The program itself doesn’t consume many system resources, and you probably won’t even notice it running, although when it uploads a song you might notice your internet speed drop. If you have a fast internet connection, you won’t need to worry too much about this — you’ll barely notice your internet speed dip.
Even though the uploading process was easy, there are some problems. When I first installed the Google Music Manager and pointed it to a folder containing Mile Davis’ Kind of Blue album, it took over 5 minute to scan the folder, and then another 5 to upload it to Google Music. That’s 10 minutes for a total of 6 songs — way too long. By comparison, iTunes took about 5 seconds to scan the folder and add it to my iTunes library.
Another downside to the music uploading process is that there’s no way to upload music right from your web browser; you have to run the Google Music Manager on your computer. As someone who likes to have as few programs running on his computer as possible (even though the Google Music Manager is really small), this bugs me. It’s also a bit counterintuitive; you’d expect a web-based music manager to have a way to upload songs via the browser, but alas, not in Google Music.
Organizing and playing your collection
Google Music organizes your music in a few default ways. You can view your collection by album title, artist name, song title, and genre. You can also make playlists yourself (by creating a new playlist, and then dragging music from an album onto the playlist’s name on the left side of the window), or let Google Music create Instant Mixes for you, which is a combination of your songs that Google thinks are a good mix with the song you’ve indicated. For instance, if I pick So What? from Kind of Blue, an Instant Mix playlist might have Dave Brubeck’s Take Five as the next song.
The service also creates automatic playlists for songs that you’ve given a “Thumbs up” to indicate that you like, songs that were recently added, and free songs that came with signing up for the service.
When you double-click on a song or playlist, the music starts playing via a built-in player at the bottom of the screen. It works well enough — it has the basic player controls you’ve come to expect on everything from DVD players to iPods —and you can adjust the volume and turn on song shuffling right from the player. There is no quick mute button, however.
Overall, the playlist and general organizing features are not yet up to par with those of iTunes and other music players. At times, the user interface seems to have hidden away things you’d expect — like an easy way to see what playlist you’re listening to and what’s coming up next, or a way to sort your albums. Future versions of Google Music will need to make a lot of improvements in this area.
The Android app
The Android app is pretty straightforward. It loads up a scaled-down version of Google Music and lets you select which song, album, or playlist to listen to. The app works with both the Google Music service and other MP3s you might have stored on your device, so it’s not a bad thing to have around even if you’re not testing Google Music.
One bonus of the app is the ability to save songs, playlists, and albums right to your Android device, so you don’t necessarily need an internet connection while on the go. This turns out to be a key feature for people who have restrictive bandwidth caps on their phone plans — no need to worry about how much data you’ll use when you can grab the album while connected to your home wifi network.
The downsides to the app is that it’s currently a little slow and has been known to crash. This should be expected though, as it’s still in beta. Google is aware of this, and it’s a safe bet that these bugs will be corrected over the next few months.
A bright future ahead
Google Music has a lot of potential. The building blocks are there for it to become an amazing tool that will let you digitally access your music from anywhere with an internet connection. As fast internet connections become less expensive and easier to access, Google Music will be able to do amazing things. But as it stands now, in this early beta test, it needs a bit of work. The service is sluggish at times, the interface is not nearly as advanced as that of iTunes, and the decision to limit Google Music only to computers and Android devices leaves iPhone and BlackBerry users in a sore spot.
But again — Google Music is still in beta. That means improvements are coming, and we’ve not seen the final product yet. Google has a proven track record of delivering some amazing technology, and Google Music could be its next big thing. Only time will tell.