When Google announced it would be accepting requests for testers for its new cloud-based Music Beta platform, I immediately sent in my request. After a couple of weeks of waiting… and assuming that I wouldn’t be invited… I finally got my invite and jumped in with both feet. After a couple of days of testing it on a few computers, my Android phone, and even my iPad, I think there is a lot of potential here, and there’s also a lot that can be improved. I’ll be pointing out both in my review. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Music Beta project is the amount of space Google gives you for your music. I expected to see a limit of 2-10 Gb like you would see from services like Amazon’s Cloud Drive, or from services like Dropbox. Instead, Music Beta gives you the ability to upload up to 20,000 songs in either mp3 or AAC format. I did some quick calculations based on the size of my music collection on my iPad (@3200 songs = @12 Gb of space) and estimated that 20K of songs would end up being around 75 Gb of space. That’s a lot of space, and a lot of music.

Google Music Beta uploads your music using a PC or Mac based program called Music Manager. With the Music Manager, you can sync your music files from either your iTunes library, your Windows Media library, your My Music folders on your PC, or from any other folders you select (and you can select multiple folders if you have a unique way you store your music on your computer.) The upload speed will vary depending upon the speed of your Internet provider, but I was able to upload all of my music from my PC over one night. You can change some of the options on the uploading procedures and limit the uploads based upon if you want to do it all at once, or if you want to only upload a few at a time, or if you want to upload the songs manually. You can also set how you want the Music Manager to use your Bandwidth. You can also have Music Manager start when your computer is restarted, and it will upload any new music you add to your collection automatically. During the install of the Music Manager, you are also given an opportunity to select the type of music you like, and Google Music Beta will add some free songs to your collection based upon those preferences. I checked off a couple of music selections, and ended up having over 100 free songs added to my collection. Now, I have to say that some of those freebies were really good (a couple of Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan songs are awesome), and some were… well, I just got to say that I personally wouldn’t have picked David Cassidy’s cover of I Think I Love You as one of my choices. But, they were free, and as many of you know, I like free, so I’ll put up with a little Partridge Family to get to the Cheap Trick stuff. Once the music is uploaded, you can play it through just about any Internet connected device. I’ve tried it on my PCs, my laptops, my iPad, and multiple mobile devices that have Internet browsers. So far, the music service worked on everything I tried (with the exception of my Kindle, first-generation device.) The only real annoyance I discovered on any of the mobile devices is that on the iPad you have to use the two-finger scroll method to move the music lists up and down. But, considering I had access to my music collection from pretty much any device with an Internet connection, I could put up with a few individual device quirks.

Google’s Music Beta interface is similar to the iTunes, but not nearly as flexible as iTunes is with how the artists, albums and songs are displayed. Visually, iTunes is much better, especially with the way you can set up the Cover Flow visualization. With Google Music Beta, you can see the album covers, but only if they are embedded in the MP3 files. There is no “Get Album Cover Art” option on Google Music like there is on iTunes. If you want to add the missing album covers, you can do so manually through the edit options for each of the individual albums. I hope that Google works with someone on this to make it easier to get the album artwork automatically, rather than having to do so on a one-on-one basis.

Just like the iTunes “Genius” tool, Google Music Beta allows you to create Instant Mixes by selecting one song, and it will then find 25 similar songs based upon “a combination of metadata and audio analysis to create playlists that match the mood and style of your selection.” Just like the “Genius” mix, however, these Instant Mix lists can be hit-or-miss, but usually aren’t too bad on how they select other songs. My suggestion for both iTunes and Google Music is that they give the user the ability to help in the selection process. So, for example, let’s say I pick a song by the Hard-Rock, Girl vocals, Spain-based but sings in English band, named Dover, and want a mix. In iTunes, the Genius program selects all of my Spanish songs for the mix. Whereas Google Music selects a bunch of girl vocal, pop songs. Neither of those really fit what I’m looking for, so perhaps adding an option for me to exclude, or include certain categories would make it work better. A few other features of the Google Music Beta is the ability to rate songs with a simple ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ option. Of course, I immediately thought about why would you upload songs you would want to give a thumb-down to in the first place?? Other features include grouping songs by genre (based upon the metadata from the songs), sorting by the number of times the song has played, or sorting by the ratings you’ve assigned to the songs. Speaking of sorting, there is one major flaw in the sorting by Artists that would drive most librarians crazy. Artists with “The” as the first word in their names get sorted in the “T’s”. So, groups like The Decemberists, The Dollyrots, and The Donnas show up in the wrong place when you sort by artists. This is not the case in iTunes, and I’m hoping that Google fixes this during the beta phase. Perhaps the biggest short-fall of the Google Music Beta is the “Shop this Artist” option which simply links out to Google Shopping page for a hodge-podge of different places to buy additional material. Unlike the Amazon or iTunes Store, the shopping options are very disorganized and lack the integration that you get from the Amazon and iTunes services. Overall, the Google Music Beta is pretty good for Beta, but still needs a little improvement with its interface, its sorting and selection processes, and its integration with online services to purchase and download new music. All of these issues aside, the basic idea of being able to access your music on most Internet enabled devices, and to do so for free, is something that is worthwhile. If you want to test it out for yourself, Google is still accepting requests for the Music Beta.