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It seemed forever ago that Google announced their Music Beta service. Upload up to 20,000 songs (for free, albeit at a snail's crawl) to be streamed to and downloadable to any computer. Access to the service on iOS devices was limited, for a while, to a clunky HTML-5-based weblication. Eventually, third parties got in on the act.
IIS bills their app, gMusic as powered by last.fm and offers scrobbling if that sort of thing is important to you in a Google Music player. They also bill the app as fast loading, though this was not our experience whether over WiFi or 3G.
Opening up the app on the iPhone, all the buttons are tucked away in a hidden sidebar. Tap the stacked line button in the upper left and the screen slides aside to find your library list. On the iPad version (which only works in landscape), all the controls are out where you can see them, with the play, forward, and back buttons up top. Music is broken down into playlists, artists, songs, albums, and genres. After that there are auto playlists, offline songs, then the settings. There isn't much to settings and auto playlists are the same wherever you go.
Pretty simple controls
Tap one of the song categories and you are given a long list of those with a search bar and a shuffle button at the top. Tap an arrow next to the name of an album or song track and an overlay screen appears that allows you to play that song next, to add to a playlist, or to create an instant mix based around that track. A slider button at the bottom of these options allows you to download the song for offline playing.
Make an instant mix or download a track
This was by far the slowest loading app and it had to reload to the full extent if you've changed your Google Music database in any way. By far its biggeset problem however was its apparent struggles with metadata -- a pretty big sin actually since all data is organized and found on the web through metadata.
Hey there, metadata trainwreck
An example. Tap on Genres, then pick a specific one, and you are taken to a higgledy piggledy list of bands, often duplicates. Tap that band name and do you get an album listing? No, you get a number of songs, many of which aren't even by the band in question. This settles itself out eventually and begins showing correct track names in the list, but often songs played without a track name listing.
Resolved itself eventually, though will it stick?
While that may just be general bugginess, we like the hierarchy of our metadata to be respected. Tap Genre, we should get a list of our tagged genres -- and we do. Tap one of those genres and we should get a list of artists, then albums, then songs. gMusic jumps straight to a song listing. This makes finding an album to play more complicated than it needs to be. This is more Google's fault, as the app is merely aping what happens if you were doing the same thing online, though we can't say following Google's lead in this instance is a good choice.
Opting for a simple white on black scheme belied by the app's much more exciting orange start up page, App for Google Music from developer MinhMobileDev loads fast and presents your music listings in a fairly stripped down interface. In fact, the app is nothing more than a skin for the web app version of Google Music. The one trick it sports that is worth spending any money on is that the app allows you to sign in to up to three different Google Music accounts.
Passcode lock? To hide my explicit lyrics?
That can be helpful if you have multiple machines in your house and various accounts or if you're road tripping with other Google Music users. We didn't have much use for it, but we see how valuable an option that would be.
No real difference between the two, except one's free
Six buttons run along the app's bottom to take you to settings, to switch between accounts, to update your database (if you've made changes or added or deleted music), a help button, and a Twitter button to take you to the rather neglected account of Mike Nguyen, the developer. The app's top has your navigation buttons. In the iPad version of the app, it mysteriously works better in landscape, though there isn't any great changes to the operations or layout.
Controls for the music
Artists is the first of the tabs that appear at the top, then Albums next to that. To see more, swipe to the left and your screen changes to a Songs view, then Playlists, then Genres. If you've spent any time in Google Music on your iPhone, then you know what to expect. Google has not had a stellar track record when it comes to their iOS apps and their music weblication's weaknesses are why someone might want a third party's offering.
Navigation through Google Music isn't very optimal either. Swipe the to the Albums list, find your album then tap it and you're taken to a screen just for that album with the tracks listed below. If you pick the wrong album, tap the headphones in the upper left to go back, but you don't go back one screen. You return to the Artists lists and have to renavigate your way back to the Album list to find the album you really wanted. We also found in the iPad that the headphones required repeated tapping to get results.
Metadata gives context; Google should know better
Unless you have multiple Google accounts with multiple music libraries and you want quick switching back and forth, there's really no reason to pay for this app as it provides nothing you can't get for free through Safari.
Connect Technology Co., Ltd opted for a light wood grain motif in their Melodies app. It immediately opens to your Playlists with a + button at the top of the list to quickly make a new one. Arrow buttons on the right give you the choice of playing that playlist or enabling the whole list to be available offline. Tapping the name of the playlist itself takes you to the track listing. Tap a song and you are taken to a screen with its album art, song name, artist name, and album above music controls.
An appealing visual style
If playlists aren't your speed, Melodies also has Artists, Songs, Albums, and a More button at the bottom for additional options. Here the architecture of your library's metadata is given preference over Google Music's rather sloppy organization. Tap Genre and you get a list of them; tap a particular genre and you are list of artists who are sorted into that genre; tap an artist for a list of albums; tap an album for the song tracks.
All songs are love songs
Navigation is no trouble either as at the top where the familiar Now Playing button usually resides in music apps there appears to the left a back button that takes you back exactly one screen. This is considerably more screens and more taps than the others, though we find we'd rather tap seven times to navigate directly to a track than to scroll up and down a list looking for it manually or searching it out by typing its name.
Get to the heart of things here
Also tucked away under More are Thumbs Up (your Google Music favorites, more or less), a list of your purchased songs, where you'll find your offline tracks, and the settings. Our only complaint with this structure is that there's no way for us to move categories so as to move Genres to a more prominent place.
New playlists in a snap
As a player, Melodies had no problems whatsoever. Even with very weak 3G signals we experienced no interruptions in our playing and very little lag between tracks. This one is going on our home page, AT&T data throttling or no.
This was one of the few weeks when we had a very clear winner. Music players need to play music without a hitch and only one app did that this week. gMusic had struggles with metadata and an amazingly slow initial load time even on WiFi, while App for Google Music brought one mostly unnecessary new feature to the table. Melodies was slick, had a lovely eye pleasing design, and worked flawlessly with a 18,000 track library -- no mean feat. While we agree that some of the problems of this week can be laid at the foot of Google Music, Melodies was able to hurdle those obstacles. It's just a great, great music player, one of the very best cloud-based music apps, and unless pixellated album art is a killer for you, it can be embiggened for iPad use without any problems whatsoever.