Google has long been rumored to be working on a YouTube music service. In the fall of this year we were promised multiple times that we were weeks and weeks away from the YouTube service. Finally, in mid-November the music service was announced.
YouTube Music Key as it’s called, goes for $7.99 a month (for the promotional period where it will then jump up to $9.99 a month) and offers an ad-free music and music video experience. Much like Google Music — and most other music streaming services — the service can be used both on the web and from the mobile app. The service is said to be a YouTube lover’s dream, but is it a streaming service worth your monthly coin? Hit the break to find out.
When you first open the app, you’re greeted by two tabs, home and music. For the sake of this review, we’re focusing on the music aspect of YouTube. When you tap or click on the music tab, you’re shown YouTube mixes, recommended listening, your playlists and a Play it again tab. Some other added areas include trending music, music videos and various mixes, for instance one that I had was for hitting the gym.
YouTube mixes are based on songs and artists and offer 50 plus songs/videos for each mix. Recommended listening is based on previously viewed videos. Both my playlists and play it again are self-explanatory.
When you click on a mix, video or song you can enjoy it like you used to with YouTube, however what you’re not greeted with is an ad of some sort where you have to wait so many seconds to skip. Any and every video with the “ad-free” moniker is blessed by this. Music Key offers an ad-free experience on songs, concert clips and music videos and for those of you who know how annoying it is to load a video only to be bombarded by an ad will find this feature to be great.
One of the benefits, and long requested features for YouTube, was the ability for users to be able to listen to music and videos in the background. It was annoying to move into a different app only to have the video/music stop playing. Music Key does away with that. Once you hit the home button or move into a different app, a notification pops up much like the other streaming services allowing you to pause, play skip back or skip ahead. When you first use this feature another notification will pop up stating that background listening is going on. It finally went away after a little while.
Unlike other music streaming services, Music Key offers a feature music enthusiasts may enjoy. Not only are music videos and songs available with the service, but so, too, are concert clips. If you want to watch clips of Rise Against or Jimmy Eat World, you can stream clips together for your own impromptu live concert video.
I should also note, that Music Key works hand-in-hand with Play Music All Access. There was a lot of questions about what would happen to All Access once this service was live and complaints of maybe having to pay for both, but if you subscribe to one, you get the other which is a nice touch.
Play Music even has bits of Music Key built in, with an option to watch the official music video of the song you’re listening to. This is highlighted with the YouTube logo placed front and center in the middle of the album art.
Sound quality is as decent as any other service, and I found little-to-no hiccups using the service. Videos and songs downloaded relatively quickly given my crappy Internet connection. The service also has offline listening, which is a nice touch but something I feel needs work (see below). One thing I found oddly inconsistent was the shuffle and repeat options. While some playlists have the options, some didn’t and if you have a Chromecast, the moment you send a playlist to it, those options, again, disappear.
So is Music Key worth spending the money on? Let’s break it down.
Music Key offers a lot of music for an ad-free experience. Jumping right into Taylor Swift’s or Rise Against’s new music video without waiting for an ad was enough for the geek in me to get excited.
The fact that it ties in with Play Music, a service that I love and use religiously, is awesome. Getting both services for the same monthly subscription price is something smart for Google to do. Considering that you can get it for the time being for $7.99 a month, those that missed that opportunity with All Access may want to look into snagging it now.
Music recommendations were also well done, I found that like Play Music, Music Key had playlists that seldom had me skipping a song.
Background listening. This is both a good and bad. I love being able to stream YouTube stuff without having to be in the app. While some may gawk at the fact that people can’t sit for three minutes to watch a trailer. I found that just having the ability to listen to something while doing something else was quite convenient.
That said, one of the biggest pains is background listening. I know it’s a coveted feature and probably the most requested feature but there was a lot of lag I noticed. For instance if I was watching a video, and switched out, then switched back, I noticed that the video either stayed black, or looked like a VHS/DVD on fast forward. The sound was correct but the video looked like it was speeding to catch up. A lot of the time I noticed a 1-2 second pause when going from watching a video to listening to it in the background.
Not having the ability to pay a subscription fee to get rid of all ads seems like a missed opportunity. I would gladly pay $12-15 per month to get rid of all ads on YouTube and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
Song downloads. Offline playback is something most streaming services offer, which is great, but 44MB for a video versus 4.4MB for a song makes a music collection hog up a lot of storage. In a Google world of no SD-Card where space is limited by whatever OEMs decide should go into a phone, seems to be a problem more than it is a convenience. Granted, the Nexus 6 now has an option for 64GB of internal storage but for those with a 16GB phone, you’d be better off downloading songs for offline use from Play Music.
Shuffling and repeating of songs. I get that some playlists have this, but others don’t and when casting that goes away. While it’s not a deal breaker, I found the inconsistency to be somewhat odd. Whether it has something to do with buffering I don’t know, but I feel that if some playlists have it, the rest of them should too. Again though, it’s not a deal breaker.
Overall, YouTube Music Key is a worthy streaming service. Those who already have All Access should easily benefit from the service while those who use YouTube religiously will find the ad-free experience to be worth the $7.99 ($9.99 after the promotional period) a month alone.
Offline playback is a mixed bag given the storage situation, but if you don’t need offline playback, then this is where I’d recommend spending your $10 per month (Of course if you jump on it now, you’ll be able to score Music Key and All Access for $7.99 per month). If you want background listening, you’ve got it. The switching back and forth isn’t the smoothest experience but I would bet that Google gets that ironed out.
In a sea full of streaming contenders, YouTube was taking a big chance on its service. Personally, I think they nailed it for the most part. There are a few inconsistencies that I hope Google irons out. Coupling it with All Access gives Google one powerful music service. Is it worth $10 a month? I think so, but take it for a spin and find out for yourself.