As YouTube Music's migration tool continues to roll out, many Play Music subscribers are likely asking themselves if it's finally time to just give up on holding out and switch to Google's new music streaming service. But as Play Music will die by the end of 2020, it could also be just as good a time to take your music collection to a personal cloud (or offline entirely) and switch to something like Spotify or Tidal as your paid streaming solution. Doubtless, many of you are wondering if making the switch to YouTube music is really worth it at all, and how it compares to the soon-to-die Play Music in key ways. We're going to dive into the differences between them, large and small, and why they matter.

Pricing

This is a simple point since YouTube Music, Play Music, and YouTube are intertwined. If you pay $12 for YouTube Premium, you'll get ad-free access to all three services, while you get both Play Music and YouTube Music for $10 a month. When you use Google's migration tool, your current plan will be moved over to the new platform and you'll end up paying just as much as you had before — essentially, only the name changes.

YouTube Music manages to impress with its free tier. You can stream anything you like as long as you keep your display turned on and the app in the foreground. On a laptop or desktop, you can even enjoy songs with the website in the background. The free tier is ad-supported, so if you're dealing with YouTube, you know what's coming at you. Google Play Music's free version, on the other hand, only lets you play mixes based on artists and songs on Google Home, limiting you to a random selection of songs. Both platforms allow you to upload and listen to files without ads and in the background. Songs you've purchased on the Play Store will be migrated to YouTube Music via the switching tool.

Library migration

Google's new migration tool is currently rolling out more widely on a location-based schedule. It lets you move your whole library — likes, recommendations, uploads, albums, and more — from Play Music to YouTube Music. Once the feature is available to you, you'll see a banner in your Play Music and YouTube Music app telling you as much. Your recommendations are imported instantaneously so you can start listening to your music right away. Your uploads and the rest of your library are moved in the background while you can already give YTM a try. You'll get a notification and an email once the process is finished, which can take up to a few days depending on the amount of files you've collected. Of course, you can also choose to start over again if you've accumulated too much stuff you don't listen to anymore.

Left: Transfer prompt. Right: Lost artworks and duplicate albums post-migration.

Unfortunately, I haven't quite noticed a difference in my YouTube Music recommendations and mixes following the migration. That might be because I've been using the new service for quite a while before kicking off the library copy tool, but if you're in my situation, that's something you should keep in mind. I've also lost a few album artworks in the process and found some duplicate albums in my uploaded music, but the latter had been an issue long before the migration, so I don't think the tool is the sole culprit here.

I've also noticed that a few albums aren't available for streaming on YouTube Music, like most of German punk band Kraftklub's library, which you could listen to on Google Play Music just fine. It's a weird situation, but since YouTube is technically a subsidiary, its licensing deals differ from its parent company. There is some random wrong information, too — for example, YouTube Music says Oomph's 1999 album Plastik was released last year for some reason. These cases are rare, though, and most of the transition was really smooth for me.

I also haven't found an option to edit metadata in YouTube Music yet. If you've got a mistitled track, you'll probably have to re-upload it with the correct metadata, which is less than convenient. Hopefully, Google adds this functionality before it shuts down GPM altogether.

Check out our detailed guide on how to transfer your library.

User interface and experience

YouTube Music's library is structured more hierarchically.

I much prefer YouTube Music's general interface over Play Music's, but that might just be because Play Music is hopelessly outdated. YT Music's bottom navigation makes it easier to quickly jump to my library while I have to open the hamburger menu to do the same in GPM. Other than that, you mostly just have to adjust to the navigation system — the two apps generally share the same ideas. Both give you a homescreen with recommendations, access to last played albums and playlists, charts, genres, and moods.

Now Playing. Some features are hidden behind a tap on the album cover in YTM.

YouTube Music's Now Playing experience is much improved compared to its predecessor. On the aesthetic side, it lets you see the full album cover, while Play Music cuts off the sides. YT Music's queue shows you fewer songs, but the list is easier to access via a swipe-up. It's just a bummer you can't swipe left and right to skip back and forth in YTM. The native integration of lyrics almost makes up for that, though, which is available for a lot of songs. There's also a toggle so you can seamlessly switch to the music video version of a song if it has one, which I've actually started to like a lot (even if I still disagree on mixing YouTube and YouTube Music libraries — more on that later).

Up next.

