Google Play Music and Xbox Music

No single service has everything, but some have more features than others

A full 11 months after Microsoft let us know that Xbox Music would come to Android "eventually," we finally have access to another one of the big music services on our Android devices. While Microsoft was busy working out the kinks of finally launching its app, Google has entered the space with All Access, a subscription version of Google Play Music that gives you customizable radio features and unlimited access to every song its library.

Both of these music services offer a unique feature set, and now that Xbox Music has finally come to Android we can take a look at them head-to-head. Read on with us after the break where we break down the features, shortcomings and overall experience of Xbox Music when compared to Google Play Music All Access.

Interface and features

Google Play Music Xbox Music

Being accustomed to the features and abilities of the Google Play Music app, we have to say that the experience of the Xbox Music app is somewhat disappointing. It is very clear to us that Xbox Music is a version 1 app, with limited functionality and sparse personality. As soon as you start up the app, you're instantly taken right back out of it to the browser in order to accept the app's terms of use and to sign into your Microsoft Account. Even when you have signed in, you stay in the browser to start up a free trial or to pay for an Xbox Music Pass — no account actions are handled from the app.

Once you do get all set up, the app has a basic design. Rather than a splash page with your Collection or something similar to "Now Playing" on Google Play Music, you're greeted by the "Playlists" page with a message indicating that you have no playlists. Sliding in from the left edge you have options to switch between Playlists or Collection, go into settings or search for new music. Glaringly missing is any kind of radio feature, which Google Play Music has a very flexible offering.

In terms of settings, you have the option to manage your Xbox Music Pass (which again sends you to your browser), turn on or off cellular data streaming and to manually sync your collection. That's it. No managing of on-device music, no stream quality settings and no on-device management of your account.

Once you have chosen your music, the interface for music playback is simple but effective. Under Collection you have a sliding tab view of artists, albums, songs and genres — select one and you have a nice album view with all of the tracks and album art at the top. An overflow menu key gives options to add to a playlist, remove from collection and explore the artist, while the current song plays in a minimized bar nearly identically to Google Play Music.

Music selection

Google Play Music Xbox Music

In the words of the great Jerry Hildenbrand, "this is why all content deals suck."

Although browsing around Xbox Music for some of our common favorites that we've added to our library on Google Play Music didn't seem to find any major gaps, we found many songs that were unable to be played back on our phones "due to media rights." Out of the first 10 albums that we added to our Xbox Music Collection, we'd say about one-third of the music was unplayable on our phones.

We're not entirely sure what the issue is here, but we think it would just be a better experience for Xbox Music to simply not show us music in search results or let us add it to our collection on the phone if we won't be able to play it. It's great that the music is there and can be played back on other devices, but if we can't play it back on our phone where we want it most, then it's useless to show it.

Whatever deals Google is making for Play Music All Access are the right ones, because we find the music we want and can listen to it on any of our devices. That doesn't mean that there isn't content missing on Google Play Music — no service has everything — but in our anecdotal evidence it has more than Xbox Music.

Experience and pricing

Google Play Music Xbox Music

It's no secret that we're fans of Google Play Music All Access, and at this point we've been paying for the service for about 4 months now. Xbox Music is charging the same $9.99 per month for unlimited access to its music collection (except on certain devices, apparently) that Google is — with a 30 day free trial to boot — but comes up short in terms of not having radio options, caching of music for offline playback and a few other nice app features.

The app itself seems to perform well, but it surely isn't going to win any design or performance awards based on our time with it. The app takes some time to load every time we open it, the playback notification has gotten stuck in the notification tray when the app crashes and as we cover above, the app is generally just lacking features.

Which is worth your $9.99 per month?

Google Play Music

Unless you have a dire need to use Xbox Music because it syncs to your other Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox devices in your life, your money will surely be better spent on Google Play Music All Access. Between a vastly better app experience, better music selection (in our testing) and availability from any Android device or browser, All Access takes the cake for us.

If you're already an Xbox Music subscriber for your other devices, have your collection set up the way you want to and are already paying for the service, the Xbox Music app on Android will certainly get the job done — let's just hope Microsoft picks up the pace on its Android development to fix some of the issues here.

 

Reader comments

Listen up: Comparing Xbox Music and Google Play Music All Access

79 Comments

We need a three-way comparison between Google Play Music All Access, XBox Music, and Spotify

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Sadly for me I only can do a two-way comparison: Spotify and XBox Music, because Google Play All Access is not available in my country yet.

on the top photo of the review you can see the radio icon... it is the square on the lower right that has 4 album covers, the icon in the middle is the radio icon. anywhere you see it you can tap it and Google will build a radio station for you.

