I used Google Play Music for about one year before I got the smart speaker from Apple and had to switch to Apple Music. Now, I have been using Apple Music for many months and ready to share with you my opinion about these two competitive streaming services. I divided this review into many categories and will award the winner by some amount of points. In the end, we will compare the total amounts of points and declare the absolute winner. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.
Play Music is a web-application and because it’s made by Google it uses Material Design. You should be familiar with this interface if you’ve ever used Google apps such as Inbox, Docs, Drive, etc. It’s very clean, light and easy to use because the interface is not cluttered with many details and interactions feel very natural and intuitive.
The home screen is a set of groups of cards with recommended albums, artists and playlists. Groups depend on your interests and many other factors, like time (in the morning you’ll get more energetic choices, while in the evening there will be more relaxing recommendations). There is always a group “Recommended new releases”, where you see new albums from your favorite bands. I find it extremely useful. Some groups are a set of albums by other artists similar to one of your favorites, like “For fans of Nightwish” (see the screenshot). This is how you can discover new artists and get a new experience. Every group of cards has its own background, which makes it unique and looking more like a separate page rather than a part of a big list of cards.
The mobile app uses the same design as the web app, so you should feel comfortable with the familiar interface and easily switch between desktop and mobile. I like how Play Music displays a fullscreen cover image for the current song, it looks very beautiful. Before they had the same in the web app, so you could listen to the music with a fullscreen cover image, but now they removed this ability, to my disappointment.
Apple Music is a native MacOS/iOS/WatchOS application and comes with every Apple device as a part of the operation system. Talking about the interface and user experience, I consider Apple Music to be not a good example of software design. A lot of space on the screen is used not efficiently, font sizes are small and the overall design looks in my taste a little bit outdated. Moreover, there are no smooth transitions between screens, even though it’s a native app, they could implement cool transitions and animations, but they didn’t. When you click anything the page becomes blank and white until the content is loaded and rendered, it feels like navigating on the website in the old era of Internet Explorer.
The mobile app looks better, the same interface, but optimized for smaller screens. And I see the same problem as in the desktop app: ineffective use of the screen space. When you scroll the main page with recommendations in the Google Play Music mobile app, there are full-width images without space between them, so it looks like a seamless pane of images (I like that), but in the Apple Music app images surrounded by lots of empty space and titles, which they could place upon the images and use the space more efficiently (like Google did).
Overall, interface and design is a very subjective topic, some like this, others like that, you can’t say what is really better for another person. But in my opinion, Google Play Music has a more modern and beautiful design.
Verdict: Google Play Music provides a modern and beautiful interface while Apple Music is a hostage of the outdated iTunes design.
The page with recommendations in Google Play Music consists of many groups of cards, the first group is based on the time of the day and proposes music you usually listen during that time. The second group - “New Releases”, shows new albums from your favorite bands and artists. Then go the groups with different playlists, like “Today's biggest hits”, “New & trending songs”, “For fans of Sum 41”, “Similar to Rap-Metal Adrenaline Boost”, etc. All of them are different every day and based on your likes/dislikes and recently played music. I don’t think the recommendation system of Google Play Music is great, but it’s decent enough, I always can find something to listen to or discover new music.
The page with recommendations in the Apple Music app is very small compared with the competitor. Only 4 groups of cards versus 11 in the Play Music app. And 3 out of 4 of those groups consist of playlists, not artists, so it’s really hard to discover new music. Recommended playlists often repeat, so every day you see some well-known playlists. Some of them are really great, but when you want to discover something good and new, it’s better to use Google Play Music.
Verdict: Google Play provides a much more effective recommendation system, though it’s not ideal.
Google Play Music offers over 40 million songs in its streaming library and also allows you to upload music from your device. You can purchase music on Google Play or any other music store and upload to your Google Play library, so it will become available on all of your devices. Plus, with the subscription you’ll get YouTube Music and YouTube Red for free (More about that later).
Apple Music claims it offers over 45 million songs in its streaming library. If you buy music in iTunes it’ll be added to your library. Also, all the music you upload to the iTunes will be available for you via Apple Music.
