Category Archives: Google

Google Music Beta vs. Spotify

Google Music Beta is a cloud-based music locker service that lets you store up to 20,000 tracks for free. You can then play back your music either via a Flash-enabled webpage or an Android smartphone app. The Android app includes an offline option to store local copies of your songs.

I’ve been using Google Music Beta for the past couple of weeks, putting it through its paces and comparing how it handles versus Spotify. Overall I’ve been impressed with its performance and ease-of-use. Read on for more.


Uploading Tracks

I have about 10,000 songs in my music library that aren’t available on Spotify. This includes some of the obvious no-shows (The Beatles, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Arcade File etc.) as well as around 700 albums from artists that only have one or two releases on Spotify (for example, English punk-rockers The Toy Dolls have only two of their dozen albums on Spotify).

Google Music is not licensed by the record labels, so there’s no matching option: you need to upload your files to Google’s locker to be able to stream them. My 10,000 songs took about two weeks to upload (with my PC left on most nights) but this will of course vary depending on how many tracks you add and your bandwidth. You can specify which folders to monitor, as well as set how much of your upload bandwidth you want to dedicate to Google Music.


The Music Manager lets you select where to upload from and set various options.



Uploaded music appears in “My Library” with areas to list by artist, album, song and genre. Your MP3’s ID3 tags are used for the metadata, but you can easily right-click and edit tracks (as well as upload album cover art). Some albums I ripped from CD and noticed they already had album art when viewed in Google Music, but most I had to add the art manually.

The New and Recent area shows a coverart view of what you’ve uploaded or played recently, while a Recently Added area lists everything added in reverse order.

You can like (“Thumb Up”) a song, and view an auto-generated playlist of these. You can create custom playlists which you can name but not add any coverart to. There’s also an “Instant Mix” feature which auto-generates a playlist of similar tracks based on a seed song.

Artist, Album and Genre library views show up to five album covers per item, and the number of items shown on a row changes as you widen or shrink your browser (so no unnecessary scroll bars). Clicking through to an artist lists the albums in alphabetical order. There’s no way to sort based on e.g. year released or date added unfortunately, even though the metadata’s there to do that. There’s also no distinction between a full album or, say, a single or EP: they’re all listed alphabetically. Tracks have both Artist and Album Artist tags though, so Various Artist albums are handled well.

The search bar is instant, so results are filtered as you type and match anywhere in the name. The instant results indicate whether it’s an album, artist or song which is handy too.


Artist view.



Playback is surprisingly fast, with songs starting almost instantly after clicking them. Sound quality is as good as the uploaded version: there’s no downsampling, meaning that 320kbps songs stay at that high bitrate. Google Music also uploads FLAC files, although these are transcoded to 320kbps MP3s.

The interface includes all the usual playback controls, including shuffle and repeat play. The gap between songs is also almost (but not quite) gapless for albums ripped with an indication of the gap length.



Google Music has pretty much all you’d need already, but there’s one essential add-on I highly recommend. Music Plus for Google Music is a Chrome extension that adds scrobbling, artist biographies, toast-style notifications, lyrics and hotkeys. It also adds a mini-player to the address bar, with playback controls and a full library search, so you can control your music no matter which tab you’re working in.


Music Plus for Google Music mini player.



The Google Music app for Android is a slick music player that’s fast and responsive, is easy to use and has almost all the features you’d expect. It does seem that your music is downsampled when streaming over 3G though, so you’re not getting the full high-quality as you do on the desktop.


What’s Not So Good about Google Music Beta

There are a few minor quirks and things I think are missing. I’ve already mentioned that you can’t sort albums or artists (e.g. by release date), and I’d like to be able to add coverart to the playlists I create. Albums with the same name seem to confuse Google Music (if you click on the album it shows it as one album with two track 1s, two track 2s etc.) and of course with the licensing deals, the initial upload time can seem like forever. The mobile app looks good but the downsampling is disappointing, and for those looking for true lossless streaming the transcoding of FLAC files to 320 MP3s is a let down.


