The number of digital subscription services you can now sign up for is a very long one, and it’s growing all the time—Disney+, Apple Music, Creative Cloud, Headspace, Google Play Pass... you can rack up a hefty monthly bill by the time you’ve covered movies, music, software and more. But I’m here to tell you about the best of them all: YouTube Premium.
Well, it’s my favorite at least. If I could only spend $12 a month on subscription services, I would pick YouTube Premium over Spotify, and Apple TV+, and Dropbox, and Feedly, and Microsoft Office, as useful and as entertaining as those options are.
This might seem like a strange choice. You can use YouTube completely free of charge in return for watching the occasional ad—a fair compromise in return for everything that YouTube offers. The differences you get for stumping up $12 a month might not seem like value for money, but those twelve dollars every month get you four key features that I think are genuinely compelling. The more you use YouTube day-to-day, the better value it gets, and while none of these features are worth $144 a year or 40 cents a day on their own, they certainly add up to something I feel more comfortable subscribing too.
Ads on YouTube are the sort of annoyance you put up with, and get used to, and think maybe they’re not so bad—maybe it’s worth watching a few ads in return for saving $12 a month. When you’ve used YouTube ad-free though, it’s very difficult to go back, especially if you’re watching dozens of clips a day across numerous devices.
Not only do ads interrupt the flow of what you’re trying to watch—music videos, chill-out tunes, interviews, trailer breakdowns—they also eat up time that you could spend doing something more worthwhile (like watching videos on the internet). Those little bursts of marketing add up to more time than you might realize, across mobile, desktop and other devices, and $12 a month gets that time back.
Give the free month trial of YouTube Premium a go, if you haven’t already, and see just how much of a difference getting rid of the adverts actually makes. It’s particularly noticeable if you like to leave on those endless music mixes in the background while you’re doing something else, or like to disappear down YouTube rabbit holes.
On top of all that there’s the question of whether you’d rather support a service by paying directly, or have targeted adverts thrown at you day after day: If you’re paying for the product, then you’re no longer the product, and you no longer have to spend a single second of your life watching a promotional pitch on YouTube.
This is something I use time and time again on my phone: Being able to start a video on YouTube, and having the audio continue to play while I use other apps. Background playback even works when the phone screen is locked, so nothing interrupts your listening until you do.
Again, this is handy for music mixes, but also for interviews, or for background noise, or for educational videos. Having to keep YouTube open and active for playback to continue is actually quite frustrating, and $12 a month takes that away.
As with removing the ads, background playback on its own isn’t worth $12 a month, but it’s a very appealing part of a bigger picture. YouTube becomes a much more useful and flexible service if you can play the audio from videos in the background, and you might find yourself using the app in ways you otherwise wouldn’t (to fall asleep to relaxing tunes at night, for instance).
If you don’t like the way this works, you can turn background playback off in the settings for the YouTube app. You can also have it enabled only when your phone is connected to an external display or a pair of headphones.
This is something I use less often, but which is going to be really helpful for people with a favorite show on YouTube—the ability to download any YouTube video you like to your mobile device. Downloads stay viewable for 30 days without an internet connection, so even extended hikes into the wilderness are covered.
Assuming you know what you want to watch in advance (everything on your Watch Later list perhaps?), you can get through flights and foreign trips and car journeys without needing any data connection at all. YouTube even puts together a Recommended Downloads playlist for you, which you can download with a tap.
Queue up a few dozen of your favorite music videos, or interviews, Bon Appetit series, the best clips from The Office, or a handful of fan videos on why the latest Star Wars movie is terrible. You’re good to go. If it’s on YouTube, you can download it.
Downloads can be saved on up to 10 devices at once, so you can get your phones, tablets, and Chromebooks (via the YouTube Android app) involved. The apps give you the choice of downloaded video quality, up to a maximum level of 1080p.
No, YouTube Music isn’t as good as Spotify or Apple Music, or the soon to be retired Google Music (also included in your subscription) and it’s still a little untidy in places. But when you consider that it’s essentially a free extra you get thrown in on top of everything else, it starts to look like a very good deal indeed—you get a streaming music service, and ad-free videos, and background listening, and video downloads.
You can get at YouTube Music from your web browser as well as your mobile devices, and another plus is the quality of the recommendations that get thrown up versus the recommended tunes from other streaming services. Almost like YouTube has learned something from all the video recommendations it needs to churn out on the main site.
Of course, this being YouTube Music, support for music videos is built right in—if you want visuals to go with your music, then this is the best music streaming service out there. There’s also a ton of live and rare stuff that’s found it’s way to YouTube that isn’t on the regular platforms.
Admittedly YouTube Premium doesn’t hold quite as much appeal for occasional YouTube users, but for me, it’s the digital subscription I would give up last, if I had to cut down. Ad-free watching makes a huge difference to the YouTube experience, background playback and video downloads are really useful features... and there’s an entire music streaming service thrown in too.