Verdict: Both services offer a huge music library, either way you’ll find all you need. If not, you can upload your songs and enjoy on all of your devices.
The music service from Google is a web-based application, so you can use it on any device and any operating system (if there is a web browser). You can add an official application to your Chrome browser and with it your media keys on the keyboard can control the player. Moreover, Google Music provides native applications for both iOS and Android. There is no native application for desktop operating systems.
Apple’s music service, on the contrary, doesn’t provide a web app, it exists only as a native MacOS or iOS application. So it’s not available on Windows, Linux and Android. It’s a huge limitation, but Apple has always been notoriously known for their closed ecosystem. If you have an iPhone and a MacBook, so most likely you don’t care about Windows or other operating systems and it’s not even a problem for you. One day if you decide to switch from iOS to Android you will regret it and will have to build your music library from scratch, but only in another music service. Apple uses this as a hook to keep you within their ecosystem and don’t let you go to their competitors. Smart move.
Verdict: With Google Music you can listen to your music on any possible device. Even if there is no native app for your operating system, you always can use your browser.
Play Music costs $9.99/month, but with the subscription you get also the ad-free YouTube Red ($9.99 if you buy it separately) and YouTube Music. This seems like a great offer for the same amount of money, especially if you watch YouTube a lot. I do. When I started to use Apple Music I wanted to cancel my Google Play Music subscription and it turned out if I want just a subscription for YouTube Red only, it’ll be the same price for me. Thus, I can’t stop using Play Music, cunning marketers…
The subscription for the music service from Apple is the same, $9.99/month. But it doesn’t include any additional perks, except the free 3 month trial period, while Google offers only 1 month. So during the first year of subscription you’ll pay $109.89 to Google (11 months) and $89.99 to Apple, which is a bit cheaper.
Verdict: Both services cost the same, but Google gives you also ad-free YouTube Red and YouTube Music. An obvious choice for YouTube fans.
If you mark a song as your favorite (click “like” or “thumbs up” button) both services adjust recommendations to your taste and give you more similar songs in the future. Same with “dislikes”. The only difference in these music services is that Google Music skips “disliked” songs immediately and start playing the next song in the playlist, while Apple Music continues playing the song you just told you hate it. Ridiculous! Worth mentioning, if you use Apple Homepod and tell Siri you don’t like a song it skips it like Google does.
From the Apple ecosystem's perspective, it’s much easier “like/dislike” songs, because you can do it right from your Apple Watch (with Google Music you can’t do it) or just tell Siri you like the song.
The next thing is the convenience of using “like/dislike” buttons: in Google Music, the buttons are always visible and to make the action you just need to make one click, while in Apple Music the buttons are hidden in the context menu (in iOS, MacOS and WatchOS). So you need to make two clicks to make the action.
Verdict: It’s hard to choose a winner in this round: I like that Google skips disliked songs, but with Apple Music I can do it from my Watch or with my voice if I use Homepod. If you are not an Apple sheep then for you Google wins, without doubts.
I couldn’t find an equalizer in the Google Music web app and iOS application, but Apple Music has such a cool feature: you can control all the levels manually or choose from a list of presets. To open the EQ click on menu “Window”, then choose “Equalizer” (see screenshot). To configure audio levels in iOS go to Settings, then find “Music” and find “EQ” menu.
Verdict: Obvious choice. Apple wins.
Play Music is a web application, so because of the web-browser security limitations, it doesn’t have access to your computer’s file system. This means you can’t save your favorite music and listen without an internet connection. With the mobile app you can do it, so partially Google provides this functionality.
Apple Music on contrary is a native MacOS app, so it can save music and you can listen to your library even without an internet connection, which is great. Same applies to the mobile app.
Verdict: With Google Play Music you can’t save music and listen offline unless you’re using mostly mobile app.