Google Music Beta vs. Spotify

I’ve now uploaded all my local music to Google Music, amounting to around 10,000 songs. Without Spotify my “local library” would be at least ten times that size though, so I can’t use Google Music exclusively due to its 20,000 tracks limit. So for now my choices are:

  • Spotify streaming access + Spotify for local music
  • Spotify streaming access + Google Music Beta for local music

You might think this’d be a no-brainer: why use two different services when you can use one? Well, there’s more to it than that. It might come as a surprise to long-term readers of this blog, but I’ve decided to remove my local music from Spotify and use Google Music Beta instead. Here’s why.

Google Music is a cloud-based locker service like Amazon Cloud Drive and Apple’s iCloud. Spotify, on the other hand, is a music streaming subscription service so not directly comparable. However, Spotify does include a local files option so that you can use it to play and sync music that’s not in the Spotify catalog. So on the face of it, Spotify is all you need. Why bother with cloud locker services at all, if Spotify can be used for everything?

There are several reasons why I’ve decided to use Google Music instead of Spotify for local music:

  • Local music doesn’t work across desktops. If you use Spotify on more than one desktop (for example at home and at work), your local music from home is not available at work (and vice versa). In other words, your local music stays local to the machine it came from, unless you subscribe to Spotify Mobile. Since Google Music stores all your files in the cloud, you can access that one library from anywhere and from as many PCs as you want.
  • The Google Music interface is cleaner and easier to use. Spotify handles its own catalog reasonably well, but Local Files is a late arrival and a bit of a mess. You can’t easily view both Spotify and local music at the same time (it usually fails to include local files in artist view), and unless you make a playlist out of each local album the whole lot is grouped together in one giant list. I could just about put up with this on the desktop, but on mobile it’s practically unusable.
  • All my music is in high-quality 320kbps. I always rip my CDs at 320kbps and only purchase MP3s at that bitrate too. So when I listen to my tunes on Google Music, I know it’s all in high-quality. Not so with Spotify: everything’s capped at 160kbps on mobile, at there’s no guarantee that songs you listen to on the desktop are at 320kbps. Spotify claim that “not all tracks are currently available in high bitrate” but refuse to reveal the numbers (or add a bitrate indicator in the client). There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that more popular albums are more likely to be in high-bitrate, but since I mostly listen to obscure synthpop and electro music that doesn’t really help me.
  • Gaps between songs (for gapless playback) are shorter than on Spotify. I don’t think Google Music does any pre-fetching, but it does seem that for gapless albums (where I’ve enabled “detect gap” while ripping the CD), the gap is very short indeed and almost imperceptible.
  • I can listen on the desktop at work (where Spotify is banned). This is probably the clincher for me. I’m not allowed to install non-work related apps on my work PC, and Spotify has been explicitly named as a banned app. That left me fiddling with my smartphone all day and the 160kbps capped Spotify Android app. Spotify on Android does the basics, but it’s many versions behind the iPhone version and trying to manage more than a few dozen playlists with it is frustrating to say the least. Google Music is web-based however, so not subject to the same restrictions. I can use Google Music on the desktop (taking advantage of all that widescreen real estate) and have guaranteed high-quality audio.

Android apps: Google Music (left) vs. Spotify (right)



I’m not suggesting a move from Spotify to Google Music Beta for all music, just for music that’s not on Spotify in the first place. Of course there’s a complication here in that content comes and goes on Spotify. For example, John Lennon was completely missing from Spotify for years. His entire catalog was finally added to much fanfare back in October 2010 only for it to all be quietly removed again a few months later.

So keeping track of what’s on Spotify is an essential but annoying chore for any serious music fan. I’m currently using half my storage quota on Google Music Beta, so at least I have some spare space for whenever I discover another favorite has been pulled.

Google Music isn’t the first music locker service, and without record label support and music matching it’s probably not be the best either. But it works well (considering the “beta” moniker is hard-coded in the name), and for me is a better proposition than things like, say, Audiogalaxy where I have to leave my PC on all the time to stream music from it. Playback performance is impressive: in over a week of using Google Music every day on the desktop, I’ve yet to notice a single stutter or drop in sound.


Spotify Mobile Faceoff: iPhone vs. Android

Spotify Mobile on iPhone and Android are both reasonably mature apps now, having been launched simultaneously back in September 2009. At the time, the Android version had a slight edge in terms of features, with its unique ability to Sync Over 3G, a What’s New area, and most crucially the ability to play in the background. But the iPhone version seemed to take priority at Spotify and within a few months it had caught up then taken the lead from Android.

