If you're an Android phone user, you now have your own music store and online music storage service from Google, Google Music.
But Google Music may not be ready for prime time. There seems to be a caveat to almost every positive aspect. For instance…
Google Music is a Web-based service – but…
PRO: Instead of downloading a separate iTunes-like software program, Google Music is completely Web-based, and will work on any browser, including Safari for Mac (although I can't imagine many Mac heads own an Android phone). In other words, you can access your music on any computer.
CON: There are two Google Music Web sites. You get started at music.google.com, where you initiate the uploading of all your digital music – including from iTunes – into Google's cloud-based servers via Google Music's Music Manager application.
But you buy music from the Android Marketplace Web site at market.android.com/music, or on your Android phone via the Android Market in the next few days.
You don't need as much memory in your phone – but…
PRO: By uploading your music to Google (up to 20,000 tracks), you get access to all your music, regardless of how much memory you have on your Android phone or tablet, as long as you have an Internet connection. If you don't have an Internet connection, you can designate tracks, albums or playlists for playback when you don't have an Internet connection.
CON: But Google Music only works if you have an Android phone running Android version 2.2 Froyo or higher. In other words you can't get the full benefits of Google Music if you bought your Android phone before last May.
If you're not sure what version of Android your phone us running, go to Settings then to About Phone, then scroll down to either "Firmware version" or "Android version."
If you stream your Google Music from the cloud, you'll also have to watch your data usage if your cell phone plan caps your monthly data usage.
Google Music is free – but…
PRO: Google Music's cloud-based music storage and access service is free, unlike Apple's similar iTunes Match service, which is $24.95 a year.
CON: Google Music can't/won't upload tracks you bought from iTunes (and presumably other music services with copy protection), only those tracks you've ripped (or will rip) yourself.
Also, Google actually has to upload your music to its servers, song-by-song, bit-by-bit. This process, depending on your connection speed, can take hours if not days.
For instance, it took an hour to upload 75 tracks from my collection to Google, which means it will take around four days – DAYS! – for Google to upload my entire ripped library.
By comparison, instead of uploading your collection, iTunes Match scans your music library and simply matches those tracks with versions iTunes already has online – hence the $24.95 annual fee. iTunes Match only uploads songs it doesn't have in its inventory, a process that takes only a few hours since there are few songs it doesn't have.
Same price for higher-quality tracks than iTunes – but…
PRO: Most new tracks on Google Music are the same $1.29 and older tracks the same 99 cents iTunes charges, but Google's tracks aren't as compressed, 320 kbps at Google vs. 256 kbps from iTunes.
CON: The Google Music store has an inventory of 8 million tracks, which the company says will grow to 13 million in a short period of time. By comparison, iTunes stocks 20 million tracks.
What's missing from the Google Music store may be artists from the Warner Music Group, one of the big four record groups (I say "may be" because I see songs from some Warner artists in the store, none from others). At the Google Music event last night, only Universal, EMI and Sony Music were mentioned.
Google Music's best attributes
The Google Music store will offer a free track every day, and T-Mobile will offer its subscribers its own free songs. Free tracks available now include six previously unreleased Rolling Stones songs recorded live on a 1973 tour, as well as live performances from Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Shakira and the Dave Matthews Band. A new single from Busta Rhymes also can be downloaded for free.
Google also wants to make it easy for your friends to suggest new music to you, and vice versa. When you buy a track or album, you can link it to friends or a circle of designated friends on the new Google+ service. Once linked, you or the recipient(s) can listen to the entire track or the entire album once, then buy it, if they so choose.
Perhaps Google Music's greatest innovation is its Artist Hub, where a fledgling act can post and sell its own music, by-passing the record labels – sort of a self-publishing center for musicians. This could cause an earthquake in the music business.
For a one-time $25 set-up fee, a band or musician can set up their own artist page, upload their own music, and decide how much they want to charge per track or album. Google takes 30 percent of the take, same as Apple.
As someone who has posted his own book to Amazon's Kindle market, I can attest the freedom one feels without being beholden to a publisher middleman.
Even with the aforementioned drawbacks, Android users will and should rejoice at having a music service of their own. And competition is always healthy. It's safe to assume Apple will counter with iTunes improvements, setting up a lovely on-going music service tit-for-tat.