Plus iTunes Match radio. I have a sub to Google Play Music and have been using iTunes radio which will not be out to the public until the 18th. Both Google Play Music and iTunes Match radio match your music collection plus have the usual radio station features. iTunes match radio is free but shows ads unless you pay the $25 per year for iTunes match in which case no ads are shown. No difference between the two except I pay $7.99 a month for Google Play music and iTunes match radio is free. I would not be on any service that does not allow me to store my own music plus play their streaming music. I won't use Spotify because they require a Facebook account.

So you're saying that Google Play Music is equal but far more expensive?

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ITunes radio is a radio tho right? Like I can't open the app search for a song then play it? Or make playlists? Its just find a genre and play? I'm generally curious

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I don't think it's possible to understate how useful the locker feature of GMusic is - I rarely find any gaps, because I filled them years ago with my own music collection!

Yes to this! I only wish they let me do more than 20k songs. Otherwise I'd use Google as my single music collection backup. As it is, I still have to rely on Amazon for that.

You have more than 20k songs? Wow. I thought I had a bunch at ~9K.

You could probably cut your collection in half by replacing the filler junk with greatest hits.

My collection is almost 70k songs, and I have no doubt that there are people out there with substantially more. But, more than letting more store more of my collection in the cloud (which would be nice) Google really needs to update the Music Manager service to allow me to choose what gets uploaded, without having to make a second copy of my library containing only the songs I want stored in the cloud.

I agree... the 20k limit is very annoying. I am hoping that they remove the limit soon... This is the main reason i haven't fully embraced google music. The collection feature is nice, but the locker limit is disappointing.

If it was a no-limit locker, i would be able to put all of my egg's into one basket so to speak.

I use Xbox music because it plays/syncs nice will my computer/laptop/windows phone and xbox. I'm waiting for them to make a version compatible with my Nexus 7 and I'll be pleased.

Did you try the same 10 albums with Google play? If so, please state the results. Not a good comparison, if you don't, ya know, compare.

I only added music to Xbox Music that I already had in my library on GP Music All Access. Nothing I listened to was missing on Google, as I said in the article.

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According to MS, radio feature will be available in a few weeks and offline listening by year end.

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Good to know, but considering that they told us Xbox Music was coming to Android about 11 months ago, dont think anyone can really hold their breath waiting at this point.

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Time frame notwithstanding, this is MS's statement regarding the service & app. A more useful, informative article would have included this.

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I can't review what hasn't been released, and I can't give something a more favorable look just because the company says that something is coming. If it doesn't have it now, it doesn't have it.

The reality is that right this moment, for the same $9.99 as Xbox Music is charging, Google Play Music All Access offers a better app and better features.

But it should have been mentioned, as it has been on just about every other article I've read that discusses the app. As you said, it's "good to know."

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When they mention stuff like that in these articles, other commenters jump all over them for reviewing what is potentially coming, or they say that it's "just a rumor" and that there needs to be label "Rumor:" in the title of the article. So just cool it. Spend all this time being overly critical in a more productive manner. The article didn't mention it because the feature isn't there. You obviously found that additional information easy enough so what's the problem? An article can still be good even if it didn't include prophecies about what could be coming in 3 years.

I totally agree with your comment. It is more misleading to say "coming soon" than to omit the it. Especially when coming from companies like Microsoft who are notorious for this.

The only time it's of value is when a company gives a date.

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Maybe you should have stated in the title, you were "reviewing" the app, not "comparing" the plans. So, I think pseudoware has a "point."

Does GPMAA offer:
a 20 dollar discount for doing the subscription yearly?
AD-FREE MUSIC VIDEOS on XBOX 360?

These are "features" only XBOX MUSIC OFFERS!

This seems more like an APP review than a Comparison, don't you think???

He did state in the article that Xbox Music service has addition features but, as this is a "mobile tech" site, he was comparing features of the mobile apps, not so much the service itself. If the Xbox Music app allowed viewing of music videos on your phone, then it would have been relevant.

Spotify is still my service of choice. Google Music isn't bad, but I like having a stand alone desktop app when listening on my PC (versus the browser) and I hate the Google Music android app...complete form over function.

This is an understatement. Google Play Music is literally one of the most well-designed apps on the Play Store.

