Google rolled out a beta of its music streaming service, creatively named Google Music. The service allows people to store up to 20,000 songs on Google's servers and then stream them back to their browser or Android device.
Setting up Google Music is a snap. Google asks Music users to agree to a handful (read: several pages) of terms and conditions and reiterates several times that Google Music is only for legally obtained music files.
During initial set-up, Google Music offers to install an application for managing and uploading music to its servers. This application is available to both Windows and Apple computers--and it is the first real competitive edge that Google Music has over Cloud Drive. Uploading music files to Amazon's Cloud Drive is a clunky experience that requires users to navigate through the depths of their hard drive. Google's MusicManager software, conversely, automatically combs the hard drive for music files and it even plays nice with Apple's iTunes software. Uploading files to Amazon's Cloud Drive took forever, despite my speedy home Internet connection. Uploading to Google Music was only marginally faster.
In terms of basics, Google says users can store up to 20,000 songs. When asked, Google couldn't say if there is an actual size limit for those songs (e.g., 100 GB, 500 GB). Amazon's Cloud Drive offers 5 GB of storage for free, and 20 GB of storage for $5 per year (you can purchase more storage if you wish). Google Music will be free while in beta, and Google hasn't decided (or hasn't announced) if it will charge for the service one it leaves beta.
With Google Music, once files are uploaded, you're ready to go. If the song files are properly tagged with album art, it will appear with the music. Music can be sorted by newly added, recently played, songs, albums, artists, and genres. It will automatically create playlists on the fly, or let users manually edit them. The controls for music playback in the browser aren't terribly exciting, but they get the job done.
Music is streamed back to users at whatever bit rate the files are encoded with, though it supports an upper limit of 320 Kbps. That means .WAV files won't be played back at the full 1440 Kbps. Amazon's Cloud Drive also streams music files back at the native bit rate. Google says, however, that it will dynamically manage the bit rate depending on the network conditions.
Google Music's Web interface is much easier to navigate and use. It is less menu-driven and more graphically rich when compared to Amazon's Cloud Drive Web interface--i.e., it lets you play albums, songs, or playlists easier. Music sounds great through both services. My audiophile ears couldn't detect any differences when playing music back through my browser.
Both services offer a mobile component. Amazon revamped its MP3 store application with the Cloud Drive launch so that it now offers integration with the Amazon MP3 Store as well as local music files and Cloud Drive. Music can be streamed to Android handsets via 3G or Wi-Fi, and the revised Amazon music player application for Android works well.