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Google Play Music for iPhone review

After the longest "few weeks" in history – 24 to be precise – Google FINALLY released Google Play Music for iPhone. With little in the way of explanation for why it took so long, many of us gave up waiting and took our music needs elsewhere. Sure, there are some excellent third-party Google Music clients already available on iOS, but for something such as this you need an official client for the platform in order to take it seriously.

So, it's here, but is it any good, and was it worth the wait? Let's find out.

What is Google Play Music?

Google Play Music is actually a combination of things. It started out as a music store paired with a cloud locker that holds 20,000 of your songs completely free of charge. Sort of iTunes Match-esque, Google Play Music will also scan your library and if what you have is in their catalog, it gets added with no upload. Anything you purchase from Google doesn't count towards your storage limit. So, buy everything from them and your collection will grow and your locker will maintain plenty of free space.

Now, Google Play Music is the above, plus a full featured music streaming service a la Spotify. You can search for and stream albums from Google's vast content library and create custom radio stations to suit your tastes. So it also has an iTunes Radio type component to it, but for any of this you're required to pay $9.99 a month with a full months free trial.

There is no native client for Mac or Windows to play your music, instead you're required to use the Google Play Music web player, which is OK, if sometimes a little janky. There is an app for Mac and Windows however that will scan your music libraries on your computer and automatically upload new content to your cloud locker.

The interface - no iOS 7 here

If you're a user of any of Google's other iOS applications then you'll feel immediately at home with this. It's attractive to look at, and very distinctively Google. The white cards on light gray background is clean and crisp with the Google Play Music signature orange highlights adding just the right splash of color. It's basically a carbon copy of Google's own Android app, and it's so incredibly silky smooth to navigate around. The sliding motion of the menu coming out from the side, the player view minimising, general scrolling up-and-down and side-to-side is all without flaw. I actually think it performs slightly better than the Android version. But it isn't the only Google app that could be said of.

The only real gripe – especially for an app launching in November – is that there isn't a single trace of iOS 7. Searching for music and seeing the iOS 6 keyboard brings about a sigh. We've been waiting what seems like forever for this app, so full integration with the latest iOS software isn't too much to ask for, is it?

It's also still a little jarring – as with other Google apps – that none of the iOS 7 gesture controls are carried into the app. The swipe from the left to go back a step motion that is now engrained into our very DNA isn't anywhere to be found. Do it and instead you'll always be presented with Google's slide out menu. It's not that it isn't a beautifully designed and crafted application, because it is, but a little more implementation of some platform basics wouldn't go amiss.

There's also no dedicated iPad app either. That's a definite disappointment, especially considering how long we've been waiting for any app at all. Of course, you can run the phone app on your iPad, but it's just not the same, is it.

Play Music - My library

My library is where you'll find everything, absolutely everything. All the music you've uploaded to your cloud locker is thrown in with anything you've added from the All Access library. Everything streams in the same way, so there's absolutely no need to differentiate what is yours and what isn't. Consider it Google's version of your iTunes library; it's all there and you can get at it any time you want.

Play Music - Radio

As with iTunes Radio, Google's implementation lets you create stations based on a particular artist, song or album. You search for something you like, then Google will collate a continuous stream of music it thinks you're going to like. Because you're paying for a subscription too, you can skip ahead as many times as you like. Basic, but functional.

What Play Music's Radio feature lacks is any kind of genre specific choices. You're literally limited to creating stations by specific parameters you search for. There's no choice to just pick a Country Music channel for example. Disappointing for some.

Play Music - Explore

Explore is where you conduct your business as part of your All Access subscription. As such, you won't see this option in the slide out menu if you're just using the free cloud storage aspect. It's very similar to something like Spotify, where the first thing you see is a bunch of new and recommended content. It's also where you can search for specific artists, songs and albums you want to hear from Google's massive music collection.

Once you find what you're looking for, tap on the "my library" button to add it to your own library and you'll never need to look for it again. Again, there's nothing surprising here, and the only real critcism would be that – at least here in the UK – the new releases and recommended content is a little thin on the ground.

