Google Music Beta Review

Here’s the #ToThePoint review:

It works really damn well.

And here’s the “Would he just get to the damn point” review:

Yes, I know. This is a review of a beta product. Many things may change. Many people cannot access it yet. So sue me. Look at this as a point in time overview.

Now that there is a proper Linux client for Google Music, I can finally properly use the service. Prior to the Linux client release, the only option to run it on Linux was under WINE. And I find that running anything under WINE to be quite #suboptimal.1 The complete service consists of a desktop client, a web-app and an Android app all designed to move your music collection to the cloud and be available anywhere you happen to find yourself.

On the Desktop:

google music manager

The Linux version of the Music Manager comes in both .deb’s and .rpm’s, x86 and x86_64 flavors. My initial install was on my CrunchBang desktop machine, as this is where I’ll be doing the majority of the uploading from. I also installed it on my EeePC, both under CrunchBang and Fedora 15. On both the CrunchBang machines, everything worked right out of the box. On the Fedora install, not so much. The install went fine but, it wouldn’t let me log on at all saying “Login failed. Could not identify your computer”. I posted this on google+ and within a day a solution was found thanks to the guys in the thread. Basically, the issue stems from the Constant Network Device Naming which … long story short … gives your wired connection some crazy name like ‘pcip81’ or ‘p34p1’. The Music Manager is looking for the wired connection to be of the traditional ‘eth0’ sort. Solution? Adding ‘biosdevname=0’ to your grub kernel line keeps the ‘eth0’ name. WooHoo, now it works on Fedora as well.

The program itself is fairly basic. You set what folder(s) you want to upload, how often to upload (from automatically to once an hour/day/week to manually) and the bandwidth you want to use (steps from 128kbps to fastest possible). And that’s it. It’ll run in the background, with an icon in your sys tray, and upload your tunes, typically two at a time and of course, since upload speeds generally suck, it can take some time. Especially if you’ve got a huge collection like I do. Currently, I’m just uploading select folders so as to not completely kill my bandwidth. When set on ‘fastest possible’, the program seems to throttle itself when other network activity happens but, it is definitely noticed across the network when it is uploading. To help with this, I am mostly only running the program at night when there is less traffic occurring.

preparing to add music

On the Browser:

Goooooogle music in the browser

The web-app is fairly straightforward. You are able to browse through your tunes in a number of ways (album, artist, genre, etc.), create playlists and above all, play music. It does have a ‘Instant Mix’ feature in which you select one song to start with and the web-app will auto create a mix of similar tunes. You also have the option to edit the info for the files you upload, from the titles and artist names to the album art.

In the browser again

Navigating through your music, the app is quite responsive and quick. I have only had the occasional hiccup when using the app which can be expected due to it being beta. There is a static playbar on the bottom of the browser window with all your controls. I do feel that the playbar takes up too much space (along with the top ‘music beta’ header), especially noticed when using a smaller screen like on my EeePC. With the browser set to full screen it’s not as bad (as in the following screenshot) but, I find that multitasking with one program set to full screen can be a pain in the ass. Overall, the web app is quite functional but needs to get organezized. Also, the new black Google bar is noticeably missing from the top of the page.

gMusic on the EeePC

On the Android:

gMusic on Android

The Android app is available on the Market and can be used without being part of the beta group. Even without uploading anything, the app still works for your locally stored files. It’s not bad as a standalone music player, you can easily scroll through and find the tunes you want. It plays, it pauses, it’s all pretty standard stuff. still on Android

The true magic happens once you’ve uploaded some music. Now as you scroll through your tunes, you’ll see your local and cloud stored music and playlists listed together. You do have the option of showing only the ‘offline’ files if you want. Also, you can download any of your files by clicking the ‘Make Available Offline’ option under the menu. The ability to create instant mixes is there too. All in all, the app works wonderfully.

final screenshot on Anroid

A few observations:

  • File formats 
    The service supports a number of file formats (mp3, m4a, wma, flac and ogg) although with ogg and flac, it converts them to 320kbps mp3’s. I have noticed that with uploading flac or ogg, the tracks may take up to 30 minutes before you see them on the web unlike mp3 where it’s only a matter of minutes. Of course, this is due the conversion happening. The converted files sound decent enough, I’ve got no complaints with it. If I want to listen to the full quality versions, I’m not going to want to stream those large files anyway…

  • Playback 
    One thing I’ve found that bugs me is the gap between songs when playing (Both on the web and on the Android app). This is especially noticed when listening to an album where the individual tracks fade in and out with each other.

  • Current Queue 
    The ability to add songs to the current playlist seems to be missing. Maybe I’ve missed it on both the web and on Android but, it’s not there. Of course, you can create a playlist and go from there. I just usually like to pick the next albums/songs on the fly depending on how my mood is.

  • Streaming 
    The only times I’ve had any issue with the streaming was due to local network congestion. I’ve been quite impressed with the playback on this aspect. Even on 3G, either on the phone or on EeePC via the wifi hotspot on my phone, the playback rarely hesitates. There seems to be a fair amount of caching going on.

  • Android cache 
    Speaking of cache. There is an option on the Android app to cache streamed music to the SD card. When checked, I’ve noticed that this cache has gotten as large as 500mb. Not sure if there is a limit set internally or when this cache gets cleared but, I don’t want my card to get completely full of cached items. On the other hand, this cache most likely helps the playback performance quite a bit so I’d rather not disable it. My solution is to use Cache Cleaner NG and have it set to clear caches daily. I’ve used this app for quite some time and it works wonderfully for all caches on the phone.

  • Last.fm 
    There is also a Greasemonkey/Chrome extension that will scrobble tracks to lastfm while you are playing them from the web. Also, the Last.fm Android app will scrobble the tracks although, it has had a few moments where it didn’t operate properly. The Last.fm team has actually been fairly decent in fixing the issues concerning this.

  • Downloads 
    Currently, the only way to download your files is through the Android app. So, if you are wanting to use Google Music as a backup, it’s currently not optimal. Hopefully, more download options will be worked out as the project matures.

  • Not in the US? 
    The beta is currently restricted to residents of the US. This can be gotten around if you are resourceful enough, both for requesting the invite and getting the Android apk. That is all.


Final note

Overall, the service works quite well, even at this beta stage.
I’ve even found a somewhat non-standard use for the service. By syncing my gpodder download folder, all of my (pod|ogg)cast subscriptions are now easily available on my phone.


Also, I have two invites available for those interested. Let me know in the comments below if you would like one.

Footnotes:

  1. I absolutely hate running things in WINE. Just feels wrong. Feels like I’ve stuck a Chevy engine in a Dodge. It may work with some configuration but, meh… To me, it’s just not worth the hassle.


Comments:

Will Elliott

Why do we not see more reviews like this? Fantastic work bro! I’ll slap you if I see a distro review that says.. I installed Ubuntu, it sucks. LOL Rock on. Oh, I would try this if gmusicbrowser wasn’t pleasin’ hardcore.

2011-08-12 14:31:05

jpope

installed Ubuntu, it sucks.

:D
Thanks for the feedback man. I have yet to try gmusicbrowser, I must go give it a spin now. Actually, I’ve forgotten all about it since I first heard about it some time ago. Thanks for the reminder. ;)

2011-08-12 16:31:01

luthfi

i tried to install, but i couldn't. it need newer libc than waldorf using now? how did you manage to install before?

2013-07-12 11:22:57

jpope

Sorry, at this point, I really don't remember. And since I've 'degooglized', I haven't had this installed in a loooooooooong time.

2013-12-10 15:50:00


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