I'll stick with Rdio. I'm not buying into theory we should all buy into the cloud for everything. I want most of my collection local. Still holding out for a new Android phone that can do this. I may just go for the google edition S4 in a few months if nothing comes.

Any Android phone can do this.

You want most of your content local? Great! Copy the files to your phone and they'll be available in the Google Play Music app, along with your other uploaded songs, and all of the rest of Google's Music (if you pay for All Access).

That includes Google Play Music. All of your content can be stored locally offline on your phone if you choose. You don't have to stream from the cloud. I personally have no interest in storing content on my phone. I intentionally delete all my local photos, music, and movies after I upload them.

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I have an Android Phone (Galaxy Nexus), Windows 8 PC, Windows 8 tablet, and Ipad.......Google Play crashes my phone (so does Spotify, and so does Pandora), pretty much every time I try to stream something "System UI not responding" is the error. Ive tried everything, flashed different roms, different kernals, back to stock, different launcher, etc. I cannot get Googles own app, to work on my google phone - UGH....and I have over 30gb's of my own music that I had uploaded to my account. Now, fast forward to last week when MS released streaming for XBOX music on Android.....guess what, it actually works on my phone, not a single crash in a week....wow, my phone will play music. It sucks that it doesn't let me cache for offline, but when am I not online, pretty much never. Add to that the fact that I can stream content on my PC, and tablets, and pretty soon my XBOX One....I think we have a winner here. I might bite the bullet and switch to Windows Phone when my contract is up in December.......if that crazy camera Nokia...er Microsoft phone comes to Verizon that is.

Are you running a custom ROM? I have a GS3 and have never had one issue using Play Music. I also stream it constantly on my Gtab2 7.0, with no issues.

That.... is pretty.... weird....
I never had problem with any music app on my GNex.... well, I never used other than Google Music, but anyway, it never crashed here .-.

Something is wrong with your phone. I, too, have a Galaxy Nexus (running Shiny ROM) and have zero issues with Play Music. And I use the Music app every day.

I dont think its a phone issue, it happens to me. I think it is a ROM issue. I have noticed with a few ROMs this happens and a few I have tried I do not have any issues at all.

Do you have an app that pulls the metadata, such as Media Utilities?

I've found that when i have that installed Google Music crashes.

The issue is with that fact that the Galaxy Nexus only has 1GB of memory and the fact that the HORRIBLE 4.2.1 version of android that Sprint pushed out which doesn't manage memory very well, so memory gets full and the OS goes nuts killing ANYTHING that doesn't have a persistent notification.

As a result Media Utilities gets killed unfortunately it's still registered as a service somewhere (it originally gets registered so it can pick up metadata) so after Android kills Media utilities, the next time Google Music changes the metadata, the OS sees that service is registered and tries to send that data to an app that is no longer running. so Google Music, not Media Utilities, crashes. It's very confusing, it wasn't until i rooted the phone and grabbed a logcat for the developer that we were able to actually figure out why Google Music was crashing whenever Media Utilities was installed.

Sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about. I have to a Nexus 4 and my wife has A Galaxy Nexus. We both use Google Music with Chromecast. It never crashes, freezes, or hangs. It just works.

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Galaxy nexus here and it works pretty flawlessly. No crashes or anything I think you might be telling some tales

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My All Access just stops playing after a while on wifi and I need to turn it off and stream over my cell connection or reboot my phone to get it working over wifi again.

I am extremely confident Microsoft will add a ton of features to this given just the fact they blew my mind for dragging it over to Android and iOS... I think it's identical to Google Music in a lot of ways from what little Microsoft released of it... I am glad something like this got released because Xbox Music is amazing on my Lumia 920 and I do love my Google Music on my Samsung Galaxy S4 but it needs a little bit more cosmetic features with the Lock screen more or less like how Xbox Music looks on the Windows 8 Phones...

Either way I love listening to music from any app or Phone! :)

Considering us Canadian's can can't buy Google Music All Access, I'll take xbox music pass any day. Works well with Windows 8 and with the xbox 360.

Bottom line, Google can stuff it when it comes to music.

Probably not Google's fault, to be honest. Google doesn't control the content, they only provide access to it.

So... Maybe YOU should stuff it, lol.

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I live in the uk, I don't think xbox music is available here. Used to have spotify and their desktop app is great but the android app sucked hard. Gave me eye cancern when looking at it on my nexus 10.

The day Google access was made available in the UK I got it. Fantastic app and UI. Got my own songs and the almost infinitely google library. Only one thing missing: a native Last.fm scrobbler.

