I've recently been talking about my love/hate relationship with Spotify. While it's a great service, and generally a really great app that makes it simple to listen to and discover new music, it also has some flaws. One of those being the one function I actually use every single day. So a few weeks ago I decided to leave Spotify and move to Google Play Music All Access (plus Google Music Key) - quite a name, I know!
I don't use playlists or radio stations on music streaming services. I generally listen to podcasts when going to/from work and when in the office. When I've run out of podcasts to listen to I go to my favourite music tracks to fill the time. I have a list of favourited tracks that I want to listen to at random ... and this is where Spotify fails miserably.
Spotify's 'shuffle' algorithm doesn't work. Even by their own addmission. There are a number of growing threads on their support site with others complaining of the same issue. Here's a couple that I've commented on:
As much as I dislike iTunes, this is one thing it does pretty well well you put your library on shuffle. It mixes the tracks and works through them one by one, marking them in the background to ensure that they're not played again. The two main issues with the Spotify algorithm are
- It only seems to apply the Shuffle feature to some of the tracks. For example, I will have maybe 500 tracks marked as favourites, but when I shuffle that whole list I will just get the same 100 or so songs over and over again. There's stuff in there I haven't heard in months, while the same 100 or so tracks I hear all the time.
- Secondly, linking to the previous point, Spotify doesn't seem to mark tracks that it's already played. This means that of those 100 or so tracks it's decided to endlessly play me, I can indeed hear the same track numerous times in the same listening session. As mentioned, there are some songs I've added and never heard, but them some tracks that I'll hear 3 times in one day ... and then at least once a day every day afterwards.
Google recently added YouTube Music Key to it's Google Play Music All Access package. Essentially allowing for ad-free YouTube music videos. This is both on your device and on any YouTube app or account where you're signed in with the relevant account. While I'm not a huge YouTube user, this additional feature swayed me to try jump in and try it out - especially when during the same period a couple of new songs were exclusively released on Google Play Music, and the fact that the cost is exactly the same as Spotify.
So, early impressions...
Shuffle - The shuffle feature actually seems to work. I do hear the occasional track repeated, but I think this could be due to the fact I've both uploaded a lot of songs and also favourited some causing duplications. At some point soon I'll spend some time going though the library and tidying it up and will then give it a proper try, but it seems promising so far - it's a massive improvement on Spotify's shuffle feature, so that's a big plus for me straight away!
Uploading your existing local music - While I couldn't export my list of favourited tracks from Spotify and import them in to GPM, I could automatically upload tracks I had stored locally. I used to have hundreds of gigs of music in my iTunes library. A year ago I moved most of it to an external drive and kept about 10gb of my favourite stuff in case I ever just wanted to play a few tracks at random. This meant that as soon as I signed up to GPM I could just log in on my MacBook, install the tool, and within a couple of hours all of my favourite stuff from iTunes was in GPM for me to listen to. As it's all cloud based storage it doesn't duplicate anything already saved on my local device and take up more room.
Good looking UI and album art - The overall UI is no better than Spotify, I just prefer it from a personal perspective. It's lighter and cleaner and is just more appealing to the eye than the dark black and green of Spotify. I also really like the way the album art is displayed when you're playing a track. On Spotify it would just be a static picture of the artwork, but in GPM it zooms in slightly and then slowly moves the artwork around on the screen. I find it a really nice touch.
Load time of songs and buffering during streams - Spotify does well with caching track data so that load times are low and streams are fairly constant and consistent (although this does mean it takes up gigs of space on your devices to do so). One issue I have with GPM is that it doesn't seem to do this at all. On my iPhone 6 I'll generally be using a 50-100mb wifi connection (depending where I am) or a 50mb 4G cellular connection - even at these speeds GPM has large pauses between tracks, and even during tracks themselves. There have been times recently where it's taken nearly 7 minutes to get through a 3 minute track due to the constant buffering even though the connection to my phone was running at 40mb! I have contacted Google's support teams about this, but have so far just received that standard 'restart your device' and 'reinstall the app' advice.
Inability to share songs - Spotify incorporates a share sheet in tracks and albums. GPM doesn't. A feature I liked, and used semi-regularly, on Spotify was the ability to instantly share a track with someone via message, email and even WhatsApp. GPM currently doesn't have any such share option - not even to share with it's own services such as Gmail, Google+ etc.
Audio quality - Spotify's caching means you get consistent playback, both in terms of the buffering, but also the audio quality. So far I've found tracks to be a bit crackly during playback - I'm not sure whether this is a buffering-type issue or an issue with the encoding/conversion of tracks that have been uploaded from my MacBook via the GPM upload tool.
No audio feedback when controlling via earphones - The cold weather is now upon us here in Helsinki, so gloves are a must and getting my iPhone out of my pocket is avoided (as it also means removing said gloves to use the touchscreen). I try to cycle through tracks with the EarPods that I use with my phone. While Spotify gave audio feedback when you did something via the earphones, GPM does not. I miss those little beeps which would indicate if I had accidentally stopped the app, or just to confirm I had gone forwards or backwards as sometimes intros to tracks are quite and you're not too sure.
Long names do not roll on screen - While the UI is nice in GPM, one this that does annoy me slightly is that long names are not displayed very well on the screen when a track is playing. If the track name exceeds the small space that it occupies above the album art it will not scroll along to show you the rest of the name and info. While I know most of the tracks on there, I do occasionally hear a song I didn't know was on there or that I haven't heard in a while and want to know who features on it - something not possible in GPM.
Update (13th Dec): Googel say there will soon be a GPM client fore desktops, but at the moment we're stuck to using the web interface... A web interface that only seems to work 50% of the time for me. I'll regularly go to it to play some music and page won't load - along with other Google Play pages. I assumed it was as I was on Safari and they might be trying to push me over to Chrome, but even on Chrome it still barely works. On the odd occasion that the page does load, I'm then normally met with numerous 'failed to load' error message for tracks that I've uploaded to the cloud.
If Spotify could implement a shuffle feature similar to that of Google Play Music or iTunes, I'd quite likely be back there in a shot. But until that day, I shall soldier on with GPM and hope that they continue to enhance the feature-set to make it a more functional and well-rounded music streaming service.
Should any new features become available on either app, or there are any significant app updates, I will add an update here.
Let me know which music streaming service(s) you use and why. I'd love to hear your pros and cons for whichever you use or have used in the past.