Apple is well-known for the high level of integration between Operation System and their own software. If you’re using MacBook, iPhone, and Watch, of course, you know you get all necessary software out of the box and it all works well without additional steps of configuration or tuning. Thus, you get iTunes with Apple Music without a necessity to download it and install. You can press the “Play” button on your keyboard and automatically opens Apple Music, you can use TouchBar (on the latest Macbooks) to control the position in the song, go to next/previous song, you can ask Siri to play something else or whatever you want, you can mark a song as your favorite right from your wrist using Watch or download some music to the Watch and play it during the run without taking your iPhone with you.
With Google Play Music you can’t even skip tracks or pause using keyboard media keys, because for that you must install Chrome App (it binds keyboard keys with the player). And it’s not easy to find the link to that Chrome App. I doubt elder people or everyone else who is not a geek will install that app. Plus, I hate I can’t “give a like” to the song from my Apple Watch, to do that I need to reach for the phone and open Google Play Music app.
Verdict: When it comes to OS integration Apple always wins, no chances Google, sorry.
Google calls it "Radio", while it’s more like a playlist, songs grouped by some genre/category/activity. You can choose from 28 genres, 28 activities (even such as “Enjoying Fall” or “Breaking Up”), 20 moods (including “Spacey” and “Introspective”), music by decades (down to 20s-40s) and even music for kids (by age or activity).
First, you need to choose a category (this screen looks like a simple list) and then you’ll see a screen with all available playlists in this category.
Apple music has real radio stations (like Beats 1, CBS News, etc.), but I’m not a fan of such kind of old-fashioned things. If comparing playlists’ selection with Google Music there are not so many categories, though it also has “Activities and Moods” but with only 9 categories (versus 28 + 20 from Google Music).
Verdict: Google provides a great choice of playlists for any mood or activity, much better than Apple Music. If you’re a fan of radio stations, Apple wins, but for me it doesn’t matter, I don’t listen to the radio, plus there are only a few of them.
If you open an artist’s page in both services you’ll see they are almost identical, consist of the same sections: “Top songs”, “Albums”, “Videos”, “About the Band” section, and a section with similar artists. Let’s talk about the difference.
First, Apple Music has “Artist Playlists”, a curated set of best tracks by some category. Second, “About the Band” section is much more informative than in Play Music. And finally, one of the Apple Music killer features - Connect.
Connect is like a social network for artists and their fans. You can subscribe to your favorite bands and they can make posts with the latest news, add some music, videos, images. Fans can like posts, leave comments and share them. It’s a great way to get feedback for the artists from their fans. When you open Apple Music you can open Connect section and will see a feed of all the latest posts from the artists you subscribed on or bands you like.
Verdict: Artist’s page is much better in Apple Music. In addition, Connect leaves no chances for Google.
What I hate about Google Music is that it displays albums of an artist in a strange way (maybe by popularity), but definitely not in the chronological order. When I open a list of albums it’s very important to see them sorted by years, from the newest album to the oldest one. And Apple Music does exactly that. When somebody compares streaming services they never notice this, but it annoys me a lot when I see albums in Google Music.
Verdict: Apple Music shows albums in the chronological order, Google does not.
In Play Music one of my the most used features - “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. When I don’t want to scroll down a huge list with recommendations (most of the time), I just click the button and the app starts playing a random playlist from recommended. If I don’t like the choice, click again and get a new one. Simple and so useful! Apple, look and learn. But first, please add more options to your recommendations.
Verdict: Throw dice and let it play.
I don’t understand why, but seems like Google ignores such important features as song’s lyrics. There is no way to get lyrics for the current song in Play Music. Apple Music, on contrary, makes it easily accessible. You can read lyrics for any song you want, and it’s even easier in the mobile app, just scroll down the controls for the current playing song.
Verdict: There is no way to read lyrics in Play Music, Apple Music wins here.
When I started to write this comparison it was really hard to me say who is the winner, and only breaking down to the categories makes it possible to answer honestly and unbiasedly which one the best music app.
Here’s a short summary (Google / Apple):
Summing-up, Google is the winner with its 9 points. Apple Music scores 7 points. If only Apple Music had a better recommendation system and skipped disliked songs, these two rivals would be equal. But for now, Play Music is the best music streaming app.