Google Play announced via Google+ on Tuesday that it has updated its Google Music service (that's three Googles in one sentence, now four) with a scan-and-match feature. This new feature originally launched in Europe last month and finally arrives here in the United States, allowing Google users to store their music collection in the cloud without having to upload the files.
Typically Amazon and Apple will charge a yearly $25 fee to scan a user's music collection, match those songs with versions up to 320 kbps, and stream them back to the user's preferred device. However Google has waived the yearly fee and is matching up to 20,000 songs no matter their size. The catch is that any song re-downloaded from Google Play will be similar to the original file's bitrate.
"Our new music matching feature gets your songs into your online music library on Google Play much faster," Google said. "We’ll scan your collection and quickly rebuild it in the cloud - all for free. And we’ll stream your music back to you at up to 320 kbps."
To unlock Google's high-quality tracks, users must download and install Google's Music Manager client. On the surface, the app doesn't look any different than it did before. The catch now is that it compares the user's songs with its own database of songs, and automatically places the high-quality version in the Google Music account instead of uploading the file from the user's hard drive.
So how do you know what files were replaced by Google's 320 Kbps version? You don't really, or at least it's not obvious as of this writing. The only indication is by way of the uploading process if you're paying attention: the overall percentage will jump when tunes are skipped over and matched online.
Once the songs are stored in Google Music, Android device owners can simply load up the app and stream/download their music. Non-Android devices can access the library via a browser-based HTML5 app at play.google.com/music, and through third-party apps for iOS and Windows Phone.
"If you’re a longtime Google Play Music user, you don’t need to re-upload your files to have them matched. In the next few months, we'll automatically match what we can of your existing library," the company states via the Google Play Music Manager FAQ.
Unfortunately, Google Music is still a confusing mess, especially for those who take Google's free music offer. There's no real way to separate purchased albums from free singles unless the user creates a separate playlist for each album. Music files can't be arranged in folders as they would be on a user's desktop or laptop, thus mobile access can be tedious.
But with free scan-and-match up to 20,000 songs, users can save time when uploading their music to the cloud, and Google's HTML5 and platform-specific apps makes your music accessible from anywhere there's a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connection.