Google Play Music All Access vs Spotify
12th Aug 2013 | 13:35
The battle for music streaming supremacy begins here
Google's long awaited move into online music streaming has finally arrived in the UK, with the Google Play Music All Access service unlocking itself for official use over here in early August.
Google's offering a 30-day free trial to tempt people into giving its Spotify rival a spin, plus there's a discounted monthly subscription fee of £7.99 on offer to listeners who take out a rolling monthly contract right now.
That'll increase to £9.99 once the first month is out of the way, taking it bang in line with the £9.99 advert-free premium service offered by established streaming music king Spotify.
Whereas Spotify lets you organise your listening through a (clunky) desktop app, Google's All Access system is designed to be accessed online, with a browser-based player for those listening on computers joined by an updated Play Music app for the company's Android-powered smartphones and tablets.
With over 24 million users around the world, Spotify is the current leader in the streaming music race. Google Music All Access may be entering late, but its competitive pricing and already large library make it a capable challenger.
So which should you buy into? Should you make the switch from Spotify to Google Music? Or wait until Apple gets its own streaming service into gear?
Google Music vs Spotify: price
Google's currently running a launch promotion for UK users, who can test the service for free for one month and sign up for a discounted monthly subscription pegged at £7.99 for life.
This introductory price will rise to £9.99 a month for anyone who registers after September 15 2013.
Spotify offers a completely free option, with unlimited desktop/laptop access available for nothing - as long as you don't mind having some of the worst and most grating advertisements created by man popping up between every few tracks to ruin whatever mood music you're currently enjoying.
Paying a sub of £4.99 a month removes those adverts, or, for £9.99 a month, you can remove the ads and open up access to listening on the Spotify mobile apps, which bring unlimited streaming to iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone users.
Google Music All Access has no free version at all, although both services offer a 30-day trial period to let users browse the selections, learn the ropes and hopefully like them enough to bother actually paying.
Google Music vs Spotify: music selection
At the Google IO announcement on Wednesday representatives claimed it has "millions" of tracks already available on Google Music. It's been reported that Google has negotiated access to music from Sony, Universal and Warner.
Spotify is also well established in this area, offering over 20 million tracks.
Exploring the two services, the selection seems extremely comparable. We're personally big Spotify users, and searching Google Music, it had all of our most frequently streamed albums.
Ultimately, this will become one of, if not the most, important points of comparison for the two services. Remember when Apple broke ground by getting The Beatles on iTunes? Expect a lot of bragging about specific artists from both services.
Spotify, for example, recently created a big wave of media buzz when it granted access to the entire Pink Floyd back catalogue to its users. And yes, the prog masters are represented on Google's All Access servers as well.
Google Music vs Spotify: platforms
Google Music can be played from a browser on a PC or Mac, and on an Android-based smartphone or tablet through Google's Music app, which recently updated to feature a "radio" button that lets you organise your newly paid for streaming music.
Current iPhone users can only access Google's Music and All Access content through the browser, due to lack of a dedicated app, which is quite a large deal-breaker for potential iOS-using All Access customers.
It seems like Spotify has an early lead in this category. Like Amazon's Kindle service, it plays neutral third party in the mobile OS wars.
Google Music vs Spotify: quality
Currently, Google Music outputs at a maximum of 320kbps. This is quite good for the earbud crowd, but audiophiles who shell out thousands on their home stereo setups aren't getting their money's worth.
Same goes for Spotify, which also plays at a quality of up to 320kbps. Both services let you use your phone's equaliser to tweak settings.
Obviously, high quality sound output over a streaming connection is difficult, and also threatens to eat up your data plan. However, the option to download tracks for offline listening gives the opportunity to increase quality substantially. It'll be interesting to see if either service chooses to one-up the other in this category.
Google Music vs Spotify: offline play
Google Music enables subscribers to download - or "keep," as they put it – up to 20,000 songs for offline play. It's well done on the Play Music smartphone app, where you simply "pin" music to the device through a menu tab, but is more complex on desktop.
Google only enables you to download each track twice through the web-based player. If you want to get more copies of your tunes, it requires you to download and install the Music Manager tool on your desktop.
Spotify, meanwhile, lets premium subscribers download tracks up to 3,333 across three registered devices. Both options allow you to enjoy music without having to rely on network quality, or eat up your mobile data plans.
One feature unique to Google's Music scheme is the ability to upload tracks you already own (or have stolen and hoarded), thanks to its desktop uploader utility.
This lets you save up to 20,000 existing tracks to your cloud account, meaning any gaps in Google's catalogue ought to be covered by your existing collection. It's nice having your personal collection right there alongside the streaming stuff, safely duplicated in the cloud for posterity.
Also, music purchased through Google's servers don't count toward this 20,000 limit, so if you pay for stuff there's no limit at all to how many tunes you can technically "own" on the site.
Google Music vs Spotify: social
Surprisingly, Google Music lacks social integration, at least to the degree that Spotify does it. It is possible to share an album to Google Plus, but you can't follow your friends and see what they're listening to. Nor can you ping URLs out to others. So no Facebook or Twitter support here.
Spotify works hand in hand with Facebook, enabling you to follow other users to see what they're listening to. You can also have it broadcast your current tracks on Facebook, plus Last.fm scrobbling lets you ping your tracks over to yet another internet radio system, if you still use that last-generation streaming service.
Plus every track can be shared from Spotify via the browser player, with URLs copied to your clipboard for posting to social sites or emailing to anyone. It's vastly more sociable than Google's surprisingly locked-down system.
Google Music vs Spotify: which one's best?
There are two things to consider, really - Spotify can be accessed for free through the web whereas Google's All Access service can't. But in Google's favour, those signing up to the UK servers in the first month get access for a promotional price of £7.99 a month, lower than Spotify's standard £9.99 ad-free access fee.
Spotify's been doing the streaming business and refining its service for many years now, and where it pulls ahead of Google's radio streamer is in terms of the ability to share tunes.
It lets you break out of the "walled garden" and share web URLs to tracks on sites and blogs, giving it much more of a social feel than Google's rather forced reliance on Google+ for sharing songs with mates.
The Google Play Music app is fantastic, though, and offers a way of managing your existing MP3 collection alongside streaming tracks and DIY radio stations, with one Google sign-in letting you access accounts and keep playlists synced across your various phones, tablets and desktops (up to 10 separate devices) with ease.
The understandable lack of an iOS Play Music app means iPhone users can pretty much forget about Google's radio ambitions, though.