There are also tabs in the main menu for "Listen Now" and "Playlists." Both do exactly what you'd expect them to; Listen Now serves up some suggestions to just jump in and listen to your music, and Playlists displays your, well, created playlists. Simple.

Offline music

Simply put, anything you have available in your library – be it your own music or All Access music – can be pinned for offline listening. You select the album you want, and somewhere about half way down is a small, round icon with a downward pointing arrow in it. Tap this and the whole album will be downloaded to your iPhone to listen to without a cellular connection.

What would have been nice is an option to offline individual tracks only. As it is right now you can't do that; it's the whole album or nothing at all.

Another use for your Chromecast

Chromecast is pretty limited still across the board, but more so here on iOS with less of Google's own apps available to use with it. Play Music is integrated with Chromecast, and as with all other supported apps is connected with a single tap. Whenever there is a Chromecast dongle powered on within range, you'll see the standard Chromecast icon on the screen, and tapping on it brings up a list – if you have more than one – of which one you want to send your content to.

Your music then plays through your TV, accompanied by some pretty great looking album art which moves about the screen as you're listening. Very much like doing the same with your iTunes music on your iPhone and using AirPlay to send it to Apple TV. But of course, if you're in Google's ecosystem, Chromecast is much, much less expensive. Though still a U.S. exclusive at this point.

No in-app purchases or subscriptions

This is of course not Google's fault alone, more so that Google doesn't want to give Apple a cut of their in-app purchases. As such, you cannot subscribe to All Access or buy tracks or albums from within this app. The same is also present in the Android app, but the difference there is that Google can ping you straight into the Google Play Store app to conduct your purchases. On iOS this is not possible.

As such, the overall experience is a little more jarring than it is on Android. You have to use a browser to search for and buy music, and to sign up for an All Access subscription. And on the iPhone and iPad Google has a habit of sending you into a web app for the music player when you go to the Play Music site, and frustration ensues. So you're better off doing it on your computer. As I said, it isn't all Google's fault, but to the average consumer it's still a frustration to be endured.

The good

  • Beautifully designed application
  • Extremely smooth and snappy to use
  • The might of Google's music library now (officially) on your iPhone
  • Pinning music for offline listening
  • Single sign-in compatible - if you're signed in to selected other Google apps you don't have to enter your credentials
  • Google Chromecast integration
  • Cloud locker for 20,000 of your already owned songs

The bad

  • No iOS 7 gestures or proper integration
  • No dedicated iPad app
  • No in-app sign-up for All Access

The bottom line

Barring some small frustrations, Play Music is arguably one of Google's finest iPhone apps to date. It's fast, smooth as it comes and extremely nice to look at. Using iOS 7 a little more – back gesture in particular – would have been nice though, seeing the iOS 6 style keyboard in November brings on a sad face. The biggest issue isn't even Google's fault, but since you pay for subscriptions via Google Wallet anyway, would an in-app browser perhaps have been a good way to get folks subscribed without having to pay Apple a cut for IAP's?

Ultimately a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this. Converts from Android, cross-platform or generally all round heavy Google users are likely to prefer using Google Play Music over the Apple-centric iTunes, and thankfully Google has delivered an app that largely delivers the experience those people deserve. And, with this latest addition to the Google stable, the iPhone continues to be one of the best Google phone's that money can buy.

