Apple Music full review
The music-streaming market, once virtually monopolised by Spotify, is now busier than ever: virtually all of tech's big dogs want a piece of the increasingly juicy-looking pie.
Apple and Amazon have both launched streaming services and each has its own ways of hustling users on board. Amazon Prime Music is available as part of the Prime service, which many people sign up for simply to get the free next-day delivery; and Apple Music is the most convenient service for anyone using an iPhone, and at present the only service that's wholly compatible with the HomePod (although there are workarounds for other services). Both are building a significant userbase.
But which is the best service for you? In this article we compare Apple Music and Amazon Prime Music (and the firm's more expensive Music Unlimited service) for features, range of songs, user-friendliness and value for money. We identify the differences and similarities, and help you decide which is right for your needs.
Apple Music costs £9.99/$9.99 a month for the standard package. (If you're a student you can get it for £4.99/$4.99 a month, and there's a £14.99/$14.99 family package which enables access for up to six people.)
That's a pretty standard price for music streaming services in the UK and US, and if you use it often enough can be a really good way to save money on buying albums and singles from iTunes, and save space on your iPhone as the songs are stored in the cloud unless you choose to download them for offline listening. But for pure value Amazon can do better, as we'll see in a moment.
You can sign up for a three-month trial of Apple Music here or by opening the Music app on your iPhone and tapping the For You tab. (You may need to open Settings and go to Music > Show Apple Music.)
Amazon Prime Music
Amazon Prime Music cannot be bought on its own; the music service is bundled as part of Prime Membership, which costs £79/$99 a year or £7.99/$12.99 a month - significantly less than Apple Music - and also includes next-day delivery, Amazon Prime Video and some Kindle freebies.
It's worth signing up to the free trial of Amazon Prime (click here in the UK or here in the US) if you haven't done so already, as it means you'll be able to try all of the aforementioned features for one month to see whether you think it's worth the money.
Amazon Music Unlimited
If you're a Prime member, it'll cost you a further £79/$79 per year or £7.99/$7.99 per month to sign up for Music Unlimited's standard package (one user, multiple devices). If you're not a Prime member it'll cost £9.99/$9.99 a month.
As with Apple Music there's a family plan: it too costs £14.99/$14.99 a month (or £149/$149 a year) and gives access for up to six people. If your budget won't stretch that far, there's a single-device plan that allows access on, well, one device only, but costs just £3.99/$3.99 a month. You can sign up for that through the device itself - saying "Alexa, try Amazon Music Unlimited", for example.
Students can get a 50 percent discount.
One of the most important selling points for a music streaming service is the selection of songs. Apple Music beats Amazon Prime Music in this department, and by a long shot too. Apple offers a whopping 45 million songs, while Prime has just two million. (If you want more songs you can pay extra for Music Unlimited, however, which has 40 million, almost matching Apple.)
Of course, the value of these large libraries depends on how mainstream your tastes are; and having that many tracks at your fingertips doesn't matter if you don't like them. If you're a massive fan of one or two artists in particular it's worth checking they're available on your service of choice.
Apple Music has had a few notable, albeit usually temporary, exclusives on particular albums, but with Amazon's media clout you shouldn't put it past them securing a few of their own in future.
Apple is notoriously unwilling to play nicely with other companies' platforms, while Amazon is much more easy-going. But in the case of music streaming both firms offer fairly decent intercompatibility, with a few exceptions.
What devices can stream Apple Music?
Apple Music works on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and because Google doesn't have an issue with Apple Music appearing on Android, it works on most rival phones and tablets too. (Be warned, however, that we've found Apple Music for Android buggy in the past and it won't get updates as quickly as the iOS version.)
Apple Music also works on the Apple Watch and HomePod, in CarPlay-compatible vehicles, and through Sonos speakers if controlled via an Apple or Android device.
