Review: Google Music Offers Free Cloud Tunes
For people with thousands of MP3s, cloud music storage services like Amazon Cloud Player, Apple iCloud and Google Music offer a way to take the tunes anywhere.
Since it launched, Google Music's biggest flaw has been that you had to upload all your files to its server. A collection of 10,000 tracks would take several days to become available.
But that's no longer an issue. Google Music now offers the same type of scan-and-match technology that iTunes Match and Amazon Cloud Player use. A desktop application scans through your music library looking for any songs that are both in your collection and also offered by Google. Those tracks become available for streaming without requiring you to upload a copy.
With the three major services providing similar functions, the right cloud music locker comes down to price and convenience. For many people, Google Music may be the best choice.
Google Music's price can't be beat: it's free for up to 20,000 songs, and any songs you buy through Google Play are automatically added without counting against your limit. If you have a bigger library, you should look at the other options. For $25 a year, iTunes Match offers 25,000 songs, and Amazon offers a mind-boggling 250,000 tracks, also for $25.
Another benefit is that Google will upgrade your lower-quality tracks to versions encoded at 320 kbps, which you can download to replace your inferior-sounding songs. Amazon and Apple offer this feature too, but not for free.
In our tests, Google Music's match quickly churned through a music library. Within five minutes, more than 100 songs had been matched and available to stream or download. However, the service couldn't match every song, either because it was protected with digital rights management (DRM) or it wasn't from an artist that Google has a licensing agreement with. For DRM-protected tracks, you're out of luck — you can't upload them. Other files it didn't match get uploaded the old-fashioned way, and that can take a while depending on your Internet connection.
Google offers a Web interface that requires no additional software for listening on your computer. Amazon Cloud Player can also stream music through a browser. But Apple requires actually downloading the tracks to play on either its iTunes computer software or its iPod mobile app.
For on-the-go listening, Android users can download a free Google Music app for streaming. If you've got an iOS device, you can access your library through Safari, though the interface tends to be sluggish. Alternatively, you can buy an iOS app like the $1 gMusic that replicates the features of Google's Android app. (Amazon offers free apps for iOS and Android to play music you store with them.)
If you haven't yet committed to a cloud music service, Google's addition of match-and-scan makes it painless to try. If you find yourself exceeding the track limit, then you know you're ready to try one of the paid choices.