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+

  • I used Google Music for a while when it first launched. While I think it is definitely great for those with large libraries that they want to upload into the cloud and then stream, the actual functions you pay for are sparse and lack a lot of polish. I had a lot of trouble with radio streams just randomly refusing to play music, forcing me to skip a song I really wanted to listen to. On top of that, for the price, it doesn't really do anything better than what Spotify, Rdio or any of the other streaming services office. The integration into the Android phones is awesome, but I don't see it taking a strong hold on the iOS front.
  • I think It's improved a lot since it launched. The new "I'm feeling lucky radio" feature is a great addition and I use it all the time.
  • I'm so happy this finally came out. I've been waiting since it was announced. It was indeed the longest few weeks lol. But I'm very happy with it and I'm glad they released it with Chromecast support. Now I don't have to rely on multiple services for my music on my iPhone. Sent from the iMore App
  • And of pulls in anything you buy on iTunes on your computer as well ;-)
  • I've found that to be a workaround to IAPs. I purchased a song through iTunes and it appeared in my Google Music app in a few moments. Of course, I'd rather buy it from Google, but beggars can't be choosers.
  • Article states that you have to upload all music not purchased. This is not true anymore, Google made the switch to a match type service a little while ago. If it's in their catalog then it's matched otherwise it's uploaded. Sent from the iMore App
  • Indeed it does, will fix that right away. Worst thing's not even what I wanted to say ;)
  • Glad I could help. Always enjoy your articles Sent from the iMore App
  • This might be a roundabout way, but if you want to keep individual songs offline you can do it by adding them to a playlist which you have saved offline and the app will download it.
  • I've been waiting for this app for a while. I love uploading all of my music to Google and being able to just stream it to my phone… because… my 16GB iPhone 5 does NOT have enough space to store all of my music locally, and I can only imagine how happy my brother must be… he has an 8GB iPhone 4. Sent from the iMore App
  • Hey, I've got a 32GB and even I am psyched! This allows me to store my favorite 20-30 albums in ALAC on my phone and still have plenty of space left over.
  • This is one time I'm hoping Apple did hold up the app in review a long time, as it would at least partly explain the iOS6 keyboard. I guess we'll see how fast it's updated now that it's up. But considering BlackBerry updated to iOS7 on BBM when it was delayed, hard to excuse Google there. In the end, I doubt it'll win too many that are only in the Apple ecosystem but for those with both, it's really nice to have. :-) Sent from the iMore App
  • The streaming function is nice and all, but the ability to make songs offline was the feature that I wanted/and used the most when I had my Nexus S back in the day.
  • I used to own a Nexus 4 and loved Google Music. I now own an iPhone 5s and find the experience a bit blah. Of course it's expected to run better on the Android platform but I wish I could download songs that I've purchased through Google Play into my iTunes library! Sent from the iMore App
  • You can with the desktop app.... It allows you to upload google play purchases to your computer... You then transfer it to your iTunes library! I had an gs3 recently and did this successfully quite often! Sent from the iMore App
  • I think I'll stick with my good ole iTunes Match! Sent from the iMore App
  • It's actually a pretty nice app and I already had most of my 60-70gb library uploaded from the years of android phones and tablets. I still don't think it is as good as the native with the iTunes Match subscription, but still nice to have. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Because if googles excellent support of the iOS platform I have to say the iPhone 5, 5c, and especially 5s are (in my opinion) the best android phones you can buy. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have 580 songs on my iPhone and this app don't show them on my library. Sometimes I use this app with my HTC One and is not the same. But anyways I really don't care since I have plenty space on my 64GB iPhone and I use Djay 2 to play my music Sent from the iMore App
  • If you don't have them in your Google library it won't show them. It won't match songs from your iPhone, only your computer
  • I have to admit, as much as I am surprised by this myself, I am not a fan of the lack of iOS 7 integration. At first I didn't care much, but now that it's been a couple of months and I have really become accustomed to not just the look and feel but added swipe functionality. Google might not care about this, but I do, and if they want me to use their apps they need to take this into consideration. Sent from the iMore App
  • Radio in a genre is on the Android app so it'll probably get here soon as well.
  • I signed up for the 30 day trial when it first came out but with no iPhone or iPad it didn't get much use. If I were to try it again it would be after an iPad app is released. Sent from the iMore App
