Google Music Unlimited vs Amazon Cloud Player Premium

cloud-music-showdownI recently tried Google Music Unlimited as my primary source for music. Subsonic is still up and running though, and still contains my entire music library, ready to stream via web or smartphone client (or Roku) whenever needed. I figured Google’s unlimited music service might just end up being the ultimate music service, based on their size and power, so when they offered a special low subscription rate for early subscribers, I decided to jump on-board and see how it goes.

There’s a “Google Music Manager” application available for the PC that I used for awhile. What it does is scan your personal music library, match it with Google’s library, and upload anything unmatched to their site. So basically, when it’s done, your entire existing collection, as well as Google’s entire library is available to you in one place. It is currently limited to 20,000 songs you can upload, so I was anxious to see what it would do with my massive existing collection. It figured it SHOULD match most of my albums, since most aren’t very rare and are on most music services, but it sure didn’t match many. SubSonic says I currently have just over 59,000 songs in my collection, and well over 20,000 (the Google Music limit) just in my “Rock” folder alone (my largest category). So I pointed Music Manager to the Rock folder and let it go. Over 8,100 songs failed to upload after I hit my limit, and I can’t find where it shows how many it actually matched. So far, I don’t think it matched any, which is a real shock. If I can get it to somehow match much of my collection, or at least allow users to increase the 20,000 uploaded songs limit by paying a monthly fee, I’d love to use it permanently. But so far it’s not looking good.

I tried the service for several weeks, and I’m pretty disappointed overall. It refuses to match any of my albums (hundreds of which were purchased from Amazon MP3) and 20,000 songs isn’t even HALF of my collection. I filled it in a few days, and most of what I want to listen to isn’t there, even though a lot of that is probably in Google’s vast unlimited collection, I’m still having a hard time with it. I keep trying, time after time, to use the “Radio” feature. This is supposed to take any song and create a “Radio Station” based on the song’s properties–the type of song, artist, title, etc., and then play music you’d most likely enjoy similar to that song. But almost every time I try to start it from a song, it fails with “Cannot create radio station at this time”. It gets pretty frustrating. And I’ve verified that connectivity isn’t the issue. It does the same thing whether I’m on my home wifi on a solid connection or out somewhere on my cellular connection. Sure, it works sometimes, but it fails enough of the time to make it unusable for me.

So right now I’ve given up on this one. I canceled by subscription, even though it was permanently at a discounted price of $7.99 a month because I started subscribing during it’s initial release. Instead, I am now trying Amazon’s Premium Cloud Player service. In comparison, Google’s service allowed 20,000 songs to be imported at $7.99/month, and Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium service allows 250,000 songs to be imported. This is over 10x the capacity, and probably way more than I’ll need for quite some time! Amazon’s premium service is also only $24.99/year. That’s a little over $2/month. Granted, Amazon doesn’t give you access to their vast music collection for free–and that might be a big factor for many users–but it’s not something I find extremely valuable myself. Usually, when I find new music, I want to purchase the actual album anyway, and add it to my personal collection, and I will usually purchase these through Amazon MP3, as I have for years, so it works out for me. And music I purchase this way doesn’t even apply toward my 250,000-song import limit, so I sincerely doubt I will EVER hit the limit. As for discovering new music, I know it’s pretty handy to have a wide-open huge selection you can sample all you want like Google’s service offers, but I find plenty just by listening to the radio, browsing Amazon’s site, and getting my fill of music exposure from the various TV and music shows I watch.

Based on all of that, I think Amazon Cloud Player Premium might just be the solution for me. There is one catch with a music collection as large as mine, however: Getting over 50,000 songs uploaded and synchronized with Amazon is no small task. It took me a total of about 5 weeks, using a “server” PC that I leave on 24/7, in order to get my entire collection uploaded and sync’ed (August 2nd, 2013 – September 10th , 2013. It did have it’s issues, and even crashed a couple times, completely freezing the “Amazon Music Importer”, but every time I restarted the app it never failed to resume. I reached a point, somewhere at around 4,200 remaining songs left to import, where it never got any further after restarting. I’m not sure what caused this–whether it got stuck on a particular song or whether it kept looping through all of them, but it just continued to flip through song titles scanning for matches in Amazon’s collection compared to mine, and didn’t get any further, so after two days of noting this, even after restarts of the app and restarts of the PC, I used a different approach: Instead of mass-adding my entire “MUSIC” folder, I instead chose one subfolder (which I have broken out into music types, like “country”, “rock”, “new age”, etc.) and started importing them separately, one category at a time. This seemed to resolve the issue, and after that every subfolder completed and imported without issue until I was done.

During this 5-week process, I also noted that on a few occasions the “AmazonMusicImporter” process in Windows would keep running and the memory usage would continue to increase even long after I closed the utility and stopped importing! This only seemed to happen when I was importing folders containing several thousand songs though. It never seemed to happen on smaller folders. Whenever this occurred, I noticed that the PC kept running very sluggishly until I ended the process using task manager. So all in all it was quite a chore, but I should never have to do it again, and I can rest assured that my entire collection is in the cloud, securely backed up and available for streaming, any time, anywhere.