So how do they compare today? Here’s a detailed breakdown.


Updates and Customer Satisfaction

Spotify on iPhone is now a full SEVEN versions ahead of Android (v0.4.16 vs. v0.4.9) and saw five updates in 2010 compared with only one update for Android. Clearly there are many more users of Spotify on iPhones than Android, although I am sure this gap must surely be shrinking (cf. Android dominating iPhone in UK smartphone market). Checking the user ratings on the Apple App Store and Google Market shows:

  • Spotify on Android has an average score of 88%
  • Spotify on iPhone has an average score of 50%

This seems to imply that Android users are much happier with Spotify compared to their Apple counterparts, although note that many users rate Spotify with a one-out-of-five merely because they don’t want to pay for it.


Where Spotify on Android Beats Spotify on iPhone

Google Android has several unique built-in features that developers can take of advantage of when creating new apps. Luckily the bright sparks at Spotify siezed upon these to make sure Spotify on Android took full advantage of its platform. This enabled the following features unique to Spotify on Android:

    Spotify Widgets on Android

  • Player widget on home screen. One of Android’s killer features is home screen widgets. Any music player worth its salt on Android has a player widget and Spotify is no exception. You get some mini-album art as well as the basic playback controls.
  • Starred Tracks folder on home screen. Any track you’ve starred in Spotify is listed in a special folder you can add to a homescreen for quick access.
  • Integrates with Google Search widget. Apps with searchable “things” can register for the standard local search on Android. Spotify is there, letting you search for tracks in playlists (including local music). Clicking a search result opens Spotify and starts playing the song, although there seems to be a bug for local music (it opens Spotify but doesn’t locate or play the track).
  • Voice search. My favorite Android Only feature is the integrated voice search. It’s great for impressing your friends with: ask them to name a song, any song; you whip out your ‘droid, say the name of the song into it and the tune starts playing instantly. Of course, you then have to get the next round in for being such a smart-arse but I think it’s worth it.
  • Choose storage location. On devices with more than one storage location (for example, Samsung smartphones) you can set Spotify’s caching area.

Spotify for Android has three other features missing from Spotify on iPhone:

  • Artist view: Biography. Thanks to Androids tab feature, when you’re on an Artist page you can click the Biography tab to read the band’s biography (if they have one), just like on the desktop.
  • Artist view: Top hits. Another dedicated tab on an Artist page, this lists to top tracks for that artist, again just like on the desktop. You can actually get this on Spotify for iPhone: simply search for the band then click the Artist tab. Songs are listed in order of popularity which is the same as Top Hits.
  • Library. The Library area from the Playlists tab lists all the songs you have in playlists (including local music) alphabetically. I’m not too sure what it’s good for (shuffle play your entire collection?) but it does have a filter hidden at the top. This attempts to replace the missing playlist search feature on the iPhone version (see below) but it’s a bit of a fudge.

Artist Biography on Android - not available on iPhone


Where Spotify on iPhone Beats Spotify on Android

There are lots of features on Spotify for iPhone that are missing from Spotify on Android. None of these seem to be specific to iOS, so their omision from Android is probably just down to a lack of priority or resources.

Here’s what you’ll find that’s currently unique to Spotify on iPhone:

  • Playlist folders. Eleven months after they arrived on the desktop, playlist folders finally appeared on Spotify mobile. But only on iPhone. For anyone with more than a few dozen playlists, folder management is the essential feature to keep track of your music. Implementation on iPhone is flawless, copying the desktop style perfectly and enabling nested folders for even greater flexibility. This single feature gives Spotify on iPhone a huge advantage over Android.
  • Create a new playlist from a track. If you hear a track you like you can create a new playlist based on that song. On Android, you can only create new playlists based on entire albums.
  • Rearrange tracks in a playlist. Another big advantage to Spotify on iPhone is the ability to sort tracks within a playlist. Android has no sorting option at all.
  • Rearrange playlists. As above, but for playlists.
  • Search in playlist. Similar to the filter feature on desktop Spotify. Unavailable on Android, although the Library filter is similar.
  • Album art on Artist and Search pages. A “feature” exclusive to iPhone from the start, thumbnail coverart for albums appear on both Artist pages and in search results.