  • Ehhh.. Good for Android converts I guess, but if they are truly switching to Apple they would be better off dumping their collection into iTunes Match and start using iTunes for all their music needs. Apple products and services are designed to work best together. iTunes is still the best music service on the planet. Use iTunes. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nice review, the only thing that's annoying me with the service is Radio. I want to be able to pick a genre based station. Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad to finally see the app. Disappointed it isn't optimized for iOS 7, but I'm not surprised. It still looks decent, save for the keyboard. It runs great, which is what matters the most to me. The "excellent" third party apps all have sucked for some reason or another, especially for All Access, in my experience. What disappoints me is the limited options for edits. There's no way to remove songs from playlists right now, so the app is largely content consuming rather than a full two way experience. I'm sure that will change over time. The biggest advantage Play Music has over my preferred streaming app Rdio is the ability to organize the music by artist, genre, album, etc. it's very hard to navigate Rdio if you have a lot of music because the options for organization are limited. That said, Rdio has some killer features. The "Play Later" queue is better than the play queue on Play Music, if you accidentally play another song, your whole queue is lost, while on Rdio, only the song or album you were currently listening to is lost. Also, the play queue is synced across all devices. Killer. I don't see Play Music ever getting this feature anytime soon, but we will see. The absence of an iPad app is a big disappointment of course. I can't imagine it's too far off though. It better than as smoothly as the iPhone one. Gmail on the iPad was unusable until the most recent update, and I would hate to see that happen with play music. If you aren't someone depending on iTunes for smart playlists and you just have a library music you want to access anywhere, this is the free service for you. If you want to stream anything and see all of your music too, this is the service for you. iTunes Match is good, and I use it too, but only because I use smart playlists. If I just wanted to have access to my music anywhere, Play Music is a solid alternative, and it's free. You only pay if you want to stream anything a la Rdio, Spotify, etc. Sent from the iMore App
  • Hmm... I am surprised to see that it doesn't fit with iOS 7 (even though it really looks like it does) nor is it a universal binary. Oh, well... Here's to future updates.
  • I have confidence that Google will continue to upgrade the music app as it has done with the other apps it's released to iOS. Overall, this is a good start. After trying it out this weekend, I am impressed; it's fast and smooth and gives an overall enjoyable experience. Thankfully, I will not have to use the web or third party services to listen to my music. They don't even come close. Sent from the iMore App
  • I trialled this but saw nothing that said "leave Spotify for me." Will stick with that and keep an eye on Google Play to see if it gets any better. If iTunes had its library on streaming I would jump to that in a heartbeat Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm currently a paid user of Rdio. About the only thing that could have made me switch to Google Play would have been the price break they have android users when the app first came out. Sent from the iMore App
  • Spotify still wins Sent from the iMore App
  • I switched over to iTunes Match awhile ago. Still have a lot of music uploaded to google cloud. Figure I will leave it there so if I ever get a new computer I can download it all. I'm not using it. Sent from the iMore App
  • I very much agree with what you say in your article, this is a very good app with a beautiful design, always making you feel it is a Google app even if you are on an iOS device. I have been using the free cloud feature and so far so good, it's pretty much what iTunes Match offers but for free, hopefully iPad support will "soon" follow (hope not another 24 weeks). I'm still using Rdio though, this online streaming competition keeps getting better and better!
  • There seems to be a saturated market of music apps. I like simplicity so I waiting for iTunes Radio to come to canada. No need for so many apps Sent from the iMore App
  • Great review, Richard. Well done. However, I have some sort of allergy whenever I hear google! Sorry ... can never resist. Google Play Music is actually a combination of OTHER things too .... like when they get some more users ... Ads gonna show up ... you're listening to some fine song .... and then this Ad pops up .... headache?? ... order viagra online!! FREE shipping .... Approved by Larry and The L Team!
  • You mean like how Apple plays ads in iTunes radio or you mean more of a targeted ad based on the music you select. I know your allergy causes fits of illogical responses but if your paying for a service with Google you don't get ads. It's when it's free you get ads as you can see in Apple's iTunes radio. With Obamacare you might be able to see a Dr. and get a prescription for your problem.
  • I can't find a way to shuffle all my songs and play. Is it possible?
  • Yeah, go to songs in the My Library section and play a song, then highlight the shuffle icon. No, theres no "Shuffle all" button but, if that was what you were looking for, it isnt the most necessary thing in the world.
  • That seems to be broken now (11/29/203). I know that it was working before.
