With the UK launch of its Play Music All Access service Google is late to a very busy party: when it comes to streaming music, you're spoilt for choice.
But there are big differences between the major players - and if you're a music lover on a metered mobile data plan, shelling out for offline access could save you a fortune. Let's explore the options.
Google Play Music All Access
Price: £9.99 / £7.99 if you sign up before 15 September
Platform: Web, Android
With the iOS app still AWOL, Play Music All Access gives you the choice of Android app or browser-based music player (you may need to disable ad-blocking for the latter), and if you install Google's Music Manager you can upload your own music library to the service, plugging any gaps in the 18 million-strong catalogue. Your library size is limited to 20,000 songs plus any Google Play purchases.
In addition to your own songs there are Radio and Explore options. The first creates playlists based on your music library and the second gives you other people's playlists and the Play charts. Rather surprisingly the social networking side of things is barely there: you can share via Google+ and see songs your Google+ contacts have shared, but you can't follow people as you can with other services.
Sound quality peaks at 320Kbps (downloads are the same), although you can tell the difference between Google's MP3s and Sony's AACs, which often sound brighter and clearer at the same bitrate. You won't notice a big difference on standard earbuds, though.
Best for: Android
Price: free (10 hours) / £4.99 / £9.99 for mobile and offline access (bundled with some Vodafone plans)
Platforms: Web, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, PC, Mac, AV devices
Spotify is the UK's best-known streaming music service, with a catalogue topping 20 million songs. There are apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry and desktop apps for PC and Mac; if you wish, the desktop apps can sync your existing local files (MP3, MP4, M4A and M4R) and make them available on mobile. The service also works with Sonos, Squeezebox, Onkyo, WD and Boxee Box hardware.
Spotify streams Ogg Vorbis at three bitrates: 96Kbps for low bandwidth mobile connections, 160Kbps for desktop and "high quality" mobile streaming, and 320Kbps for the the high bitrate setting (desktop, iOS and Android). Premium customers can save playlists for offline listening on up to three devices.
It's hard to fault Spotify: the catalogue is extensive (although there are hold-outs: for example, the Beatles and Led Zep are missing), the discovery features are excellent, the sound quality's superb and the Facebook integration (particularly the ability to see what friends have been listening to) works well.
Best for: all-round entertainment
Price: Free unlimited streaming for 12 months - £4.99 / £9.99 for mobile/offline (bundled with some Orange/EE data plans)
Platforms: Web, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, AV devices
Deezer is a very big deal: it boasts 25 million tracks, is available in 182 different countries and supports pretty much everything: not just the usual iOS and Android but BlackBerry and Windows Phone, smart TVs, Sonos hardware and some in-car audio systems.
There are two subscription plans: Premium for unlimited, ad-free computer-based listening and Premium+ for mobile devices and offline access. The free discovery mode is ad-supported and doesn't offer the same 320Kbps streaming as the paid-for plans. On demand music used to be limited to 30 second clips, but now registered users can listen to full tracks for free - you just need to sign in with Facebook, Google or an email address. As with Spotify some artists are largely absent: if you're a Beatles or Led Zep fan you'll need to go elsewhere.