Apple Music review

Apple Music is the new iTunes-based music streaming service that arrived on iPhone, iPad and Mac back in 2015.

That means that every compatible iOS device that has been updated to at least iOS 8.4 has Apple Music installed, and with a three-month free trial it's an appealing service for Apple users that has rivals such as Spotify scared, and for good reason.

If you're new to the world of Apple Music, don't worry; take a look at our complete guide to Apple Music to get you started, and our Apple Music FAQ if you get stuck. 

Apple Music review: Pricing & competition

As of August 2017, there are three membership tiers: Apple Music costs £9.99 per month for the individual membership, £14.99 per month for the Family membership (for up to six people to share using Family Sharing), or £4.99 for the student membership.

Selecting the student option is sightly different from the other two - you need to go through a verification system to demonstrate that your university or college is eligible, and that you're signed up to it. Here's how to get an Apple Music student membership discount.

Some of Apple Music's features are available for free, but they're very limited and there's no ad-supported version like there is for Spotify, which is where we think Spotify wins.

If you don't want to pay £9.99 per month for a streaming service, Spotify lets you listen to unlimited tracks for free, but you'll also hear some adverts and you'll have a limited number of skips in some parts of the service.

If you've already signed up for the Apple Music free trial but don't want to pay once it's over, make sure you check out our article on how to stop Apple charging you for Apple Music.

Apple Music review: The app

While the first iteration of Apple Music was a little too confusing and in-your-face, Apple has come a long way since 2015. The latest iteration of Apple Music presents a much simpler interface with fewer buttons and options than before, making the app much simpler to use.

It's comprised of five menus: Library, For You, Browse, Radio and Search. Library and Search are self-explanatory, while For You presents personalised songs, albums and playlists based on your music taste. Browse is where you can find the latest songs and playlists on Apple Music, and Radio is where you can access Beats1 amongst other stations.

Apple Music review: Music library

The Apple Music library features over 30 million songs from iTunes, though that's not the full amount of tracks available to buy from Apple's iTunes Store – there are more than 10 million tracks missing.

But it's not just the songs that make the music library in Apple Music great. It's also the curated playlists put together by teams of experts in every genre. You'll find playlists for each genre, as well as moods and activities, and those playlists can only grow and improve over time.

There are also playlists created by music magazines and websites, including Rolling Stone, Q, Pitchfork, DJ, Mojo and Shazam.

Apple Music review: Video library

In addition to a vast music library, you'll find an equally-as-impressive range of music videos in Apple Music. It's a little hard to find (tap Browse > Videos) but once you've found it, you'll be able to stream everything from Beyonce to Ed Sheeran and everything in between.

You can add the videos to playlists and your library, but you can't offline them like you can with the audio.

In addition to music videos, Apple has started to create original TV shows: Planet of the Apps and the infamous Carpool Karaoke with James Corden are two of the biggest hits at the moment, with the latter including Game of Thrones cast members and Will Smith.

It's a great move from Apple, and provides extra value for the subscription - maybe one day it'll even be a Netflix rival with music and TV! Who knows. 

Apple Music review: Music discovery and recommendations

Despite the setup process, which makes you choose genres and artists you like to help it decide what it thinks you'll enjoy, Apple Music didn't get our music tastes quite right. In addition to the artists and genres you choose during setup, it'll also scan your Music library to see what you've already downloaded from iTunes.

However, the recommendations you'll see in the For You section of the app will improve over time as it learns what you like and don't like.

You can tell Apple Music that you're enjoying a song by tapping the heart icon at any time, and you can tell it not to recommend that again by tapping and holding, and then pressing "I don't like this suggestion." With a bit of tinkering, you should find that eventually the For You section gets it right almost every time.

We love that you can add a song to the My Music library at any time, and even better you can save them for offline listening. This will mean you'll be downloading songs onto your device, so it'll begin to take up space pretty quickly, but if you're about to jet off on holiday on a long flight, or if you spend lots of time on the London Underground, for example, it can be very handy to have some new music to keep you company.

Apple Music review: Sound quality

Apple Music streams at a 256Kbps bitrate, which makes it lower than Spotify's Premium 320Kbps, but higher than the 160Kbps offered with Spotify's free version.

However the services use different audio formats and you'll find it difficult to tell the difference in quality between Spotify's Premium quality and Apple Music. Both are satisfyingly good and it should only be audiophiles that are left wanting more quality.

Apple Music review: Connect

Connect is an interesting idea but it hasn't really taken off so far. In fact, Apple has removed Connect from the menus in iOS 11, and can be found underneath your music recommendations in the For You section.

It's a feature that lets artists post videos, photos, messages and more for fans to see, like and comment on. Users are unable to post their own content, but can interact with the posts from their favourite artists.

If you're particularly fond of one artist that's active and posts exclusive content, you'll enjoy using Connect, but it's a little too easy to miss, and we can't imagine everyone using this feature.

Apple Music review: Radio

The star of the show when it comes to Apple Music's radio section is Beats 1 Radio, a worldwide, 24-hour radio station that is broadcast live from London, LA and New York depending on the time of day.

While listening, you can add songs being played to the My Music library to listen to later if you like them.

You'll also hear interviews with artists and other additional content, and many are comparing Beats 1 Radio to BBC Radio 1.

However, a bit like Connect, Beats 1 won't appeal to everyone. With the same tracks playing to every listener around the world, you're not going to like everything. You can't skip tracks like you can with the other Radio stations in Apple Music, as it's a live broadcast.

That said, it is one of the free features available even if you don't subscribe to Apple Music, and it has captured lots of fans already.

As mentioned, the other radio stations available in the Radio section of Apple Music compare more closely with Spotify's Radio feature, acting more like infinite, skippable playlists based on a specific genre rather than live radio complete with DJs like Beats 1.

They're essentially carried over from iTunes Radio, Apple's service that never actually made it to the UK.

You can also create your own Radio station inspired by a single song or artist at any time, by tapping the three dots in the Now Playing menu and then tapping Create Station.

Radio is unavailable to listen to offline, though, so you'll need to be connected to the internet at all times for that.

Apple Music review: The Apple Watch and Siri

Apple Music is designed to work with Siri, with new questions about music available.

You can ask Siri to "play more songs like this," for example, or to play the best music from a particular year, movie or genre. You can even ask Siri to play popular songs from your birthday, or say "After this song play Black Magic by Little Mix," (or whatever song you like).

Apple Music is also available on the Apple Watch.

OUR VERDICT

Apple Music has a lot going for it, and we imagine that it's going to encourage lots of people to sign up, and a large percentage of people to leave Spotify, not least because it's automatically on every iPhone and iPad running iOS 8.4 or later. It's seamlessly integrated into devices making it the most natural choice for Apple users.

Most people using an iPhone or iPad will sign up to the three months free trial, even if they didn't really know about music streaming services and what they offer. If they find that they're using it on a regular basis, they are likely to continue paying the £9.99 per month once the trial is over.

We'd recommend signing up for the three month free trial and trying it out to see whether you think it's worth paying for. You might be surprised with how much you enjoy using it.

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