  • I wasn't one that was waiting for this at all but it's a great review Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad google music finally came to iPhone..I have a lot invested in google music.. Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad google music finally came to iPhone..I have a lot invested in google music.. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't like having to pay for music services. I like the free stuff like pandora and iTunes Radio. Sent from the iMore App
  • It is free, it hold up to 20,000 of your personal songs.
  • i don't like the interface. Not the look but way files and tags are managed. i'd prefer it handled files like the itunes app organizationally. too many giant lists. There are tons of incorrect artwork due to google misreading a file or some problem on google's end. Luckily i rarely use it and i got gmusic which is better.
  • Still using Go music now. It has been updated to the iOS7 interface. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is nice but before I try this I want to give iTunes Radio a spin, any word on when it is heading to Canada? Sent from the iMore App
  • Sounds interesting but not enough features to temp me. Sent from the iMore App
  • I do find the google play a fine online music experience, I mean I wouldn't advise using the service over other music services but I definitely take advantage of storing my music there without paying and arm and a leg :) Sent from the iMore App
  • I gave All Access a long soak. In the end I went back to Rdio. It does just about everything better . If you want to discover new music then All Access is not for you. I still don't understand why Flash is required to us the web version of the service. That is a huge downside.
  • Thanks. I've been waiting on this. I'm an early adopter of google music and all play so it's only 8 bucks a month to have millions of songs at my finger tips. As long as Verizon doesn't take my Unlimited away, I'll probably keep this service. Moving from android to iPhone with the 5s, this was the last big thing I was missing. Sent from the iMore App
  • My favorite part of this is the Chromecast integration. I think the only app iOS is missing now for Chromecast is play movies. Everything else we have which is awesome. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know how it will translate to iphone (I'm a galaxy person) but I thought the service was okay. And by okay, I mean, really only okay, and not great. Not enough to make me switch over from Rdio as my primary service anyway. At first I kind of got into it, but there wasn't anything particularly better about it. For me, Rdio is great (and I add in a little torch music so I can make video playlists). For anyone who doesn't have a service yet, I think this is a good way to get started, but I doubt it'll pull people like me away from what they have.
  • Signed up when All Access first launched, so I pay $7.99 for all my new music, and can store all my old music for free. With offline access for playlists, this is the only app I need for music and gets a home on the dock.
  • It's also worth noting that Google added match support for ALAC and better support for AAC a few months ago. If you, like me, tried matching your library in the past and ran into headaches due to format support, it may be worth giving it another shot!
  • "There's also no dedicated iPad app either. That's a definite disappointment," but I would add that it scales up beautifully on an iPad Retina display like many iPhone/iPod-only apps do now. Sent from the iMore App
  • Google play was cool in the beginning but I've already said a lot about it in the forums, so I won't bore us all by repeating.
    I've found that it's hard to try and go half and half with Apple and Google. It's much easier the go all iTunes (and actually own your music) with an iPhone than to try and have all google on your iPhone. If you want all google, stick with an Android, it flows a lot better when you go all in rather than trying to take it all on. Trust me, I've tried it, and I didn't like it. Plus iTunes Match is cheaper overall than paying $10/month for not owning anything. Sent from the iMore App
  • No bad. I will use it but will more than likely use iTunes more. Sent from the iMore App
  • I prefer this to Rdio because of the digital locker function. I don't have to switch between it and the Music app to get to songs I have in iTunes that aren't available on GPMAA. I only wish they offered either a family plan or they would re-offer the $7.99 deal that they originally offered to people. I would have signed up, but I figured they would take their sweet time getting an official iOS app.
  • Gave it a spin when released, but have a few gripes. First, one thing that I've noticed is that Google's music library is in no way comparable to iTunes, which kind of goes without saying. However I kind of noticed that a lot of my music was uploaded rather than "matched," which kind of defeats the purpose in my opinion. Also, anyone else experiencing dreadfully slow uploading/matching times?? Secondly, I think the only perks to the service where you have an iTunes Match/Spotify composite, which is kind of cool. I think that both services do their job more efficiently than Google Play does however. Thirdly, I find the iOS 7-esque look and feel lacking and that's kind of annoying (agreeing with you Richard). I found that when using my iOS 7, engrained DNA, the "swipe-back-to-previous-page" feature means "swipe-back-to-previous-son