Tech Guide

YouTube Music is really good, but probably not enough to pull you away from Spotify

Key Points
  • YouTube Music has a wonderful user interface and solid recommendations based on your location.
  • It also has popular YouTube videos, lets you store music offline and more.
  • Still, it's going to be hard to persuade folks to leave Spotify.

Google gave me an early look at YouTube Music, a new service that costs $9.99 per month and launches soon. It's really good, but it's not enough to pull me away from Spotify.

What's good

The YouTube Music home screen
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The YouTube Music user interface is easy to use and pleasant to look at.

The first thing you see when you open YouTube Music is "New Releases," which I dig since I'm always looking for new music. I love that album art dominates the page and that it's mostly filled with music and artists that Google knows I like.

If you share your location, it can also recommend music based on where you are. Google Music — Google's other streaming music service — knows that I typically listen to jazz or classical music when I'm at home. YouTube Music saw that I was at home and recommended a few jazz playlists. Perfect, since I almost always listen to jazz at home.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

There's a lot to dig through, from an "energy booster" section that appeared Friday morning with '90s hip-hop and "pop anthems," playlists, to recommendations for new artists that are like artists I've already listened to.

YouTube Music makes it easy to save any playlist you like so that you can listen to it offline — when you're on a subway or without a signal, for example. This also makes it easier to find the songs.

I know the artists but not the songs. Am I too old?
Todd Haselton | CNBC

A "Hotlist" section at the bottom of the page shows the newest and "hottest" YouTube videos. I may be showing my age here, but I didn't recognize any of the songs in the first 10 videos, so this was largely irrelevant for me.

There's a "Library" tab that shows your downloads, the playlists you've created, albums, songs you've liked and artists. It's similar to the library page on any other app and isn't terribly unique, but it's at least easy to use.

The YouTube Music web player is good, too.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

YouTube Music has a website, too, which is really similar to the mobile app and just as easy to use. There isn't a traditional desktop app to download, but that's not as important to me.

What's bad

You can get songs and videos.. but why not just have a video option while playing a song?
Todd Haselton | CNBC

If you browse the music playlists you'll see plenty of songs, but it's a little strange that the songs don't have a button to automatically play the music video if one exists. Instead, to find a video, you need to search for the song and then select the music video. That seems like a weird extra step.

The $9.99 monthly price is on a par with other services, but most folks should just sign up for the $13.99 YouTube Premium experience, which includes YouTube Music and eliminates ads from every video you ever watch on YouTube. That's more bang for your buck.

It knows I like focus music.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I also wish there were a family plan. I pay $15 a month to Spotify and five members in my family share it. YouTube Music doesn't have a family plan, but my guess is it will eventually get one since Google Play Music has a family plan.

That brings me to the final point: Google's two streaming plans don't need to exist together. Eventually, Google will probably kill Google Play Music in favor of the superior YouTube Music app, and the company told The Verge that it hopes to transition all Play customers over to the new service by 2019. But today, there's no current way to port existing Google Play Music playlists to YouTube Music.

Should you subscribe?

The library page is pretty standard.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

YouTube Music is best for people who want to listen to music and enjoy music videos. I like that it has all the basics, like the ability to download music offline, search by artists, create playlists and has a visually appealing user interface.

I already pay for YouTube Red (soon to be YouTube Premium), because I really dislike ads on YouTube. That means I get YouTube Music included, so that's a nice bonus.

As a long time Spotify user, however, I don't like the fact that I'll need to re-create all of my playlists to fully switch to YouTube Music. I'd also miss Spotify's personalized daily playlists and discover features that are automatically generated to my tastes. Google doesn't have that yet.

YouTube Music is a better product than Google has ever had and a great option if you don't already use Spotify. If you do, I don't think you need to switch.