There are some other quirks, too. Google Play Music has a scrollbar that you can drag so it doesn't take ages to go through all of your songs, which isn't available on YouTube Music. You also can't like songs when you're offline in the YouTube Music app, which drives me crazy. Additionally, some features are hidden behind long-press menus, which you need to figure out first. Try tapping the album cover or long-pressing a title anywhere in the app, for example. Batch-selecting files is another missing piece, both in the Android application and its web pendant.

Full song overview in both services. Note the scrollbar in Play Music.

Recommendations and mixes

Recommendations and mixes are a pretty personal thing — some people prefer Spotify's Discover playlists that give you a playlist of songs you might like. YouTube Music is much more aggressive in narrowing your taste down to a certain artists and genres once it notices you like them, evident from recurring recommendations you keep getting on the home page. Google Play Music is similar in this regard and keeps recommending the same music (except for the "recommended new releases" radio, but that still consists of artists that I listen to anyway).

Recommendations and mixes.

YouTube Music is improving, though. Google added automated playlists such as Discover and New Release Mix, which helped me find some new stuff. I really enjoy that YouTube Music is becoming more like Spotify in that regard.

Following the introduction of the migration tool, Google shared that Play Music stations will be transformed into playlists when imported. That's because YouTube Music does away with the concept of stations altogether — it offers curated and machine-generated playlists instead. The content is the same across some Play Music stations and YouTube Music playlists, though the advantage with YTM's playlists is that you can always see which songs exactly you'll find in there. GPM stations are more of a grab bag.

If you regularly turn play artist radios on Play Music, you might notice another difference: On YouTube Music, it's not possible to turn these radios into playlists. In fact, you can't automatically turn your queue into a playlist at all, which is a bummer.

The Explore tab.

YouTube Music has also finally done away with the useless Hotlist tab that showed you a collection of popular music videos. It's been replaced with an Explore section that shows you a selection of new albums and singles tailored to your taste, mood playlists, genres, and a variety of recently released music videos.

Search

Google Play Music's search function is still superior to YouTube Music's approach. You can start playing songs right from the search results, while you have to tap suggestions on YTM before to listen to them. I also feel like GPM's search is often more on point for me — YTM tends to recommend mixes and remixes, which I rarely listen to.

Google Play Music also has a handy function that identifies songs you listen to right from the search interface, making it easy to add songs you hear while you're out and about to your playlists. At least Google is working on integrating YouTube Music with Google Search, so you can use Google Assistant's music recognition as a workaround.

Uploads

Both services support uploading your own music, but it's incredible how differently they tackle the issue. We've explored the topic extensively in another article, so I'll say this much here: Play Music makes your uploaded files almost indistinguishable from content available on the platform while YouTube Music puts your uploads into their own section that's mostly sealed off from the streaming service portion of the platform. I prefer Google Play Music's approach — it makes it much easier to find music without stopping and wondering if you've uploaded that song or if it's available for streaming.

As far as I can tell from testing, uploaded music generally doesn't automatically appear in any of my mixes or the offline mixtape, though it's possible I just haven't listened to enough uploaded songs for them to show up there.

One more library gripe concerning uploads has been pointed out by one of our commenters: When you search for an artist in your uploads and tap them, you'll be thrown into a list of all their songs you've uploaded. There's no dedicated artist page with a simple overview of their albums.

Downloads

YouTube Music nails downloads, in my opinion. While you have to actively choose what you want to download on Google Play Music (such as your liked songs or some albums), YouTube Music can take that burden off your shoulders. You can activate smart downloads, specify how many songs you automatically want to find on your phone, and YouTube Music will give you a selection. The automatic solution updates your songs every night, so you can listen to something new every once in a while. You can also manually select what to download if you prefer that.

Of course, Google giveth and Google taketh. Google Play Music automatically caches songs you play when you're online, which also gives you a variety of music to listen to. That doesn't seem to be the case for YouTube Music. At least cached songs won't appear among my downloads. Play Music is also more forgiving with spotty connections, as it buffers songs up next in your queue. YouTube Music will just straight up stop playing online music as soon as you lose connection.

YouTube Music also retains Play Music's pesky ten-device limit that only allows for four deactivations each year, though it's a little less draconian than Play Music: You only lose downloads on non-activated devices. That's still annoying enough, and  we've got a whole editorial on that issue.

Smart speaker integration, casting, and Android Auto

Play Music is still superior when it comes to smart speakers made by Google. The service lets you play uploaded music via voice on Google Home speakers, but YouTube Music won't do that — at least it will play the YouTube video version of a song if available. Casting also isn't an option in the YTM web app, and there's some weird behavior in the Android pendant: When you cast, you lose shuffle and repeat.

