Perhaps you've heard of Amazon's new Cloud Player and Google Play (previously Google Music), and perhaps you've used one or both of them. If you've already formed your own opinion, it's unlikely that what I will say here will change it, but if you're considering trying one of these (admittedly awesome) services, you may enjoy reading on.
As you can see from the simple feature grid below, the services are very similar on their face:
|Feature||Cloud Player||Google Play|
|Upload your own music||Up to 250 tracks free||Up to 20,000 tracks free|
|Match online library||Yes||Yes|
|Play in web browser||Yes||Yes|
|Play on Android/iPhone||Yes||Yes|
|Play on Sonos speakers||Yes||No|
So let's get into the details. First things first: why would you want to use one of these services anyway? I'm sure that the reasons may be different for you, but here are the reasons I decided to start this evaluation:
- Listen to the same music on your computer, from your phone, and through a variety of other media devices, such as Sonos and Roku (the Netflix player).
- Have download access to your music from anywhere (with a browser).
For me, the first point is doubly attractive because I have an ample data plan from my cell carrier and Bluetooth A2DP audio in my car. This means that I can listen to all of my music in the car, on the train, on my computer at home, or on my laptop in a coffee shop somewhere. It's a compelling proposition.
My entire music collection at this point is about 7,000 tracks. The truth is, I don't frequently listen to all of that music, but I think that 7,000 tracks is a reasonable size for a personal music collection. I was on the cusp of purchasing the Amazon Cloud Player “premium account,” which increases the track limit to 250,000, when I learned of the Google Play service.
With Google Play's 20,000 track limit, I can load up all of my music and listen for free. Awesome.
OK, so the feature grid makes it look like the services are equivalent except for the track limit, so how do you choose? I'm here to tell you, they are not equivalent at all.
The first thing you're going to notice is that both services offer browser-based players. The full desktop browser players are OK from both companies, but Google edges out the lead by accepting some common keyboard shortcuts, such as spacebar to play and pause, and left and right arrow keys to move to the previous and next track.
The Amazon player works well enough and the interface is easy to use, but it doesn't seem to respond to any key presses.
Now let's talk about mobile browsers. Both services offer native apps for the iPhone and Android-based phones, but what they do not offer is a native iPad app. So, what if you want to listen to some music on your iPad?
If you have Cloud Player, you can't. You can install the iPhone app on your iPad, but it's not a great experience. If you're really in a bind and want to go that route, it's there, but it is not a very “iPaddy” experience.
I got the Amazon Cloud Player site to load in Mobile Safari on my iPad once, and it even played a track or two, but it was unreliable and took several taps of links and buttons to make things happen. Now it looks like you get turned away when you try to access it from the iPad so I guess it's really not production-ready.
If you try to load the Google Play site on your iPad browser (and just to be generous, I used Chrome, which I normally use for web browsing on my iPad anyway), it loads fine, and works perfectly. The interface is spartan considering the screen real estate, but the playback works exactly as you would expect it to.
I don't think that you can listen to music in the background while using the browser-based app, but at least it works.
Other ways to listen
Google owns the web experience; between the two web-based players, Google's is the more intuitive, more responsive, and generally cleaner one.
On the iPhone, both services seem to be neck-and-neck. On Android (which is what I personally use), the Google Play app is a nice little player that can stream from your account as well as play local music. I have used it for a while and have no substantial complaints.
It seems that Google is not ready or not willing to allow third-party developers to access the music from Play, though. Sonos can't play from that source, and I don't think you can access it from your Roku, either. Meanwhile, Amazon's Cloud Player service is accessible from both Roku and Sonos.
On the periphery
A few other things stand out that you may like to consider when choosing a service:
- Amazon's music uploader application is made with Adobe Air. I don't have any real problem with Adobe Air, but Amazon didn't do a great job with this one. It can sometimes hang while uploading and doesn't feel very polished.
- In contrast to the above, Google's music uploader is a native application. I tried the Windows one and the experience was smooth and without issue.
- It seemed to me that Google's service provided a faster upload speed. I am on Verizon FiOS and have 35 megabits of upstream bandwidth so I do like to see a couple of megs per second going up, and with Google that was the case.
Which service to choose? This depends on your needs, of course. If you want to do a serious test drive without spending any money, Google will let you store more tracks for free. If you are a devout user of Sonos, Roku, or another third-party multimedia platform, the chances are higher than it will have Cloud Player support than Google Play support.
If you are an Android user, or if you listen mostly on the web at work or at home, Google's service is the way to go; their web-based player is on par with Pandora and other mature web applications, with support for keyboard shortcuts and a quick, responsive feel.
For me, I think I will stick with Google Play. It's a bummer that I can't play it on the Sonos, but maybe that will change. For now, I'm happy to stream from my browser and my phone.