Music makes us better

We wake up to music. We go about our days to music. If we're happy, we're singing along. If we're sad, we're crooning. If we're mad, we will scream out every last note. Music makes us better, brings us together, and I owe my life to rock and roll! Music subscriptions have the power to make our lives brighter, louder, and happier. There are plenty of music subscriptions worthy of their price tags, but in the battle for your monthly stipend, there can only be one winner.

So, how do three of the biggest names in music — Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music — stack up in our comprehensive comparison?

Pricing

Things are relatively even here. For a single, non-student subscriber, Play Music, Apple Music, and Spotify each cost $9.99/month in the United States. For a family of up to six users, Google Play Music, Apple Music and Spotify each cost $14.99/month, though Spotify's family plan requires you all to live at the same address — and Spotify turns off your family plan if its location tracking determines you don't.

For college students who can prove their educational status, you can find discounts on Apple Music and Spotify, letting you pay $4.99/month instead of $9.99/month. Google Play Music does not have a student discount at this time.

Google Play Music and Spotify both offer free, ad-supported tiers in addition to their paid services, but Apple Music does not. Apple Music offers 3 month trials while Google Play Music and Spotify only offer 30 day trials.

Winner: Apple Music

Price performance and little else

Apple Music offers a student discount and a family plan that is blissfully free of hoops to jump through. Apple Music also offers the longest trial period in order to let users thoroughly evaluate the service before handing over their money.

Platform availability

Platform Play Music Spotify Apple Music
Android App Available App Available App Available
iOS App Available App Available App Available
Chromebook Web Client Web Client Not Available
Windows Web Client (and upload app) Web & Desktop Client Desktop Client
Mac Web Client (and upload app) Web & Desktop Client Desktop Client
Android TV App Available App Available Not Available
Android Wear App Available App Available Not Available
Apple Watch Not Available Not Available App Available
Android Auto Supported Supported Not Available
Apple CarPlay Supported Supported Supported
Google Cast Supported Supported Not Available
Apple AirPlay Supported on iOS devices only Supported via Spotify Connect Supported
Smart Speakers Supported via Google Cast Supported via Spotify Connect Supported via Apple AirPlay

Apple Music is only available on computers via iTunes, while Google Play Music and Spotify have web clients usable on just about any computer with a browser and internet access. Spotify Connect allows Spotify to be compatible with a wide, wide array of smart devices with a stable, consistent UI, as it can tie in to Apple AirPlay, Google Cast, Sonos, and much more.

Google Play Music has a 10-device limit (and 5 phone limit), and you can only deauthorize 4 devices a year. Computer browsers do not count towards the Play Music device limit unless you use them to upload or download songs.

Winner: Spotify

Connect with Spotify

While Google and Apple are fight over hardware, Spotify is skipping right past them, delivering the most accessible music service with the most accessible UI for managing that playback on any device with Spotify Connect.

Sign-up and Set-up

Signing up for any of these services is fairly standard. Google Play Music is connected to your Google account, Apple Music is connected to your Apple ID, and Spotify can be connected to a Facebook account or a traditional email. All three services require your credit card information before beginning your trial of their paid services, and you can set up a subscription for each of these services in less than five minutes.

Apple Music and Google Play Music ask you about your music preferences before setting you free to build your streaming library, but Spotify doesn't bother, instead building its recommendations and famed algorithms based on what you actually start listening to, searching for, and saving to your library.

Winner: Spotify

Get on with your library

Spotify allows you to sign in with Facebook, connect your PayPal account for quick and easy payments, and then get your groove on. No picking five bands you like or tapping and untapping genres in some bizarre bubble-popping game. Get in, get out, and get on with your bad self!

Music selection

Apple Music claims it offers over 45 million songs in its streaming library. Thanks to iTunes Match, if you bought music in iTunes that's in the Apple Music library, it'll be added to your library and a 'Purchased Music' playlist for your easy browsing. However, iTunes music is not available in Apple Music, as they are two separate Apple services.

Spotify claims it offers over 35 million songs in its streaming library. While you can mix personal music into Spotify on the desktop client, you cannot upload them to your cloud-based Spotify library and cannot sync them across devices. Spotify also has a 10,000 song limit to the songs you add to your library.

Google Play Music offers over 40 million songs in its streaming library — but that's only half the story. Google Play Music allows you to supplement the streaming library with your own uploaded and purchased music. If there's a song that's not available, you can purchase it on Google Play, or any other music store and upload it to your library. You can upload 50,000 songs to Google Play Music and listen to them on all of your devices. You can also listen to music on YouTube Music and ad-free on YouTube Red — which are bundled with Google Play Music's subscription.

Winner: Google Play Music

Play what you want on Play Music

Google Play Music's ability to blend a subscription library with your personal library means that you can have all your streaming and purchased music in one place and mix it to your heart's content.

Music quality

Apple Music streams at 256 kbps, slightly lower than the 320 kbps that Spotify streams at when users have set their settings to Extreme. Google Play Music's music quality is capped and coverted into 320 kbps MP3s when uploading music of various file types, and that is the quality attributed to much of its streaming library.

