As a subscriber to Google Play Music All Access, I was given access to the YouTube Music Key beta. While I don’t use all the features of All Access, I do like listening to albums from bands that I haven’t heard in years. It’s a great way to catch up. I like Google Play Music for a lot of reasons like uploading 20,000 tracks, offline playback, and multiple device support.
I use Google Play Music as my default music player on both Android and iOS and having my whole library available online is easier than locally storing a fraction of my music. YouTube Music Key is supposed to replace and integrate All Access together for $9.99 per month (but it’s available for $7.99 for a limited time). It was previously rumored that there would be two separate services for Google Play Music and YouTube so it’s nice to see that you’ll get both for one price.
And that’s what YouTube Music Key essentially is; it’s a set of features rather than a service. It makes sense to use YouTube as the primary name since more people use it and are familiar with YouTube than Play Music. The weird thing is that the new features of Music Key gives you are what Play Music already offers.
The main feature is that music videos have no ads. This is nice when you’re viewing videos from official sources. But at the same time, not all videos tagged as “Music” have ads enabled so you won’t see the “Ad-free” icon in every video description. It looks like YouTube Music Key has already tagged the major labels and popular music. It’s also rolled down to some lesser known artists like with EPIK HIGH’s “Born Hater” music video, which is also tagged “Ad-free”.
I’m not entirely sure how YouTube Music Key decided to tag videos as “Ad-free” but most major artists and bands will have support. The other big feature is that it includes Google Play Music All Access. This means Google can bring in more subscribers into Play Music without actually offering a brand new service.
To see the mobile options of YouTube Music Key, you need the latest YouTube for Android app. The beta doesn’t support iOS yet. You can start playing YouTube videos and exit the app to play music in the background. I found that this works for any video on YouTube, not just music videos. It makes more sense for music though because listening to other videos doesn’t make much sense if you need visual context.
The other mobile feature is the ability to download music videos for offline playback. Right now there are options for 360p and 720p HD downloads.
Depending on the device, the slightly-less-than standard definition should be totally fine. 720p would be better for devices with high resolution screens like tablets. Video downloads only work for music videos, no other video category is supported which is kind of disappointing.
It would be nice to be able to download videos like Google Play Movies so you can watch them when you don’t have a data connection.
When you exit the YouTube app, a notification sits in the drawer. It displays information just like Google Play Music with album or thumbnail art and playback buttons. It appears like YouTube pulled the same functionality as Google Play Music for background playback. A nice option in YouTube’s settings is the different playback options. You can turn it off, set it only to recognized headphones or external speakers, or have it always on.
And that’s about it for the YouTube for Android app. Since Music Key is still in beta, I think Google is focused on testing the service out and seeing how beta testers are using the app. I’m a Google Play Music power user and I see a lot of the same features in Play Music as natural features for YouTube.
Obviously if you use YouTube to listen to music, Music Key is a no brainer since you can listen to music (via videos) while on the go. The background playback is also supported for other video types which may or may not be useful.
Where can YouTube Music Key go?
The current set of services offered by YouTube Music Key aren’t really a service, but features added to the Google Play Music subscription. I think Google is using YouTube’s ubiquity to bring in more people to use the video site as well as get them to use Google Play Music. Having the two services connected makes sense and offering the same type of subscription for both video and audio is a smart decision.
YouTube is the biggest streaming music service, but can’t compete with Spotify, Rdio, or Pandora because it’s not designed the same way. With YouTube Music Key and Google Play Music, it’s possible for Google to package something that people might find more compelling. It’s going to be interesting to see where YouTube Music Key goes but in its current form, there’s not much to really entice people to join.
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