll find.
1. Purchase, Stream, or Upload
Google Play Music offers the trifecta of modern online music playback: the ability to stream music from its online library, the ability to purchase music from its store, and the ability to upload your own music to Google’s servers as part of your collection. The latter two are available to free users.
This is such a killer feature because it satisfies nearly everyone.
Google’s on-demand streaming library has over 30 million songs. Can’t find a particular song or album? Buy it off the Play Store for about $1-per-song or $10-per-album on average. Still can’t find it? Download it elsewhere and upload it. All of the songs you buy or upload can be streamed just like the rest of Google’s library.
As of this writing, the upload limit is 50,000 songs. Formats are limited to MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, Ogg, and ALAC. Also worth noting is that you can share music in your library with others (excluding uploaded songs due to copyright concerns). Think of all the hard drive space you can save!
2. High-Quality Audio
Google Play Music’s All Access online library consists of 320 Kbps MP3s, which is more than enough for most users. (What are audio compression and bitrates?) For comparison, Apple Music offers 256 Kbps AACs and Spotify offers 320 Kbps OGGs. (What are the differences between audio formats?)
In short, you’ll be happy with what you hear, even if you’re an audiophile.
Note that if you’re using Google Play Music on a mobile device, you can manually set audio quality to Low, Medium, or High, or you can let it automatically change audio quality depending on your current connection and whether you’re using Wi-Fi or data.
3. Offline Playback
One of the main arguments against online music streaming is that you can’t listen if you’re ever without an internet connection. That’s why every respectable music streaming service, Google Play Music included, now offers some kind of offline playback.
Or in other words, the ability to download a streamable song to your device so you can play it whenever you want. You aren’t buying the song, though — if your All Access subscription runs out, you won’t be able to play it.
So if the only reason why you aren’t using a service like Google Play Music is because it forces all of your music “onto the cloud” and you want to listen even when you’re commuting or stuck in a tunnel, then fear not. Offline playback is here to save the day.
Also note that Google Play Music does not limit how many songs you can download for offline playback, which is in stark contrast to services like Spotify, which has a limit of 3,333 downloads-per-device.
4. Music Discovery
Google Play Music has a handful of features that give it a leg up on other music streaming services when it comes to music discovery and music recommendation. Most people look to Spotify and Pandora for that, Google Play Music is quite capable of competing.
- Top Charts — The most popular music right now according to Google Play Music’s back-end stats. Top lists can be filtered by genre, albums, or songs.
- New Releases — The latest albums to be added to Google Play Music. You can filter them by genre, which is a great way to stay on top of your favorite music and expand your collection.
- Music Stations — Hundreds of curated playlists that are categorized by genre, activity, mood, decade, and age. For example, there are music stations for exercising (activity) and introspective (mood). If you have ever used Songza, it’s basically the same — Google acquired Songza in 2015.
- Song and Artist Radio — Dynamically generated music stations based on a particular song or artist. Want to hear more like Eminem? Or maybe you like the musical style of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid? Create radio stations for them!
- Sound Search — Listens for a nearby-playing song and identifies the artist and title. You’ll need to install the Sound Search app, which is a separate download, but it integrates with Google Play Music such that identified songs can be purchased directly or saved for later.
All of these features are ad-free and have unlimited skips, so you won’t have to deal with the annoying restrictions that some other services tend to impose.
If you listen to podcasts, you’ve probably lamented the difficulties of finding a good podcast manager app. Well, if you’re using Google Play Music for music, you might as well use it for podcasts too. Keeping all of your aural pleasures in one app is very convenient.
There are many ways to find new and interesting podcasts, but iTunes has been the king for quite some time. Google Play Music is doing its best to catch up — and while it has room to improve, it’s pretty darn good. Podcasts are split into two dozen categories and the selection grows every day.
Never listened to a podcast before? Start with some of our favorite podcasts for everyone.
6. Family Plan Subscription
As of this writing, Google Play Music All Access is available for $10-per-month, which isn’t bad at all — on par with other subscription services like Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. But if that’s too much for you, there’s always the Family Plan.
Family plans are awesome. Services of all kinds are starting to offer them, and taking advantage of a family plan is a great way to reduce your monthly expenses. In the case of Google Play Music, you can get six accounts for $15 per month, which is the equivalent of $2.50-per-month per account. Which is incredible value when you think about what you’re getting for it.
Each Google Play Music account can connect up to 10 devices — five smartphones plus any combination of tablets, laptops, and desktops — but you can only stream music on one device at a time per account. Accounts on a family plan can share purchased items using the Family Library.
7. YouTube Red Is Included
Although it’s the last item on this list, YouTube Red is one of the main reasons why users choose Google Play Music over the alternatives. We’ve looked at YouTube Red before, but here’s a quick summary of benefits you might find useful:
- No ads when viewing YouTube videos.
- Access to original content only for YouTube Red subscribers.
- Audio-only playback of YouTube videos on mobile devices.
- Offline playback of YouTube videos on mobile devices.
- Background playback of YouTube videos on mobile devices.
YouTube Red costs $10-per-month on its own, but comes included with Google Play Music. Which makes Google Play Music even better value for money.
Google Play Music Competes With the Best
Some of the above features are available with Google Play Music’s biggest competitors, such as music discovery in Spotify and an online store in Apple Music. But when you look at each service as a whole, Google Play Music may just offer the best and most versatile overall package.
Plus, there’s one more benefit: Google has the widest ecosystem, and these days it’s more convenient to buy into the ecosystem you’re already using. Most of us already own a smartphone powered by Android and a Google account, which, in the opinion of this writer, makes Google Play Music a no-brainer.
How do you feel about Google Play Music? Is it on par with, or even better than, alternatives like Spotify and Apple Music? If you don’t use it, why not? Please let us know in the comments below!