YouTube Music Rocks, As Long As You're Not Offline

You've probably been using YouTube as an unwieldy means of streaming music for years — after all, the video site was never quite optimized for binging on tunes, but you can find just about any song or artist imaginable there. Fortunately, YouTube has acknowledged that music junkies deserve better with the launch of YouTube Music: a free iOS and Android app that makes jamming out on the Internet's biggest video service finally feel intuitive.

YouTube's dedicated music service isn't perfect, and you'll need a YouTube Red subscription ($10 per month) to get the most out of it. Still, if YouTube is already your main source of everyday tunes, YouTube Music will likely seem like an absolute delight.

The Good

The first thing I noticed about YouTube Music was how much nicer it looked than, both, regular YouTube and Google Play Music. Videos take up a larger portion of the screen in portrait mode, and the blocks of text underneath adapt the color scheme of whatever video or album you're currently playing (this brings to mind Apple Music's similarly chameleon-like interface).

Compared to vanilla YouTube's super-congested look or Google Play Music's chunky, orange-tinted design, YouTube Music's slick interface is almost reason alone to use it. 

MORE: Why I Broke Up with Apple Music for Google

Fortunately, there's plenty else to like. YouTube Music's library is comprehensive and easy to navigate — whether I was looking for mega-stars like Kendrick Lamar, alternative rock bands like Thrice, or even a few smaller groups from my hometown, I had no problem finding and playing each artist's full discography. The app will automatically play a song's music video if there is one — for everything else, you'll be shown album art.

YouTube Music's home screen is similarly intuitive — providing no shortage of recommended artists and genre stations based on what's popular as well as your personal tastes. I was happy to see that my music browsing history from regular YouTube carried over seamlessly.

Frugal listeners may see this as a con, but YouTube Music truly shines if you're subscribed to YouTube Red ($10 per month). Aside from ad-free video, having a Red subscription lets you listen to YouTube Music in the background of other apps (or with your phone asleep), activate an audio-only mode and save select tracks to your device as part of an "offline mixtape" (more on that later).

Paying for Red isn't integral to enjoying YouTube Music, but considering that the service also grants unlimited access to Google Play Music and eliminates ads across all of YouTube, it's arguably one of the best streaming media values out there. The app lets you try YouTube Red for 14 days, so you can judge for yourself whether the extra features are worth it.

The Bad

While YouTube Music has a huge library, you can't exactly save whatever you want for offline listening. Instead, Red members can utilize the app's Offline Mixtape feature, which will download up to 100 random tracks based on your listening habits. While it's a neat idea for those who need a quick burst of music for their next commute, it's not that great at predicting what you might want.

Even though YouTube Music's recommended tab seems to know my tastes, my Offline Mixtapes have mainly consisted of top 40 hits with a few of my recently played tracks mixed in. I'm sure this will change the more I use the app, but it would nice to have personalized picks right out of the gate.

Bottom Line

Like YouTube Gaming before it, YouTube Music does an excellent job curating the massive video platform for a specific audience. It looks as nice as the best music apps out there, and whether you're listening to personalized radio or browsing classic discographies, it's very easy to find something worth jamming out to.  

However, with limited offline options, YouTube Music feels more like an awesome complement to Google Play Music than a service that can stand completely on its own. Perhaps it's a good thing, then, that you can get the premium versions of both services for a single fee.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.