It was no surprise when Google announced Google Play Music All Access during its keynote at Google I/O on Wednesday. Set to take on Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and other streaming services, All Access is available on the web and Android for $9.99 (£6.50) in the US. Google offers a 30-day free trial to get started.
All Access integrates into the same-old Google Play Music that's been available for some time. You can still upload your music into an online locker as before, and create playlists and organise your music, but the paid All Access adds functionality similar to Spotify. It gives you the option to search 2 million cloud-based tracks, add them to playlists and share them with friends over Google+.
Additionally, All Access has a Radio feature made up of "My Stations". Google will automatically recommend stations based on your past listening, and you can also create your own by typing in an artist, song or album. The Radio isn't much different from Pandora or Spotify - you'll be given tracks similar to the type of music you selected. Interestingly, you can skip around the radio with All Access. You're not restricted to one track at a time, which we have to say is pretty nice. Google creates an endless scrolling list of tunes.
To listen to any of the songs Google has made available for streaming through deals with record labels, go to the "Listen Now" tab or search from anywhere in the interface. Similar to Spotify, Google suggests a slew of songs that you may be interested in, but if you don't find anything you like you can search your own tracks, artists or albums with the search bar at the top.
The search is instant - no need to press enter. The search results will return with the "Best match" along with artists, albums and songs. Quite honestly, it feels just like Spotify. If you find a song you enjoy, you can add it to "My Library" or a playlist that you've made.
Throughout the Play Music web interface there is a bottom bar that displays the artist and track. Additionally, you'll find playback and volume controls and - within the radio feature - the ability to thumb a track up or down. It's nice that this is standard across the interface, so you always know where to look.
Furthermore, Google makes an "Explore" tab available that will show you recommendations based on your search habits. If you're really into an artist, it will recommend others based on him or her. For example, we were presented with "Like Kendrick Lamar" which showed just that. You can also take a look at featured tracks, new releases and specific genres.
Not that we expected any different, but Google has opted out of including any Facebook or Twitter integration, instead sticking with Google+. You can share individual songs on Google+, where you can add a message and share it with specific circles. Others can then listen to a preview and buy the track if they're not an All Access member. If you'd rather share a YouTube video, Google has conveniently made a "Share YouTube Video" feature available, which is actually pretty great. Of course, anyone will be able to listen.
Should you ditch Spotify or Rdio?
If you don't mind missing out on a desktop app and find yourself constantly on the web and Android, then yes. Google has put together something really sleek here, and in our testing we found just about every song we were after. All Access could use a little more social integration, but it accomplishes the task of listening to music quite nicely. When (or if) Google opens up All Access to iOS and the desktop, it will have a serious contender to Spotify on its hands.
Still, with those missing, it wouldn't hurt to sign up for the 30-day free trial. Who knows, you just may fall in love. UK fans may have to wait a little longer.