James Cridland

Spotify vs Google Play Music: my experiences

Updated May 2016 I have to wave goodbye to my Google Play Music (UK catalogue) subscription since I now live in Australia, and Google won’t let me change country on my main Google account. (Tedious detail here).

Spotify and Google Play Music were at the same price until recently — AUD$11.99 a month. That’s US$8.65, or GBP£5.93, rather than the US’s $9.99 or the UK’s £9.99. Bargain! Tony Abbott may be a highly derided Australian Prime Minister, but he was excellent at devaluing the Aussie dollar. Thanks, Tony!

So, what better time to revisit Spotify? The two previous sticking points for me about Spotify (no Beatles, no Chromecast) have both been fixed. Is Spotify the better experience? What are the differences now? Here is where the differences lie, as I see them.

Before we start, here’s my device ecosystem. I use Android for phone and tablet. I have an iPod Touch as a media device in the kitchen. I use Chromecast Audio as a hi-fi. I have a Chromebook as my daily driver. All of the above will have an effect on my choice. Particularly, note that I can’t run Spotify’s desktop software, and instead run their web player.

It also means I can’t use Apple Music (no Chromecast support, no desktop support on Chromebooks). I can’t use Tidal for similar reasons (and also because I doubt it’ll be around for long). I have no good reason not to try Deezer. Let me know if I should be seriously considering it.

Update: as of May 2016, Google Play Music is now AUD$9.99 a month. That’s US$7.25, or GBP£4.99. And this probably makes the choice rather easier, particularly since it now includes You Tube Red.

Here’s what I learnt, using Spotify instead of Google Play Music:

  1. “I’m feeling lucky radio” is a neat trick from Google Play Music. Open the app, hit the button, and it plays you stuff it thinks you like (not just new discoveries but stuff you’ve heard before). It’s as close to a radio station as you can get. I miss it on Spotify. Google win.
  2. “Discover weekly” is a neat trick from Spotify. It appears to play me a lot of new things as well as some stuff I’ve playlisted. Spotify appears to lean on the side of “discovering new artists”, though — I wish it would play me more familiar music. Spotify win.
  3. Spotify “radio stations” by artist or album are seemingly fixed playlists — with the same tracks in them in the same order when you go back. They stop playing, too, after an hour or so, leaving you with silence. Google Play Music “radio stations” are seemingly algorithmic, with an infinite duration: though they do, and can, slowly wander off point. Google win.
  4. I can upload music that Google doesn’t have to Google, and it appears in my library. I can’t do that with Spotify (on mobile and the web). I don’t need to do this much, now the catalogues are more all-encompassing, though. Google win.
  5. On Android, I can select a Google Play “radio station” for offline listening. It’ll then download a certain amount of tracks, and randomly cycle through them. On reconnecting to WiFi, it then deletes some of the most listened-to tracks and loads some more in. This has a dramatic effect on mobile data used. Spotify offers no way of offline listening to a radio station. Google win.
  6. Spotify is more social. I can find friends on Facebook — or even people who aren’t — and look at their public playlists. I can’t see what they’re currently listening to, though, which I’d find more useful. Google has none of this. Incidentally, I loved this on Rdio. Spotify win.
  7. On Android, Google has a thing called “auto-offline” which you can turn on. That caches music it thinks I’ll like — when on charge, connected to WiFi, and the phone’s asleep — just in case. I like this idea: and it does appear to work well, saving bandwidth. Google win.
  8. Pressing “play” on Spotify (apps or web) gives music almost instantly. Pressing “play” on Google gives you a few seconds of a loading indicator. This is one area where Google needs to up its game. Spotify win.
  9. Spotify’s Chromecast experience on the TV is better-looking than Google’s (though would probably burn in quicker). It appears to work faster, too. Oddly, given it’s Google tech, that’s a Spotify win.
  10. Spotify’s catalogue is organised rather better than Google’s. In Google parlance, anything with two tracks or more is an “album”. Spotify correctly knows the difference between an album and a single. There appears much more careful data duration of songs and artists here. Spotify win.
  11. Google’s catalogue appears to have multiple versions of albums. Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace album (don’t judge) on Spotify, though, just exists once: as the 2015 remix deluxe edition, with lots of poor first takes and demo versions on the end. The Alan Parsons album Stereotomy, once more, is only available on Spotify as a deluxe album with radio ads in it and a twenty-minute interview. These are not albums: they’re albums with cruft and shite on them. I like to be able to choose to hear the album as originally released. Google gives me the option. Google win.
  12. Google Play Music has text, culled from Wikipedia or Discogs or somewhere, with descriptions of artists or albums. I didn’t really notice how useful they were to me, but Spotify doesn’t have them and I do miss them: they were useful to understand why I should listen. **Google win.
    **Edit: Spotify does have them: for artists. Scroll all the way down in the Android app. But it doesn’t have them for albums. So I’m still marking this one as Google’s win.
  13. Spotify is much faster at downloading tracks for offline than Google is. Much, much faster. My use-cases is “I’m going to catch the bus now, but first let’s grab this album”; so you’ll see why speed is important to me. Spotify win.
  14. On Spotify I can listen privately to something (kids songs for my toddler) and it won’t show up in my history or be used for recommendations. I can also delete tracks I’ve listened to from my history. Google doesn’t offer this, and it skews my listening recommendations. Spotify win.
  15. Google offers a family plan for AUD$17.99 a month for up to six people. (That’s £8.68). Spotify offers a family plan for 50% off additional people (so that’s AUD$17.98 for two people, but of you have more people, that’s more cost). For me, I only need two if my partner wants in, so that’s a tie.
    So far, then, the scores are tied: in terms of user experience and features, both Google and Spotify have 7 wins each. So, is there a clincher? I think there is: but it’s terribly dull.
  16. Google are currently offering a three month free trial period for owners of a Chromecast. Spotify are also offering a three month free trial period for owners of a Chromecast. However, my Spotify account has already been used in the past, so I wasn’t eligible. So: $35.97 of free music from Google? OK, go on, then.
    In addition, Google is currently offering 10% discount in the Google Play store (for apps and movies) for Google Music subscribers, even if they’re on a free trial. Which, given I have to replace a few paid-for apps on this new account, is also worth a few dollars to me. **Google win.
    **(And now there’s the price drop and YouTube Red, as mentioned earlier.)

So I’ve gone back to Google.

All of the above rather underlines how similar these services are. With broadly the same catalogue, broadly the same user offer, and broadly the same user experience, there’s almost nothing to tell them apart. One can be almost entirely substituted with another: it’s only inertia keeping you there.

Radio broadcasters who get into this space will notice they’ve got one major benefit that others don’t: the benefit of on-air talent. The benefit of being more than just a shop window for record company content. Which is, I guess, quite a useful benefit to have.