Album view comparison

  • Artist art on Search pages. Switch to the artist view on search results shows thumbnail artist photos as shown below.
  • Volume normalization. Audio (or peak) normalization makes every track sound roughly the same volume level. It’s particularly useful when you have a playlist with tracks from both new and older albums (since new albums are always artificially made “louder”). Normalization is available on the desktop and on iPhone, but not Android.
  • Find/play replacement tracks. As on the desktop, if you try to play a track that’s “not available in your country,” Spotify for iPhone will try to find and play from an alternative album instead. As far as I know, this doesn’t happen on Android.
  • Add a note when sharing a track to Spotify People. When sharing a song to someone’s Inbox, you get the option to add some text along with the song (just like on the desktop). This isn’t an option on Android.
  • Copy playlist URL to clipboard for pasting. Ironic given the iPhone’s history, you can easily copy a playlist’s Spotify URL for pasting elsewhere. You can’t do this directly from Spotify for Android, although you can share to twitter (for example) then copy the URL that’s entered into your draft tweet.

Artist search view comparison



Adding up the unique features (and allowing the inclusion of Android OS-specific ones), we get:

  • Spotify on Android: 8 points
  • Spotify on iPhone: 11 points

So Spotify on iPhone wins in terms of number of unique features. As an Android fanboy it pains me to say it, but when you also consider the quality and usefulness of these unique functions, Spotify on iPhone is a clear winner.

But if you’re looking at hardware and processing power and want to compare the iPhone 4 with my Samsung Galaxy S II, well that’s a completely different story 😉


Differences in the What's New page

Thanks to @jasminetea for Spotify iPhone screenshots.

My Top 10 Favourite Podcasts

I have my HTC Desire wired up to listen to in the car when I’m commuting to and from work each day. I’m often not in the mood for music until later on in the day, so to keep me entertained I subscribed to a selection of podcasts (a podcast is a kind of radio show you can subscribe and listen to whenever you want). I was initially overwhelmed at the sheer volume, variety, and quality of podcasts out there: most bad, some good, and a few essential selections. After checking out many different podcasts over the past few months, I’ve whittled it down to what I think are the very best technology, media, science, comedy and sci-fi podcasts around. Read on for my pick of the Top 10 Best Podcasts!

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The Pansentient League’s Guide to the Galaxy Tab

I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab at the weekend and have now had a couple of days playing around with it. I wanted a tablet mostly to replace my Eee PC netbook, which I’d use for browsing and tweeting while watching TV or lounging about in bed.

I bought an unlocked Galaxy Tab for £499 from my local Phones 4U store. It doesn’t need a SIM card so I didn’t have to take out any kind of contract: this makes it essentially a wi-fi only tablet, but if necessary I can easily pop in my T-Mobile SIM card from my HTC Desire to enable 3G while roaming.

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Spotify + Chrome = Awesome Launcher for Android!

Here’s a short video demonstrating how to select a band name from a webpage on your PC then launch some tunes on Spotify for Android. I use this at work where I can’t run Spotify on the desktop, but can listen to it on my Android smartphone instead. The video shows the Google Chrome web browser, the Spotify Chome extension, and the Google Chrome to Phone extension.


Spotify’s Friends & Enemies (UPDATED)

They love me, they love me not… here’s a graphic showing Spotify’s friends and partners (on the left) versus their “enemies” and competitors (on the right).

According to CNET, Apple are actively trying to dissuade the American record labels from signing up with Spotify. Google may also turn out to be a Spotify competitor/killer, and Microsoft too (despite Daniel Ek and Steve Ballmer’s recent Windows Phone 7 love-in). The music cloud battle-lines are drawn: who do you love?


UPDATE 12/10/10

Add INQ to the friends side, possibly RIM too (but let’s wait for Spotify Mobile for BlackBerry).

UPDATE 14/10/10

Add Virgin Media to friends? Not sure about FaceBook, although Zuckerberg apparently is a fan.

Spotify Add-ons for Google Chrome

Google has just released version 6 of its Chrome browser, with a focus on improved speed and simplicity. Much like Firefox, a steadily growing list of extensions and add-ons is enhancing and expanding the Chrome experience on a daily basis. There are already several great Chrome add-ons for Spotify, and in many ways they’re better and more varied than the Spotify Add-ons for Firefox we covered the other day. Here then is a complete  run-down of Spotify add-ons for Google Chrome!

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