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Except Metallica. Spotify has their music, google does not. Also, spotify has better genre radio stations than Google. When google was $7.99, it was compelling. Now, I would just stick with spotify.

I never listen to genre radio, so I can't comment on that, but the one thing I do miss after having switched from Spotify to Google Play is stand-up comedy. Spotify has a pretty good selection of it, and Google's offering is sparse at best.

Google All Access is still $7.99 for me. I dropped Spotify a month ago after keeping both for a month to compare. Spotify started charging tax several months ago and that's when I gave Google a chance. In a nutshell, I found Spotify to have a slightly more robust catalog, but not enough to justify the large discrepancy in price. So far I've had no regrets with my switch.

The main trouble with Xbox Music is the use between various devices: only 4, and the buyer must define his account as the primary for all devices. It sucks a lot...otherwise I would be pleased using the service for me and my girlfriend.

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Love Google All Access. Definitely worth my $7.99/mo. It has saved me close to $300 in music purchases. Never thought I'd switch to a subscription-based model, but this certainly works for me and my wallet.

Dont forget one other MAJOR advantage...Google Play Music supports Chromecast! This is HUGE! I have the digital toslink out of my TV connected to my outboard DAC and it sounds GREAT, and with the way Chromecast works, it's incredibly simple to operate.

Dang man, that's what I was about to write! Right now I'm listening to Macklemore on Chromecast though my entertainment system while I write this comment. Unless another service is compatible with Chromecast, I have NO INTEREST!

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Even better, you don't even need a Chromecast. I use an app called BubbleUPnP to stream my music to TV/stereo. So nice. But I may still get a Chromecast at some point for other stuff.

you forget a major difference: Google service is linked to your Google Account so your wife and your Kids Android cant play them while you can share one XBox Account on several Androids and others and play at the same time

This is wrong. Google Music allows you to connect and simultaneously play music, on up to 10 devices.

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nah, they have to use the same google account for that. With xbox i can share across several androids who are on different accounts. I dont want to share my gmail with my wife and kids but an xbox music? fine!

cross platform is key for me and at this point Spotify wins hands down, hopefully with all the entries in to the market with this type of service we will all win with a superb service down the road.

I'm sure I'll be flamed for this, but I'm honestly not surprised. I've never had the best luck with Android apps, especially those not released directly from Google or Samsung.

If you want to give Xbox Music a real shot, though, try using one of the newer Lumia phones. Personally, I'll never go back.

This is coming from a person that used three different Widows Phones. Xbox Music is crap. I know that's crass and I should use a better adjective but it really is crap. Every app on Windows Phone has this incredible potential then falls short, every single app feels like a lite version. Use Xbox Music on Windows or Android and I'm sure you get the same experience.

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Judging by the fact that you can't play music offline on Android and the fact that on WP, you get a background pic of the artist even when your screen is locked, I think they're very different. Obviously you've never used XBOX MUSIC, so you wouldn't know much about it. If you got GPMAA for 8 bucks a month, then I think it's a decent enough service for the price. But if you're getting it at 120 a year when you can have a better service with XBOX MUSIC for 100, you're paying too much.

With XBOX MUSIC I can:
Download as many songs as I want for offline use
Play Music Videos on XBOX 360 AD-FREE included with MUSIC PASS

And like fueledbygin said below me, the Xbox Music/Zune's app has "far superior approach to visualization/ui flair." Where fueledbygin dropped their 15 dollars a month sub, I kept...so, I still get 10 DRM Free songs a month.

So, let's do the MATH
Me: 149.90(I pay this yearly, so like now, you used to get 2 month discount) a year gets me:
120 MP3 songs that if bought separately at 1.29 would be 154.80, which actually saves me about 5 dollars.

>Unlimited music downloads of MS's vast catalog for offline use
>MUSIC VIDEOS AD-FREE ON XBOX 360

You: 120 dollars for music that "WILL NEVER BE YOURS!"
If you want MUSIC VIDEOS, you have to sit through ADS.

What a SHAME FANBOY!

P.S. There is one thing that to my knowledge MS doesn't have that I consider better...that is the ability to upload "YOUR" catalog to GPMAA.

While I can appreciate your enthusiasm, your facts are a little off. You *can* most definitely play offline music with GPMAA, and download titles from your library to your device if that's what floats your boat.

Also (as I understand it) the XBM app does not allow you to view music videos. If that's the case, then your argument there isn't all that strong.

