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Seven tips for Google's Play Music on iOS

Google finally released the Play Music app it promised would be released months ago.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

As of last week, iOS users can now take advantage of Google's Play Music service. The service lets you upload music you already own, create random playlists, and use Google's All Access Internet radio service.

The iOS app has some limitations, however, and does require some workarounds in certain instances to accomplish what should be simple tasks.

Here are seven tips to help you with your first experience with Google Play Music on iOS, especially if you've never used the service before.

Set up your account

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The first thing you'll need to do, even before downloading the app, is set up your Google Music account. Visit using your computer or tablet to enable the service for your account. You'll need to add a credit card to the account just in case you decide to purchase music at some point.

It's for that reason, I believe, that Google doesn't allow users to set up a Google Music account using the app. This is something that has to be done via the Web site.

Get your music to Google
Google allows you to upload music you already own to its service. You can upload a total of 20,000 songs before being cut off.

To get your music to Google's cloud you'll need to use its Google Music Manager app. By visiting your Play Music profile you can find a download link for the music manager.

Once it's downloaded and installed, sign in to your Google account, point it to the folder you keep all of your music in, and let it do the rest. The initial upload time period may be pretty lengthy, so be patient.

All Access
As part of the iOS release, Google is offering iOS users a month of its streaming-radio service, All Access, for free. After the first month you'll be charged $9.99 per month for access to Google's entire catalog.

The service works similarly to Pandora or even iTunes Radio. You can set up stations based on a single song or artist. There are no ads, and you get unlimited skips with Goggle's All Access service.

Purchasing music
You won't be able to purchase any music from Google using the iOS app. Android users can browse the catalog and purchase music if required, but iOS users are left out. An easy way to dodge this limitation is to use Safari on your iOS device to purchase music. The purchased content is then automatically synced with your library and made available in the app.

Conversely you can browse Google's music catalog on your computer and make your purchases there.

Download content to your device

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Streaming content is easy on device storage, but bad on tiered data plans. When running low on your data allowance for the month, or if you're going to be without signal for awhile, you can download and store music on your device using the Play Music app.

Tap on the download icon next to an album or artist's listing and the app will begin downloading the content for you. I have yet to figure out how the app differentiates downloaded and cloud-stored music when a data connection isn't present. In my testing I've only found the content not stored on the device to be grayed out, while content on the device is bold. This method makes it very inconvenient to find the music you've downloaded, especially if your uploaded songs number in the thousands.

Hopefully I'm missing an easy setting and someone can point it out to me in the comments.

You can delete content stored on your device in the settings section, or by tapping on the same icon used to start the download process.

Saving data

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Speaking of tiered data plans, Play Music on iOS, as it does on Android, has three different audio quality settings. Each setting uses a different amount of data, which is perfect for the data-conscious.

To change how much bandwidth the app uses when streaming music, you need to pull out the side menu and tap on the Settings gear followed by "Mobile networks streaming quality." The higher the quality, the more data the app will use.

Playback settings
You may notice a lot of references to Instant Mixes in the app. Google's Play Music is all about creating custom mixes and playlists for you on the go. Should you forgo the All Access offer and only rely on your content, you'll find a different mix based on your music library each time you create one. It's basically shuffle on steroids.

Haven't downloaded the app yet? You can find it in the App Store, of course, by following this link. While you can install it on an iPad, the user interface is only optimized for the iPhone, so you'll be left using the iPhone version on any larger-screened devices.