Where'd shuffle and repeat go after I started casting?

I don't own a Sonos speaker, but I've heard that other people complain about the lack of proper integration with YouTube Music. You need to use the Sonos app to cast content from the streaming service. Google Play Music, on the other hand, natively integrates with the third-party system and lets you cast to the speakers right from the app.

Similarly, the Android Auto experience isn't on par — YouTube Music doesn't have a "recent" section that would help you find recently played or uploaded albums, so you either have to try and use Google Assistant to play what you want to listen to, or you might have to pull over and search for what you want to listen to.

There's also a long-standing bug affecting a few people, hindering them from seeing song information in their cars' dashboards when they listen to YouTube Music via Bluetooth.

Web app

I use a third-party wrapper application to make both services feel as native as possible on my Mac, and it's also available on Windows — Google Play Music Desktop Player. It lets you switch between the two platforms, and even though YouTube Music support is only in beta right now, it works without hiccups for me. You can also just use the web apps in your browser or create a dedicated windowed experience by clicking Chrome's three-dot menu, More tools, and Create shortcut (tick open in new window). Unlike the desktop app I use and depending on your computer, you might not get full media button and notification support that way, though.

Left: Play Music. Right: YouTube Music.

That said, YouTube Music's web app isn't on par with the service's mobile app, let alone with Play Music's website. It can't cast music to your speakers, artists aren't displayed next to songs in compilations, and there's no play count to be seen anywhere. The web app also doesn't have access to the new Explore tab yet, showing you the useless Hotlist of old instead. Google really has to improve the website before it kills Play Music altogether.

There's also no dedicated upload app for desktop OSes. Play Music used to have a tool that automatically uploads music you add to specified folders of your computer.

YouTube integration

While you can access some music videos via Google Play Music, YouTube and YouTube Music are way too intertwined for my taste. Your YouTube Music likes show up among YouTube video likes, your playlists are shared between the two platforms, and, most annoyingly, when you subscribe to artists on YouTube Music, you also subscribe to their YouTube channel. These things get even messier when you subscribe to channels focused on music: I don't want OK Go to show up in my music streaming service, but I do enjoy watching the group's videos.

I've also noticed that some of the songs I play via YouTube Music show up in my YouTube history. Strangely, that's not the case for every title, and some people report that their histories aren't intertwined at all any longer, so maybe Google is working on pulling apart the two services a bit more, and I'm stuck in the middle ground.

YouTube playlists that include music videos will also populate your YouTube Music library. A test list I've created on YouTube consisting of one music video and an Android Police video shows up in YT Music, too. When you try to play the latter through the music service, an unhelpful toast appears: "Song is unavailable."

Left: YouTube Music playlist in YouTube. Middle: Liked songs and videos in one list. Right: YouTube Channel I subscribe to shown in YouTube Music.

YouTube Music also introduces one of the more annoying YouTube features to music streaming: You're limited to a maximum of 5,000 titles per playlist. Liked songs are organized within a playlist, so you might not be able to see the earliest songs in it since they might be pushed off the end of the list. YouTube video likes also count against that limit, so you might reach it even faster than you'd think.

Google Play Music's library management isn't necessarily perfect, but at least it's not integrated with a video streaming service.

While I was busy exploring YouTube Music from my perspective as a Play Music subscriber, my colleague Hagop Kavafian switched from Spotify to YouTube Music. He went for YouTube Premium and writes that while he has some gripes with the streaming service, it probably still suits many people's needs, and that you can save quite some money and time spent on YouTube ads if you watch a lot of videos. In the end, it comes down to a question of personal preference for him.

Unfortunately, the equation isn't that simple here because YouTube Music is slated to replace Play Music sooner rather than later. You have to accept YouTube Music's quirks if you currently use and love Play Music, or you have to switch to another platform altogether. I personally still can't stand the shared playlists and likes across YouTube and YouTube Music, so let's hope Google continues improving the service before it retires Play Music.

Since everyone values different strengths and weaknesses, I may be missing some other dealbreakers. Feel free to share how you feel about the YouTube Music/Play Music situation in the comments if you're caught between these two worlds, too.

We've substantially updated this article following the introduction of the Play Music migration tool and recent changes to YouTube Music, like a new Now Playing experience and the introduction of the Explore tab, replacing the Hotlist of old. There's also a new section comparing the web app experience.