Should you subscribe to Google Play Music or YouTube Red? Here's what you need to know.

If you're a Mac or iPhone user but find yourself tied to Google's ecosystem, you might be curious about the company's streaming services, Google Play Music and YouTube Red. One of them is dedicated to storing, streaming, and selecting your perfect musical experience; the other compounds upon that with ad-free and offline YouTube streaming.

Here's what you need to know about each service, and whether they're right for you!

What's new with Google Play Music?

With the latest update to its app for iPhone and iPad, Google Play Music now supports CarPlay. This gives you access to your Google music library, playlists, and radio stations from any CarPlay-compatible dashboard unit

What's Google Play Music?

Like its fellow streaming services (Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, to name a few), Google Play Music wants to give you all the music you want to listen to in one place.

There are two tiers to Google Play Music: Free and Unlimited.

The Free tier is the basic Google Play Music experience — it offers iOS and Android apps (and a Mac web app) where you can upload your own songs to Google's cloud storage and stream them at your leisure. Apple Music and iTunes Match offer this, too, but as part of their subscriptions; Apple's services also offer 100,000 tracks in comparison to Play Music's 50,000, and Google doesn't "match" those tracks to save you uploading time.

In addition, you'll get ad-supported automated radio stations that offer tunes to fit your activities, moods, and even situations like daily weather.

Choose to pay for Google Play Music Unlimited, however, and you'll open up your music experience: With the paid tier, you can stream music on-demand and ad-free from the service's 35-million-song catalog to your device of choice. Yes, that includes Google Home, the company's smart speaker — along with Sonos and several other connected speaker offerings. (No official Apple TV app, though you can use AirPlay to mirror the app accordingly.) While subscribed, you'll be able to download your music and play it offline, so you can groove on the subway or 30,000 feet in the air.

And, oh yeah — if you're in a country that supports it, Unlimited subscriptions come with free access to YouTube Red.

Wait. Isn't YouTube Red a separate streaming service?

It is! But like iTunes Match being included as part of Apple Music, Google has chosen to give any subscriber of its music streaming service free access to its paid YouTube streaming service, and vice versa.

So if you subscribe to Google Play Music first, you'll get YouTube Red gratis. If you subscribe to YouTube Red first, you'll get Google Play Music for free, instead.

Okay, so what's YouTube Red?

If you think of Google Play Music Basic as the "free" way to stream music and Unlimited the paid upgrade, YouTube Red is Google's answer to a paid upgrade for YouTube subscribers.

Why would you want to upgrade to a paid YouTube subscription? For one, you'll get ad-free video on your devices — all while using your subscription to help support YouTube Creators whose shows you watch. From Google's support site:

If you're a YouTube Red member, you won't see ads, so we share your monthly membership fee with creators. Best of all, the more videos you watch from your favorite creators, the more money they make. 

YouTube Red has also partnered with creators to make Originals — serialized shows available only to Red and YouTube TV subscribers. There are currently over 100 Originals shows airing and in production, with more coming.

On top of that, Red lets you save and play all standard YouTube videos* offline, and — my personal favorite feature — watch videos in the background. This means that if you like listening to history documentaries while you drive or use YouTube as your own personal music streaming service, you can close the video portion and return to navigation without killing your bandwidth or missing a turn.

*A note on "standard" YouTube videos: This essentially means any non pay-per-view video. So you can't save a paid channel offline, or a pay-per-view purchase.

Speaking of using YouTube as a music service — Red also provides an "audio-only mode" for YouTube on mobile via the YouTube Music app — it turns music videos and uploads from creators into live-updating stations, and lets you save and customize your playlist.

Google Play Music, YouTube Red, YouTube TV — why not just have one unified subscription service?

It largely has to do with music and video rights: Google has to make complicated deals with video and music companies when creating streaming services, especially when crossing borders to do so. As such, Google Play Music is available in many more countries (62) than YouTube Red (available only in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Korea) or YouTube TV (available only in select U.S. cities).

If Google were to only offer one streaming service, it would have to vastly limit the number of countries served or have all sorts of asterisks on features; instead, the company has decided to offer multiple services with reciprocal features.

As time goes on, these rights issues will hopefully become less complicated and subscription services will unify; YouTube Red and Google Play Music's teams have reportedly already unified, so at least production on the services is all done by the same technical group.

What's it cost (and is there a free trial)?

