I was a huge fan of Lala.com until it was killed by Apple in May 2010. Lala allowed you to listen to any song in your personal collection from the web well as listen to any song in their catalog once for free. They also provided the ability to buy web access to songs at a fraction of the mp3 price (.20 versus .99).
So when I received an invite to the beta version of Google Music I was psyched. Similar to Lala, it allows you access to songs in your personal collection from the web, though the difference is that you actually have to upload the songs versus just have Lala match them by scanning your computer. I’ve uploaded over 1000 songs so far and have been very pleased with the service. I’m impressed with the clean interface, devoid of extra noise. It has many of the features that I would expect from a music player such as shuffle, custom playlists and the ability to favorite songs (though only thumbs up or down, no ratings).
As with other music players, songs are cataloged by artist, genre, album. After uploading my collection, the genre’s needed some cleaning up, but this is more about there not being a consistent standard so one album is labeled “Dance/Electronic” while another is “Electronica/Dance”. You can manually change the genre for an album by editing the album’s information. As its designed, it allows me only to type in a genre as opposed to the ability to choose from the existing genres in my collection as well as add a new genre. This would prevent me from making a typo when trying to remember how I wrote Dance/Electronic; “Did it have a space before or after the slash? Was it Dance_/_Electronic or Dance/Electronic?” (Its not smart enough to notice that they’re the same, though does recognize “Dance” the same as “dance”.) See the review below for demonstration of some of the this as well as other features.
An excellent feature is that you can select multiple songs and edit their properties, such as their genre. So rather than individually reclassifying Electronica/Dance albums as Dance/Electronic, you can click on the genre, select all of the albums and rename their genre. With many web applications, the ability to select multiple files or elements is limited, and done using check boxes or other unique mechanism, while this one functions on the familiar Windows convention of using shift or control to select multiple files simultaneously.
Having the controls docked at the bottom of the browser window is good in that as the window shrinks, the controls stay in view while it shrinks and hides other information like track listings. However, being at the bottom of the screen is not a convenient place for the controls. I initially thought this was a because I used to iTunes having the controls at the top. However, its not a habit issue. Using tabbed browsing, I have multiple tabs open, and if I want to pause my music I must to go from the top of the window to change to the music player tab, to the bottom to pause the song, then back to the top to change tabs. The alternative is keep the music player in a separate browser session, but this still doesn’t solve the top/bottom issue.
Deleting songs or albums can be done by expanding the menu and choosing to delete. However, you can also delete songs by highlighting it and clicking delete on your keyboard. I know this b/c I did it by mistake. Thinking that I was in my e-mail on the other screen, I still had focus on the music player window. Clicking delete (for the e-mail), I mistakenly deleted a song. It did provide a mechanism to undo the action, so I could recover the song. I am not sure what it would do if I repeatedly clicked delete and how far back I could undo. Where expanding the menu and choosing delete is a very intentional process and shouldn't require a warning message, it should have a warning message if delete is chosen from the keyboard.
All views except songs are images or icons. There is no way to view items in text form. It’s not possible to view a list of artists or albums in a list versus icons of each. This gets especially challenging when looking at an artist list and you have albums that are from various artists b/c you’ll see multiple images of the same album cover as it’ll be listed for each artist.
Some critics have complained that the service doesn’t allow you to purchase music through it or automatically add songs purchased elsewhere to your library (a la Amazon Cloud Music). I suspect that this will be the next phase for Google Music. Not only can Google Music move into the music sales business, but there’s also the ability to add audio books and podcasts (free or otherwise). As Google continues to encourage users to move to cloud based services which use stripped down hardware with limited memory, such as their new Chrome book, it will be increasingly important for services to have the ability to move information within the cloud without downloading. The ability to move information within the cloud, from vendor to cloud storage, will be critical.
Overall, it’s a strong application that has a few features that could be refined, but that’s what beta testing is all about. Google’s got the weight and trust to make this a strong presence in the on line music scene, though their high profile also makes them a target of publishers and regulators.