Google might have the best music app in the world—and it just got a lot better

Standard

Google is quietly running an excellent streaming service in Play
Music. Earlier this week,
a big update
made it even better.

Play Music, which offers a huge library of music with curated and
customizable stations, has always stood out with its embrace of
contextual recommendations, i.e., suggesting different music for
different settings. Google got a head start in this area when it
bought Songza, an early pioneer in the area, and brought on
co-founder Elias Roman as project manager.

“Our belief is that context is king,” Roman told us earlier this
year. “We’ve had a long time to get good at what it takes to be
good at that.”


google play music
Google
Play Music

In the past, Play Music featured something called music
concierge, which let users click through a flow chart of things
that might be relevant to them. This interface worked, but
it also felt limiting. Personally, I had started using it less in
recent months, preferring to choose music from the personalized
but non-contextual Recommended tab or other sections of the app.

Play Music’s latest update blows up the concierge in favor of a
new array of recommendations that pull from not only relevant
activities (e.g., “focusing”) but also recent listening and
recommended classics, new releases, and customized stations. In
short, it’s pulling from a much wider range of sources. It’s also
getting more use out of Play’s carefully curated stations, many
of which where buried in some dark corner of concierge.

And the whole thing adjusts based on context, giving you
different recommendations on your phone, on your computer, at the
gym, and in the office.

One example that impressed me: The old Play Music was never smart
enough to figure out what albums are stuck in my head—i.e., the
ones I’ve been searching for repeatedly (e.g., “In The
Heights” and “Falsettoland”). New Play Music immediately figured
that out and always puts one of those right at the top.

The new Play Music is not only smart but also wonderfully simple,
putting it all on one neat page. If you scan the
recommendations without seeing anything that excites you, you can
always click “I’m Feeling Lucky Radio” for a unpredictable custom
radio station based on something it knows you like. Not feeling
that, and you can sort by new and top releases, create custom
radio stations, and more.

Play Music’s $9.99 membership gives you a huge streaming library
and the advanced interface described above. It also comes with a
snazzy bonus: YouTube Red status, letting you watch YouTube
videos without ads and some exclusive content.

You may be surprised to hear that Play Music is this good:
Google’s streaming app doesn’t get as much attention as Spotify,
Apple Music, and others. It is
holding onto a moderate market share
, however, and,
again,
 it’s a strong product. It was already this
reporter’s top pick after weeks of research and testing
last year.


goole play music
Skye Gould / Business Insider

Since most of the top streaming services have similarly huge
libraries, the biggest difference comes down to how easy they
make it for you to find good music.

Spotify has excellent playlists, including the
personalized Discover Weekly
, and it’s
great at surfacing hot new music
—and for some that will make
it the best. It remains a step behind Play Music on contextual
recommendations, however, and if you ask me, it’s lagging in
interface too, especially after Play’s update.

Apple Music? It has a clunky interface, even after a big
update
, with often contrived playlists.

Tidal? Miles to go on personalized recommendations and
its hi-fi option will be lost on most
. Another option if you
want hi-fi, which may in fact be better on recommendations,
is Deezer.

Pandora? Wonderfully simple but short on features and not
necessarily better than the competition at anything.

Amazon Prime Music? A relatively small library, though it
does come free with Prime.

Some of those options have
music exclusives
—Apple and Tidal, prime among them—which may
sway some people. I’ve found, however, that’s it’s easy enough to
wait a week or two to listen to Kanye.

All of these options can be a lot to take in, but don’t
worry. One way or another, it’s never been easier to find to
great music.

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