Apple Music allows you to disable streaming on cellular data and to limit the music quality while on data to avoid lagging on slow data and cut back on data used, but Apple Music doesn't allow you to set your audio quality levels for Wi-Fi streaming or downloaded content. Apple Music is also the only service here that allows you to download individual songs rather than full albums or full playlists.

Spotify allows you to set different audio qualities for streaming and downloaded music, but Spotify doesn't distinguish between Wi-Fi and cellular data, so if you set your streaming to Extreme, you better be careful about what you stream on the road. Spotify also only allows users to download up to 3,333 songs for offline streaming, and only on 3 devices.

Google Play Music allows you to set different music qualities for streaming via Wi-Fi versus mobile data, as well as disable streaming over mobile data, but you cannot set the quality for downloaded music. It's also worth noting that Google Play Music has a 'cache while streaming' option that will automatically download music as you stream it so that you have something to listen to offline even if you forgot to deliberately download anything.

Winner: Google Play Music

Play Music can sip data

With separate controls for Wi-Fi and mobile streaming and automatic caching, Google Play Music offers quality control and streaming control that help the app sip data outside the comfort of home Wi-Fi, and it streams at the same 320 kbps Spotify does.

App layout and performance

Spotify features a luscious dark theme and an easy-to-navigate app with five bottom-situated tabs. Settings are only accessible from the Your Library tab, but the app is responsive and smooth. There are some misleading and at times downright annoying aspects of Spotify's queue management and Add to Queue, and you cannot reorder a playlist on Android or the web, only from iOS devices and the desktop client. Spotify steers users towards new music and Made For You's Daily Mixes over new music, but it's never hard to find that last station you were jamming out to.

Apple Music's app is eye-searingly white, hiding its four sections under a slide-out hamburger menu. The default section is Library, with Apple Music steering you back towards the music you've recently added and playlist rather than towards discovery. Apple Music's Android app is not Apple's priority, and it shows, as the app is riddled with bugs, especially while downloading and playing music, two of the most fundamental actions of a music app. The gestures around the Now Playing window are also odd, with Apple Music eschewing the standard swipe left/right to switch tracks to instead minimize or maximize the Now Playing window.

Google Play Music has had just about every feature shoved into it but the kitchen sink over the last 5 years, and it is sorely in need of an overhaul. That doesn't mean Google Play is unusable at the moment — far from it, in fact. Google Play Music organizes its app through a hamburger menu, just like Apple Music, but there are far more tabs here for far more functions, from Podcasts to Recents to Charts. There is also an easy toggle for Downloaded only mode in this hamburger menu, which makes the Home tab an easy-to-use list of Recent Activity and a shortcut to Shuffle all downloaded music.

Managing playlists and now playing queues is still a breeze in Play Music compared to Spotify and Apple Music, and you can save your currently-playing queue into a new playlist for easy listening at a later date. The playback window in Play Music zooms in on its album art, which is fine for high-quality artwork, but tiny artwork becomes a horrid blur. The shuffle, repeat, and Cast buttons also become lost in busy artwork.

Winner: Tie — Spotify and Google Play Music

Something's Missing in Apple Music

It's hard to declare a winner here when all three apps are in need of some work, but we can declare Apple Music the loser, between the depressingly regular bugs and the space-wasting layout.

Overall winner: Google Play Music

Play Music is on top

Google Play allows you to combine the best of both worlds: listen to millions of songs in their subscription library ad-free and listen to the music library you've curated over your digital lifetime in order to build your ultimate library and your ultimate playlists. Play Music is available on just about every non-Apple platform (sorry, Windows Phone), and while it may need a UI overhaul soon, the service offers the best utility and selection, so long as you don't burn through your device limit.

Plus it gets rid of YouTube ads for subscribers in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and Korea. Sorry, rest of the world.

Subscribe to Google Play Music ($9.99/month single or $14.99/month family)

Winner for social listeners and college kids: Spotify

Spot this beauty

Spotify is a music streaming service that is social at its very core. You can follow what your friends listen to, and you can share playlists on Spotify easier than any other music service, even if editing them on Android is a complete pain. Spotify Connect also ensures that no matter where you are or what you want to listen on, you can probably use Spotify Connect to listen to your music on it. If Spotify irons out its kinks with the Family plan and lifted some of the arbitrary limits it has put on users, it could be the best.

Subscribe to Spotify Premium ($9.99/month single or $14.99/month family)

If you're a college student, Spotify actually is the best, because it's $4.99 a month for Spotify Premium and standard (ad-supported) Hulu! Just make sure you can keep proving your college status, because Spotify can test or take away the Student perks with little warning.

Subscribe to Spotify Student ($4.99/month)

The only scenario where Apple Music wins

Apple Music isn't for you

If you live in a family that has completely bought into the Apple ecosystem but just happens to have an Android phone or two in the house, then Apple Music makes sense as it will tie in to more of your products.

If you are an Android user, please do not pay for a service that does not see your experience as a priority. Apple Music is also a hard sell without a web client because one of the most popular places to listen to music is at work, and who wants to install iTunes on a work computer?

What's your favorite? Sound off in the comments below!