Google's media streaming options are getting increasingly confusing, so some definition is in order: YouTube Red is the subscription version of YouTube, which removes ads and lets you download videos for offline viewing, among other things. It costs $10 a month, and Google even sweetens the deal by tacking on its music streaming service, Google Play Music, at no additional charge.
You can download everything: Granted, there are already unofficial browser extensions that let you download YouTube videos, but Red's integration of the feature makes the process much cleaner. You'll get all your downloaded videos in one section, sorted by reverse chronology, and they'll stay there indefinitely, as long as you connect your device to the Internet at least every 30 days.
It removes ads (in a way that rewards content creators): Sure, you can block ads on any website these days, but that means less money for the site to produce content. A YouTube Red subscription eliminates all ads in a way that doesn't hurt creators. It also helps fund the creation of original content produced by YouTube, itself; it ain't HBO, but Red Originals has some gems like Mind Field, Bad Internet, and Buddy System.
It's bundled with a high-quality music streaming service: Google Play Music isn't available on as many devices as Spotify, but it does have one major advantage: You can take your MP3s and upload them to your account, and they'll get added seamlessly to your Play Music library. This enables you to listen to certain artists who do not stream certain albums or entire catalogs. And like YouTube, it's fully Chromecast-aware, so you can wirelessly send your tunes to your home theater system. And if your car has Android Auto or Apple Carplay, you can stream while you drive (and Play Music offers downloading for offline listening for when you're out of range).
Background playback: Usually, YouTube streaming stops when you turn your screen off or switch to another app. But a Red subscription keeps the audio going, which is pretty handy for podcasts, since the video portion doesn't matter as much. You can also set Red to only do this when you've connected a pair of headphones or an external speaker.
There's a $14.99 family plan: Up to six people aged 13 or older in the same household can get all these benefits for just $14.99 a month. Better yet, each member gets their own recommendations and viewing preferences. And, like Spotify and Apple Music, all six accounts can stream simultaneously.
Downloaded videos need better management tools: We'd like to be able to do a search-as-you-type within the download section, itself. It would also be nice if we could sort our downloaded videos by duration, file size, and alphabet. But you only get reverse chronology (meaning, the most recent videos get listed at the top). Videos can take up a lot of storage space, so it would be helpful if we could delete the largest ones with a few taps. And sometimes you want a video that will kill a specific amount of time. And when we're browsing the site, YouTube could do a better job of identifying which videos we've already downloaded.
Other than its poor management of downloaded videos, YouTube Red is an excellent service. When you add a free Play Music subscription into the mix, and a growing crop of respectable original content, it becomes an offering that's worth checking out -- even for Spotify diehards.