Rock out with Android part 2: Your music in the cloud

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In part two of my Rock out with Android series we are going to be talking about streaming your music from the cloud. If you missed part one of the series, you can check it out here. Today I will be talking about three apps that allow you to listen to music you own, but isn’t stored on your tablet. Two of these apps are true cloud storage apps, while the third one is a little different. The first two I will be talking about are Music Beta by Google, also known as Google Music in the US, and Amazon MP3. The third one is called Audiogalaxy.

Google and Amazon

Let’s start with Google Music and Amazon MP3. These apps are true cloud streaming apps. You have to actually upload your files in order to access them on your tablet. Both of these apps have a program you have to run on your computer in order to upload your music. I’ve used them both and they both have good things going for them, and some not so good things. The one major complaint with Google Music’s uploader is that it is very slow. It gets the job done, but if you have a large number of files to upload, you are better off starting it and walking away for a while. On my computer it took an average of two and a half minutes each to upload 67 tracks and I’m on a high speed cable connection.  The Amazon MP3 uploader is a little faster. In my test with the same playlist it took an average of fifty seconds per track. Below is what the two uploaders look like when running on your computer.

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Both of these programs have the ability to automatically search your iTunes for music to upload. It finds your playlists as well so you can upload the entire thing if you want. Google Music’s program is defaulted to start every time you start your computer. It  has an option to automatically scan your iTunes and if it sees that you have added new tracks to a selected playlist, it will upload those new tracks without you having to do anything. That way your playlists on Google Music always match your iTunes playlists. With Amazon MP3 if you want to upload new tracks, you have to start it yourself. They both remember which tracks you have already added and hide those from view so you don’t accidentally upload duplicates. Google Music also gives you the option to upload your podcasts, but Amazon MP3 does not.

One concern when talking about cloud services is knowing how much space you actually have to store your files. Google Music has said that you have room for 20,000 songs. Since most people probably have nowhere near this number of tracks, it will never be a concern. However, one concern with Google Music is that it is still technically in Beta. This means that at any time they might decide to release it and make you pay for it, but right now it is completely free and invite only. An invite is pretty easy to get though. Amazon being the way that they are, they want your money for a subscription to store your files in the cloud. They will give you a free 5GB for you to use to store your music in, or you can purchase more. For only $20 US a year, Amazon will give you 20GB’s of  Cloud Storage and let you upload an unlimited number of music files without it going against your 20GB limit. One thing to note for our international users is that Google Music is US only, but Amazon MP3 is available in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Austria, and Switzerland.

Update: Google has taken it’s Music app out of beta, and released it for everyone. You can read about what’s new in this article.

Since your music is stored in the cloud with these two services, that means that you can access them from anywhere on the internet. You have to have a Google or Amazon account to upload your music, so it’s a simple process to sign in to your account and access your music from a browser. Both services have a web player available so you can listen to your music on any computer. The picture below shows you a side by side of the two browser players. As you can see Google on the right went with a much more visual approach.

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Well enough about the powerhouses! Let’s talk about the little guy. Unless you’ve done some research, I doubt you have heard of Audiogalaxy. Audiogalaxy isn’t a true cloud app like the others are. It doesn’t actually store any of your files in the cloud. What it does instead is have you run a program on your computer called the Audiogalaxy Helper. What this program does is pretty similar to Amazon’s and Google’s programs in that it will scan your computer for your music. What it does with the music it finds is what’s different from the other two. Audiogalaxy doesn’t upload anything, but it does give you access to every track and playlist on your computer with no limits. It does this by indexing your music, and when you sign into either the Android app or the browser app, you can stream your music from your home computer.

Now right away if you are like me you see one major problem with this app. You have to have your computer running in order to listen to your music. If your home computer is shut off, you can’t listen to your music. Now if you have a desktop, maybe it’s not a big deal to leave it running all day, but rarely do you ever leave a laptop running all day so you could listen to your music. To me this is the one major negative point to this app.

But therein also lies the beauty of this app. I have a very large music collection. My iTunes tells me it has 29, 181 songs. Now I would say over 4,000 of these are sound effects, and I’m sure there are quite a few doubles in there, but I have been building my iTunes collection for well over 10 years. In a matter of minutes Audiogalaxy can have every track available to me anywhere, just by indexing them. To put this in perspective, for Google Music to upload 20,000 songs at the average rate I mentioned earlier, it would take over 34 days to upload them all. Even with Amazon’s much faster upload rate, it would still take you over 11 days straight to upload 20,000 tracks. Audiogalaxy gives you access to every track you own within about fifteen minutes. The Helper is set to auto start with your computer, and it will also find any new songs you add without you having to manually add them. Just like Google and Amazon, you can also listen to your tracks in a browser window.

The apps

Now I know that most of this article has been about how the different services are run, and not a whole lot about the actual Android apps.  That is because I believe it is important to know how these different apps are working in the background. All three of the apps allow you to play both the songs you have on your tablet as well as the ones that you have stored in the cloud. All three also let you download any of the tracks you want directly to your tablet, which makes sense since you own all the files. However Audiogalaxy makes you pay for this feature. It is one of two addons that they charge for, and in my opinion, it’s pretty expensive. It costs $8.99 US to enable offline playback, and if you want to create ringtones from your library it costs $3.99 US. I don’t think I should have to pay to be able to put music I own onto my tablet.

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I touched on widgets in my last article, and all three of these apps only have a single widget, and they are all pretty boring as you can see above. The actual apps aren’t very special either, with the exception of a couple cool things that Google does. In the picture below you can see that Google continues the very visual theme that they use on their browser player. It’s a pretty nice change to be able to glance through the album covers to find the album that you want, and if you’d rather see a list, you can do that too. All three of the apps have the option to view either the songs on your device, or the songs in the cloud in a more text based look. And by text based I mean boring.

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Now in my last article I came right out and said that I believe PowerAMP is the best app for listening to the music you have on your tablet. Out of these three apps I don’t feel that there is a clear winner. They all have some really cool features, and they all have some areas that can be improved. Which one you choose to use is a matter of preference. I’ve used all three, and they all work like they are supposed to. Are you using one of these apps, or do you intend to try one out? Let me know in the comments, and make sure you keep an eye out for part three of my Rock out your Android series where I talk about listening to music you don’t own on your tablet.

[Amazon MP3 | Music Beta by Google | Audiogalaxy]

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Bryan Faulkner

Bryan Faulkner is a former associate editor at Pocketables. He loves to find new ways to use his tablets while working as the Tech Director at his local church. Mixing sound from the iPad is his newest obsession. He currently has a pair of HP TouchPads, an iPad 2, a decommissioned HTC EVO 4G, and a Samsung Galaxy Note II to tinker with.

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