Apple's service will not work with Amazon's various Alexa-powered smart speakers, such as the Echo - at least not officially; you can stream it on an iPhone and then output to the speaker via Bluetooth, but then you lose voice control.
What devices can stream Amazon Music?
Amazon Prime Music and Music Unlimited work on nearly all smartphones and tablets: there's an Amazon Music app for iPhone and iPad and another for Android. And if you're on a Mac or PC you can download a dedicated app or use the web player.
Amazon Prime Music also works on a wide range of Alexa smart speakers, Fire TV, Fire tablets and other devices. Check out the full list here.
Working out what music you're going to like is a hugely important aspect of a streaming service. We've already established that Apple and Amazon offer a mind-bending number of tracks. The problem isn't having enough songs - it's finding the ones that are good.
When it comes to discovering new music, both Apple Music and Amazon Prime Music claim to offer intelligent, user-sensitive recommendations, but based on our experience with each service we much prefer Apple's approach.
Apple Music has a tab called For You, which offers up regularly updated playlists (curated by experts in that field or genre), artist spotlights, new releases and timely content for you to enjoy - we've seen playlists referencing the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the 2018 World Cup, for example. And there's a subsection called Connect where artists can post images and announcements; you can choose who to follow for these sorts of social post.
The tracks in For You are influenced by your tastes as Apple Music understands them: today's albums are offered "since you're into electronic," it says. We've found that it takes a bit of time for Apple Music to get to know you, but you can speed up this process by proactively feeding it information about what you like and dislike. Over time it will start consistently recommending songs that are of interest.
For more direct discovery you can use Apple's Search or Browse tabs instead, filtering by genre or viewing playlists related to specific moods, activities and events.
Amazon Prime Music uses your previous purchases and anything you've marked as 'I own it' to determine what recommendations it shows you. It also looks at what you add to your library, but during our time using the service so far it has recommended largely the same tracks and we can't find a way to tell it what we really like and dislike.
Amazon does offer a decent playlist section, though, with moods and genres to choose from including 'Best of Prime Music', '50 great 80s classics,' 'Morning cup of coffee' and more. And Music Unlimited offers even more playlists than its junior version.
Apple Music is by far the nicer service to look at, although perhaps it has a bit too much going on in some sections. The For You tab has so many different types of recommendation, all clamouring for your attention, that it can be almost overwhelming; we rarely make it to Connect, languishing beneath playlists, albums, spotlights and new releases (each of which can be horizontally scrolled).
To be fair, many will spend most of their time in the Library and Radio tabs, which are far easier on the eye and brain. And if you're struggling to get used to Apple Music, try our How to use Apple Music guide.
Furthermore we think Apple's interface is a huge improvement over the Amazon Music app, which we find dark and gloomy.
Amazon Prime Music offers 'stations' but they're not really the same as a full-blown radio feature, something we consider a big black mark in comparison to Apple Music's brilliant radio.
Apple's Beats 1 Radio, for instance, is a live, unskippable radio station that plays globally 24 hours per day. And there are also lots of additional channels to choose from that play a huge range of songs with as many skips as you like based on a particular genre or mood.
Both Amazon and Apple have what you might call ulterior motives in offering a streaming service; they each sell digital music separately as downloads (for the time being, at least), so it would make sense for them to encourage users to buy permanent copies of tracks they've enjoyed streaming.
Fortunately the two companies take a longer view. Both offer offline listening, which means you'll be able to download songs to listen to when you're not connected to the internet, and those songs will be available offline for as long as you're a subscriber to the streaming service.
Apple Music offers a social element that Amazon Prime Music lacks, which is called Connect. As mentioned previously, this is now integrated into the For You tab rather than getting a tab to itself, which suggests it wasn't the success Apple was hoping for.
It's not as social as Spotify's offerings that connect you to Facebook within the app to tell you what your friends are listening to, but it does give you inside access to posts made by the artists themselves, and you'll be able to like and comment on those posts. It's okay.