Google Music - Reasonably Quick Takes 
Saturday, 4 June, 2011, 01:18
Posted by Administrator
As you may or may not know, Google Music was released as an invite-only beta not too long ago. Being the nerd that I am I got in line and was invited late last week. You too can get in line by hitting http://music.google.com and signing up using your Google account.

I didnít get around to uploading music until yesterday, though. I accomplished this by installing the simple Google Music app on my computer and dragging & dropping the folders I wished to upload. The app allows you to throttle bandwidth utilization so you donít bring your network down, but the upload speed appears to top out at 7Mbps. It uploads two songs at a time, and took roughly 6 hours to upload 2500 songs to my Google Music library. For the record, the current iteration of the beta allows 20,000 songs per account, so unless you have every single song Billy Corgan and 2Pac have ever written (and continue to write?) in your collection, there should be plenty of space for your tunes.

You can control your tracks and playlists via a web browser, which I found quite useful after I signed in to the account for the first time. Google gives you some ďfreeĒ tracks if you request it and, given my fiery hatred for John Mayer, I immediately deleted any tracks with his name on them. Iím quite used to pointing and clicking with a mouse (Left 4 Dead, anyone?) and a full screen browser-based interface made this extremely simple. You can also play music through your browser; I didnít pay too much attention to how much bandwidth this used.

Regular readers of anything mobile-related that I post will know that I'm an Android fan. I love my HTC Thunderbolt and the 4G network to which it connects. So, as soon as I got that invite, I snagged the Android app and installed it. The app itself is pretty minimalistic. It has separate screens for artists, albums, songs, and playlists. The ďNow playingĒ screen is pretty simple too Ė it shows you the album cover (or a placeholder if one is not present), track title, artist name, album title, a progress bar, and back/play-pause/forward buttons. The progress bar doubles as a buffer indicator and, when the proper mode is selected, can also be used as a slider so you can skip to different parts of a song. The current time is indicated on the left side of the progress bar, and the track length is on the right.

Playback is of pretty good quality, but the MP3s I rip from my CDs are also of pretty good quality so thereís no surprise there. What is surprising is how well the stream performs Ė hitting Next or Back while on the mobile network did not result in obnoxious buffering screens. Iím not sure if this is because Iím on Verizonís 4G network (though Iím probably not on it all the time, as it sometimes steps back down to 3G) or because of the way Google Music is written, but either way, itís pretty sweet.

As a matter of completeness Iíll include the setup I used Ö phone is an HTC Thunderbolt, as mentioned above. Iíve been driving Julieís car for the past two days, so I popped it in a car dock and paired it with a Plantronics K100 hands-free kit, which was broadcasting to the carís stock stereo on 88.3FM. Due to the nature of the car dock, the phone was in its horizontal orientation the whole time; I havenít really messed with the Android app when the phone is oriented vertically.

I do have some annoyances with Google Music, though. First, like Pandora, you get a thumbs-up/thumbs-down type rating system, but this is only useable in the browser-based version of the interface. Given the vast amount of screen real-estate available in the appís horizontal orientation, rating buttons would be greatly appreciated. Second, songs skip every now and then. Itís usually within the first 30 seconds of the song, and it always happens when the track is fully-buffered. Third Ė and this is the most annoying by far Ė songs sometimes play twice. Itís really strange. The song will play all the way through, and the progress indicator will stop all the way on the right, but the timer keeps ticking past the total track length. Once the song plays through a second time, the app proceeds to the next track as youíd expect. This consistently happens with the first song that is played after you press the Next button, or the first song you play when you start the app.

Additionally, some of the UI semantics are screwy. For example, if I open an album from Album view and select the first track, this indicates to me that I want to start on the first track of the album and play each track until the end. However, the app thinks I want to play only the first track, and repeat it. Thatís not cool. Itís a great way to drive users to view all tracks and hit Shuffle, though.

Given that itís pretty much the initial beta these annoyances are excusable, though. With that said Iíll be keeping a close eye on the updates, and will report back periodically.

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