The Android app itself is a little clunky, but it does have all of the functionality that I need, offering the ability to view “Cloud” and “Device” music separately, download entire albums or just songs to the device as needed, etc., etc, There’s also a web-based “Amazon Cloud Player” you can use for managing your playlists, albums and songs, and it offers many more features that I really like. It’s very quick and easy to make my playlists this way. They also have an installable app for the PC, also called “Amazon Clound Player”, but I don’t recommend it at all, at this point. For some reason, a lot of my music–and even some of my playlists–just don’t show up in this app, but they show up in the web-based app and on my phone, so I know they’re there. What the deal is, I have no idea. I can log out of the app, back in, tell it to re-check my cloud for new music, and I still have literally THOUSANDS of songs missing in that app. So for now I’ll still to web-based and Android versions, which work smoothly and “see” my entire music collection.

Android Weather Apps

weather_thumbnailHello. My name is Jim, and I’m a weather addict.  I drool for the latest and greatest weather gadgets and apps.  My Roku screensaver is an awesome weather app that gives me tons of weather information.  But the Roku app isn’t why I’m posting right now.  I found a new Android weather app that’s pretty cool. It’s called “Arcus“.  It’s very “granular” and provides weather information in very clear terms, broken down to the next hour, next 24 hours, next week, temperature and precipitation graphing, etc.  When it was mentioned on TWiG (this week in Google) they even said it will give you details such as “Rain will begin in 8 minutes.”  I haven’t seen anything THAT granular yet, but it does give me almost everything I could ask for in a weather app…except animation!  Those I get from Accuweather — another great weather app.  Both apps are available in free and paid versions, offering a few more features and faster updating in the paid versions, and no ads.  I highly recommend the paid versions.  Click on any of the thumbnails to see a few screenshots.

App Crap

What’s with all of the Android app issues all of a sudden?? First, Google Navigation–the absolute best (and totally free) navigation app available for Android–pretty much threw in the towel recently by removing the ability to control the voice volume for the navigation while integrating a very natural and human-sounding internal speech engine.  Now, whenever I use it I can’t hear any of the navigation announcements because my music volume is apparently louder than the new voice engine!  And since the eliminated the separate volume control for the navigation, there’s no way to control it!  Turning down the volume turns down both the Navigation volume as well as the music, so I end up having to choose a no-music (or audiobook) drive or a music-only drive without navigation at all.  Unacceptable, Google!!  I’m trying to work with Waze right now, which has made some big improvements lately, from what I’m seeing.  It does pretty good navigation and includes “crowdsourcing” features, constantly including traffic, accident and other updates instantly as you drive, from all of the “Wazers”.  You even earn points for everything to report in the app, to increase your Waze score and earn better ranks.  It has it’s issues, doesn’t look as “Pro” as Google Navigation, and the voice navigation is a bit muffled…but at least it has a separate voice navigation VOLUME CONTROL!!! Are you listening, Google?!?!?!? It works ok for me for now, until something better comes along (or Google fixes theirs).

Then today I find out that Dropbox acquired Audiogalaxy!!  Now Audiogalaxy isn’t accepting any new accounts, and their “Mixes” subscription service is ending on 12/31/12.  Yikes!! They go on to say “previous users with accounts can continue to stream their music collections”… but for how long?!?!  Audiogalaxy is the best Android music streaming server I have ever found, and nothing compares to it!! I sure hope they eventually decide to keep streaming and start accepting new accounts again, even if it becomes branded as a Dropbox Music Streaming app–as long as they DON’T start requiring everyone to upload their music collection to Dropbox though–THAT would suck!  I have such a huge collection of music, it would cost me quite a bit of money each month for a dropbox account big enough to hold my entire music collection.  Hmmph.  Time to start looking for something better anyway, I guess.

Alternate Android Launcher

One big advantage Android devices have over Apple is their ability not only to to allow the user to completely customize their  home screens using widgets and icons, but to change the entire “launcher” app itself!  This is the interface delivering the experience which connects the user to their device and apps.  Yesterday, one of Google’s 10-cent paid app sale items was ADW Launcher EX.  I have owned this app for quite some time, and I’ve used it often, but kept running into a “deal-breaking” snag causing me to revert back to the stock Honeycomb Launcher on my Xoom.  So, even though I had already purchased it some time ago for full price, I clicked on it anyway.  Turns out, to my delight, it’s been updated quite a bit!  So once again I switched to it.  The changes are nice, and many of them target Honeycomb devices, and devices with faster speeds and large screens, so it’s a lot better than it used to be.

The main “deal breaker” I hit last time was still there, however:  I would layout one home page with all of the icons and widgets just the way I like them, then save all my settings in ADW’s settings page, then I would reboot.  Every time it came back up, every single widget would be missing, with the message “problem loading widget” in its place.  They would never load, so if I wanted that layout back I’d have to re-create my home page every time I rebooted.  Simply unacceptable.  But, since ADW has come so far, this time I took it a step further and googled the issue.  After a few minutes I found the answer in a Xoom forum.  Turns out that either Android itself or specifically the Xoom have problems when you place widgets on multiple launchers.  Not multiple home pages on the SAME launcher, but on multiple launchers.  My default home screen on both the stock launcher and on ADW were nearly identical, so I went back to the stock launcher and deleted all of my widgets on my home screens.  Then, once more, I re-built my default home screen in ADW.  After a reboot, voila!  My widgets reloaded perfectly!

With this now working, I am once again giving ADW a chance to be my launcher of choice.  So far so good.  It still has its quirks, just as all launchers do (including the stock launcher), but all the additional features and functions in it make it much more desirable and fun to use than the stock launcher, so I’m going with it.  I love having so many options!  I’ll never go back to the “KISS” method Apple uses.  Ever.

ADW is still just 10 cents this morning–if you don’t have it yet, you can’t go wrong, give it a shot.  Just remember to delete all of your widgets from your current launcher’s home screens before you start using it.