Google Play Music and YouTube Red each cost $9.99/month; subscribe to one, however, and you're automatically subscribed to the other if it's available in your country — so it's just $10/month total for both services.

Each does offer a 30-day trial, so you can explore the services before committing your hard-earned cash.

How do I sign up for Google Play Music or YouTube Red?

If you already have a Google account, signing up is easy — just log in to your account on the web and look for the Subscribe button.

How do I avoid being charged if I just want to play with the free trial?

You can do this immediately after signing up for a free trial so that you don't get billed at the higher $9.99 rate; here's how.

Does Google Play Music offer a family plan?

Yes! You can pay $15/month, which lets up to five other members of your family connect to Google Play Music (or YouTube Red) simultaneously. While on a Family plan, you can listen on up to 10 devices at once, and share music amongst yourselves using the Family Library.

According to Google's support document, to use Google Play Music's Family plan, you need to:

  • Be 18 or older (20 in Japan) to be the Family Manager (13 or older to join the Family plan) and have a Google Account
  • Have a valid credit card (Manager only)
  • Live in a participating country
  • Family participants must live in the same country as the Family Manager
  • Not be part of another family group

If I don't want to sign up for a paid subscription to Play Music or YouTube, can I still use the services?

Yup! YouTube works as-is in its ad-supported form; Play Music will let you upload 50,000 songs from your library to the cloud and give you access to automated radio station playlists based on mood and activity, but no on-demand streaming.

What countries can I use Google Play Music and YouTube Red in?

Play Music is currently available in 62 countries as of early 2017; you can check Google's support site for a full list.

YouTube Red, in contrast, is still quite limited: It's only offered in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Mexico.

Which devices support Google Play Music and YouTube Red?

You'll be able to use both services on your iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, and PC. Mobile devices like the iPhone and Android phones have a couple of dedicated apps, including Google Music, YouTube Music, YouTube Kids, and the YouTube app.

What's the streaming bitrate?

Google doesn't officially denote streaming bitrate quality in Play Music, choosing instead to offer Low, Medium, and High options (which you can adjust from the Google Play Music app).

The general consensus, however, is that Play Music's Low bitrate ranges from 96-128 kbps depending on available internet speed, Medium is 128-256 kbps, and High is 256-320 kbps.

What differentiates Google's services from every other streaming service?

Google's biggest differentiator, hands down, is its YouTube catalog. While Apple Music and other services dabble in showing music videos and the occasional original content, YouTube is unparalleled in its collection of music videos, original content, remixes, covers, and everything in-between. Being able to stream that on-demand — and offline, to boot — is a huge draw.

How does it compare to other streaming services?

Google Play Music matches up pretty well against services like Apple Music and Spotify — it has a similarly large catalog, good algorithmic stations, well-made apps, and uploading of your personal music.

Where the services differ is on their "killer" features: Google Play Music relies on the YouTube Red partner subscription and algorithmic playlists to woo subscribers, while Apple Music and Spotify have features like Beats 1 and Discovery playlists.

Here's our general feature comparison, if you're curious how Google stacks up.

Spotify Apple Music Google Play Music Amazon Prime Music Pandora
Free trial period 30 days 3 months 30 days 30 days (with Prime membership) 30 days for Premium, 7 days for Plus
Price $9.99/month ($14.99 for family up to 6 people) $9.99/month ($14.99 for family up to 6 people) $9.99 ($14.99 for family up to 6 people) Comes with Prime membership ($99/year), $7.99/month for Unlimited Pandora Premium: $4.99/month, $54.89/year Pandora Plus: $9.99/month, $109.89/year
Library size ~ 30 million songs ~ 40 million songs ~ 40 million songs ~ 2 million (may differ depending on location), ~ 40 million (Unlimited) ~ 40 million
Number of countries supported Over 60 Over 110 Over 60 See Amazon Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A.

Should I subscribe to Google Play Music or YouTube Red?

Do you like Google's take on music subscription services? Can you live without Siri integration, but need your YouTube creators in your ear every day? These are the questions you'll want to ask yourself.

In truth, Google Play Music is one of the few services I've kept a subscription to alongside Apple Music — I watch enough roller derby on YouTube that offline videos alone are a huge draw. I'm not sure I'd pay for it just for the music streaming option, but the YouTube tie-in and excellent mood-based playlists make it an excellent addition.

Questions?


Any other questions about Google Play Music or YouTube Red? Let us know in the comments.