If you prefer XBM, that's great. But be careful of screaming "FANBOY" when you sound a lot like one yourself.

Can you compare those two to Spotify and Rhapsody? If XBox Music is no better than when it was Zune, it's gonna be horrible.

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Considering Zune used to be $15/month, while also allowing you to forever keep 10 songs/month in addition to having all access to the music library, I always find the blind hate for Zune (or anything MS has done) to be hilarious.

XBox Music was a big step back from Zune. I did try to stick with it, but with cross-platform becoming a bigger and bigger deal (especially for anyone not all in on Apple), MS's dragging of the feet to bring their service to the smartphone market (and, I don't forsee a future where I stop using Nexus phones anytime soon) outside their ludicrously small Windows Phone demographic finally made me switch (briefly) to Spotify, and then to Google Music (the grandfathered in $7.99/month doesn't hurt either).

It's really the story of MS. Slow. Slow. Slow. Often has the right intentions. But, way too slow for those ideas to ever have a chance of real success. And, I say that as someone with no rancor towards them (hey, I won't pretend my laptop/desktops aren't 99% of the time in Windows-by choice).

I do agree, however, with the poster who said it's poor 'reporting' on your part to not mention that some of the Xbox Music app's deficiencies are known and are planned on being addressed. Omission just fuels the blind fanboy hate that depicts MS as a clueless behemoth completely unaware of what their users want in their software.

Still, I do miss the original Zune service, and the knowledge I could keep a bunch of music if I ever tired of paying for a subscription. That said, at $7.99/month, I can almost emulate that, I suppose, by buying a few tracks in addition to the all access service.

As for availability, Google's licensing deals can be quite fluid. I have one main playlist for work that steadily grows larger on a daily basis, and there are always at least a few songs during the day that won't play, despite having been playable when they were added to the playlist originally. Considering how 'young' the service is, it's kind of disturbing.

My biggest beef with Spotify was the horrendous iTunes/Apple-inspired UI (especially for their windows client). I often wonder what kind of mental issues a person must have to find that type of UI 'simple'. If they had a UI that didn't make me want to shove a cactus up my left nostril, I probably wouldn't have bothered ever switching from them. Their ability to create a playlist, then allow others to collaborate on it in real time is something I sorely miss now that I'm in Google Music.

My biggest beef with Google Music is the piss poor integration it has with its two sides: all access and the actual music store. If I click a link (say someone is trying to share a track or provide a suggestion from the music store), and am lead to the store, there should be an option for me to listen to the track, instead of having to switch to 'My music', do a search for the artist/album/song, and only then find myself able to listen to the song. It's stupidly convoluted. The barebones album art/artist bio is also something they kind of fail at. I miss Xbox Music/Zune's far superior approach to visualization/ui flair, and dare I say it...even iTunes' (though I contend there's a special place in hell for whoever actually designed the ui navigation and organization for iTunes).

Title and the article is very misleading. This is a review of the Xbox App on Android. Not the service it's self . Google music on IOS sucks.

I actually tried using a Windows Phone and signed up for the service to try during my 14 days with the Nokia Lumia 928. I was hoping that Microsoft had finally come along since I fell in love with Windows 8 (for an IT Professional, the speed and management of the OS is a massive improvement but like most, not a fan of the new start menu which is taking longer to grow on me than everything else did) and the fact that the Xbox One is coming soon; I thought that maybe this was Microsoft's time to take off! I was wrong. Even on Windows Phone 8 the Xbox Music service was horrid. And like stated above, a lack in selection. Microsoft has a long way to go. Until they are where they need to be, I'll be sticking with Google for mobility. I kind of like having a mix of devices and services though. I can't stand I-Tunes and will not ever go that route. Windows 8.1, HTC One, Motorola XOOM (which is getting replaced once I win a contest on this site sometime this year I hope), and a Nikon d30 are what I carry and they all play nice. You couldn't really through something else from Microsoft in that mix nor especially something from Apple. Back to the music though; lack of functionality and content on all devices Microsoft or not. I found this to be true on all services that Microsoft's mobility had to offer.

wow. One word: flop.

such a disappoint too, cause being able to go back and forth between Xbox & my device with the same service + music would be such a convenience as well as very cool having all that music on my Xbox.

Too bad...
Oh well. I guess all you can really do @ the moment is just wait and hope Microsoft gets their s#!+ in order...
in this as well as many other products of theirs that have been made absolutely horribly... cough Windows I hat... I mean 8*** ;)

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