Among the worst kept secrets to be revealed during today's Google I/O keynote was Play Music All Access. Mountain View's desire to create a subscription-based music streaming service was pretty well-documented. Now it's finally here, for $9.99 a month (or $7.99 if you're an early adopter and get in on the free trial before June 30th), with at least a couple major labels on board. Of course, All Access is entering a rather crowded field -- one already dominated by heavy hitters like Spotify. We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with Google's subscription music service to see if it has what it takes to hang with more established properties. Head on past the break to see what we learned.
Unlike many of its competitors, Google Play Music All Access is limited to the web and Android. But, while there's no desktop or iOS app, the internet giant has given the browser interface and Android package a shiny new coat of paint. Both now sport the same cool gray-and-orange color scheme as the Play Music store. They've also both adopted the card UI that made its debut with Now and is slowly trickling down into Google's other properties. The redesign brings a much welcome level of consistency across all platforms, and simplifies some of its more cumbersome design elements. Most notably, UI elements won't shift around so much now when you switch from portrait to landscape on your mobile device.
The redesign brings a much welcome level of consistency across all platforms.
There's now a universal five-star rating system for music and sharing everything from individual tracks to entire playlists is as easy as ever. Album pages now feature much larger cover art and artist pages also have a slightly tweaks design that's cleaner and more attractive. Search results are still a little unnecessarily complex. We dig the search-as-you-type feature, but a separate "best match" lives separate from the previews of artist, album and songs, all of which are all delivered individual lists. And you'll still need to click through to see the full results in each category.
For the first time Google seems to be taking music discovery seriously. A new radio tab delivers a constant stream of tunes you might like based on the artist, album or song you've punched in -- just like Pandora. There's even a recommended section for stations created by others that Google's vast repositories of data suggest you'll appreciate. There are fewer surprises in the auto-generated playlists than there are on Pandora, but that's not necessarily a good thing. We like when a solid funk or soul tune pops up in our J. Dilla station. Unlike Pandora, however, you do get an unlimited number of track skips and can rearrange your queue.
The most important thing though, is music selection. In that respect All Access is a mixed bag. Modern albums are well-represented and almost all of our searches pulled up exactly what we were looking for. Still, we were quite confused to see that Kanye West's Graduation was missing, especially since the rest of his discography was available. Liturgy's Aesthethica and DJ Khaled's "All I Do is Win" also stumped Google, leaving this editor's workout mix without a couple of crucial ingredients. Classic Rock is All Access' biggest weak spot, however. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are both completely unrepresented, while none of Black Sabbath's offerings predate 1980.
All Access is hardly a slam dunk for Google, but it's certainly a good start. While the lack of a free service tier is slightly surprising, the $7.99-a-month early bird special does undercut the competition. You won't find apps or artist-curated playlists, but the most essential features are all here. The biggest obstacle facing Google is its library, but we're sure there are plenty of talks going on behind the scenes to rectify that.