Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang Daily music columnist.
If you’re using a music subscription service these days, it’s hard not to feel like a pirate. Spotify and Rdio offer access to tens of millions of songs — everything from Alabama Shakes to Zulu Winter — for the cost of a Chipotle meal per month.
Gone are the days when we had to choose between buying a $1.29 song on iTunes, downloading a sketchy torrent or settling for a lousy YouTube rip. So when Google launched its new subscription service this past week, music lovers couldn’t help but feel like they had an embarrassing amount of riches at their disposal.
The newest addition to the subscription smorgasbord is the poorly named Google Play Music All Access. Google claims that All Access isn’t a direct competitor to Spotify, but it’s hard to see how that couldn’t be the case. Functionally, the programs are very similar: Users pay a fixed monthly fee for access to a huge database of music that’s roughly the same size. However, there are some key differences in regard to the programs’ respective features that Spotify users should consider before they think about jumping ship.
The biggest difference is that All Access is all done in your browser, meaning there’s no desktop client. When you’re connected to the Internet, the browser-based streaming (which is kind of a resource hog) is generally fluid, although I did experience a couple of skips and hiccups in the music, even with a strong Wi-Fi connection. For offline listening, however, the program is less than intuitive. You can pin songs to be downloaded, but if you’re offline, your browser won’t work, meaning All Access won’t work. You can play the songs you downloaded in another media player, but this system is not clearly explained.
On your phone, this isn’t a problem. You can use the app just like any other music player for both streaming and personal library listening purposes, but this brings us to a considerable point against All Access: It’s not available for Apple devices. Unlike Spotify, the app is available only to Android users, which cuts out a significant user base. There is a third-party client, gMusic, which can stream your Google library to your iPhone, but another set of hoops to jump through isn’t what users want.
Spotify also trumps All Access in social network integration. On Spotify, you can import your Facebook friends list, share your music with them and see what they’re listening to in your news feed. All Access doesn’t offer Facebook support, but you can yell about Daft Punk’s new album into the empty morass that is Google Plus. And while both programs offer a Pandora-like radio service, only Spotify will let you build a radio station based off of a playlist as opposed to a song or artist.
Where Google has the advantage is in the smoothness of the interface. The white, boxy motif makes Spotify look dark and clunky. The player itself on the bottom of the screen is gorgeous, and the option for a Windows Media Player-type visualizer based on the album cover is much appreciated. It will let you adjust songs in your queue on the fly, a feature that Spotify maddeningly doesn’t offer. All Access is also cheaper — for now. If you subscribe before June 30, Google’s service is $7.99 per month. Users who subscribe after that date will pay the same price as Spotify Premium at $9.99 per month.
One feature Google gets right is the iTunes-style play count next to every song in your library. For a guy like me who is borderline OCD about his music, Spotify’s Top Lists just don’t do it for me. I want to know exactly how often I listen to Japandroids’ “Celebration Rock” versus Titus Andronicus’ “The Monitor,” and Google Access gives me that kind of information.
Or at least it would, if I were to switch. Your mileage may vary, but for me, even with an Android phone, the lack of Facebook integration is a killer. All Access has plenty of potential, and with the weight of Google behind it, it’s sure to improve quickly. For now, though, I’ll stick to Spotify.