Google Play Music tunes up in UK, is cheaper than iTunes

Google's Play Music service is on stage and launching into its first number. You can now finally buy new tunes -- and they're pretty cheap.

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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With a bellow of "Hello Britain!" Google's Play Music service is on stage and launching into its first number, after the world's longest tune-up. While you've been able to store your music in Google's cloud for ages, you can now finally buy new tunes -- and they're pretty cheap.

Prices are different to those on iTunes. Muse's albums are mainly £4.49, but their latest is £5.49 and their live album HAARP is £6.99. Those are a couple of quid cheaper than on iTunes, but it varies according to artist.

The Essential Bob Dylan is £9.99 on iTunes, and £7.49 on Google Play. iTunes suggests that album as the second search result for Bob Dylan, however, while I had to search for it specifically on Google.

Skrillex's Hook-inspired Bangarang is £5.99 on iTunes but a mere £3.99 from Google. Alternatively, if like CNET UK's editor Jason Jenkins, you're a Tom Jones fan, you'll find his Greatest Hits Rediscovered for two quid less on iTunes, at £7.99 compared to Google's £9.99.

If you want to discover new stuff, your music generates suggestions -- looking at my copy of Muse's album The Resistance, Google suggested similar artists including The Bravery, Silversun Pickups and a genuine personal favourite of mine, Placebo. Good work. You get a decent one-minute preview on every track too.

Some releases seem confusingly mis-filed as albums when they're strictly not -- but iTunes does this too. Placebo's singles are either £1.29 or 79p, but their 'albums' are actually three-track single releases or five-track EPs, and come in at anything from £1.49 to £4.49. Their full albums are not offered.

Generally I found Google Play to be significantly cheaper than iTunes, but slightly less well organised and with a smaller selection. With a more obscure band, such as proggish noise-scapers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, iTunes had their entire back catalogue, whereas Google has only one album (which was a third of the price). Bearing in mind iTunes' horrifically bloated program, however, I'd take Google Play every single time.

With a piece of software imaginatively named Music Manager, Google stores up to 20,000 of your songs and lets you listen to them on any online computer or Android device running version 2.2 or later. Unlike iTunes' clunky client, Music Manager is a tiny thing that sits in your taskbar and only manages music syncing -- your music is displayed and played in your browser.

When you download Music Manager it scans iTunes, Windows Media Player and your My Music folder. It can include podcasts if you like, and handily there's an option to automatically upload songs that you add to iTunes in the future. It didn't seem to upload iTunes playlists, however.

Another neat touch is that it uploads your favourite songs first by analysing your most played, recently played and highest rated tracks. You can start listening to them while it uploads the rest.

It's integrated with Google+ too -- in auto playlists, you can see tracks recommended by people you follow on Google's social network. Only two of the 146 people I follow had shared anything, and one of them works for Google. Still, early days!

Its Android app is pretty sharp. I downloaded it from the Google Play store and was listening to my synced music in seconds, streamed over Wi-Fi (it paused the music playing on my computer). You can pin music to your device for offline listening too. The official app isn't available for iPhone, but unofficial apps can access your synced music for the same service.

Have you used Google Play to buy music yet? What do you make of its approach to storing your tunes? Are there better, cheaper legal alternatives to Google and iTunes? Generate feedback in the comments below, or make some noise on our Facebook page.