YouTube Premium Review | PCMag

You already know what YouTube is. Google’s video platform has become a load-bearing pillar of the internet that houses everything from the dumbest memes, to the most radical political content, to entire episodes of forgotten sitcoms. It’s all there, and it’s all free. However, if you want to pay for a better YouTube experience, you can. YouTube Premium offers convenient perks, such as an ad-free experience and offline viewing on mobile devices starting at $11.99 per month. However, the benefits are so slight compared with what you get from basic YouTube that we have a hard time recommending it as a video streaming service to anyone who isn’t a YouTube die-hard.


(Credit: YouTube)

What Can You Watch on YouTube Premium?

Anything you can watch on YouTube you can watch on YouTube Premium. That’s an unfathomable amount of videos to consider, with uploads from companies, influencers, or regular folks in their living rooms. However, when it comes to content you can only watch on YouTube Premium, the list quickly becomes a lot less enticing.

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Previously, YouTube called its premium tier YouTube Red, and launched it alongside a slate of original programming. For the most part, these videos felt like existing popular YouTube shows with slightly bigger budgets, and not full-on professional shows that other streaming services include as exclusives. It’s telling that one of YouTube’s biggest exclusives, the Karate Kid spin-off Cobra Kai, graduated to Netflix. YouTube Premium includes access to the entire backlog. You can watch PewDiePie get scared while playing a video game or check out Bad InternetCollege Humor’s take on Black Mirror.

These days YouTube seems to put less promotional effort behind its exclusive Premium shows. The YouTube Originals channel doesn’t upload new content very frequently. Most shows have ended, including a handful of original anime shows. The target audience seems to be younger viewers primed to enjoy cooking reality shows or documentaries about pop musicians like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Demi Lovato. But on the whole, YouTube Premium’s exclusive library doesn’t compete with what you’ll find on Hulu or HBO Max. Editors’ Choice pick Peacock lets you sample its original shows for free. Even for families, Disney+ is the far better option.

On the upside, YouTube Premium includes an ad-free YouTube Music subscription, a welcome addition. It’s not our absolute favorite music streaming service, but it is an excellent option thanks to its music videos, collaborative playlists, lyric searching, and other cool features. Check out our full review for more details.


How Much Does YouTube Premium Cost Per Month?

YouTube knows most viewers are acccustomed to using the site with spending a dime, so YouTube Premium offers a very three-month free trial. Note that you need to enter payment information into your YouTube account. After that, you can choose between different pricing tiers.

The individual tier costs $11.99 per month. Given what YouTube Premium ultimately provides, that’s a bit expensive. However, YouTube Music costs $9.99 per month, so YouTube Premium is an appealing way to access that service alongside some extra video features. The $17.99-per month-Family plan lets you share YouTube Premium with up to six accounts. YouTube has talked about offering a cheaper Premium Lite tier, but so far that hasn’t been rolled out to all users. The student discount knocks the price down to $6.99 per month.

Note that there are other ways to spend money on YouTube that have nothing to do with YouTube Premium. You can buy and rent most popular movies and TV shows a la carte. YouTube also offers YouTube TV, an Editors’ Choice pick for live TV streaming, for $65 per month. Confused? Check out the differences between YouTube Premium and YouTube TV.

YouTube Premium enhances your existing YouTube account, so any platform where you use YouTube can gain these benefits. That includes the web, mobile devices (Android and iOS), video game consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch), smart TVs from all major manufacturers, and media streaming devices (Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku).

YouTube Premium

(Credit: YouTube)


YouTube Premium on the Web and Mobile

YouTube Premium isn’t an app unto itself, just an upgrade to the existing YouTube app. Subscribers will see the word “Premium” next to the red YouTube logo. So the interface is largely or the same, on the web on mobile.

This isn’t a bad thing, as YouTube is a premier platform for a reason. I experienced smooth video playback over my home Wi-Fi connection (60Mbps download), even with 4K videos. You can easily share videos, like them, clip them, and save them for later. If nothing else, the YouTube commenter community is very passionate and large, but many Premium videos turn comments off.

What YouTube Premium adds are useful, but slight, features that make watching YouTube more convenient. YouTube Premium removes YouTube’s commercials. Plenty of YouTubers read ads in the middle of their own content, but now you can watch videos without being randomly interrupted by entirely separate commercials. No more dealing with self-aware ads that talk about the fact there’s a skip button before shaming you into not clicking it.

On mobile, YouTube Premium lets you keep listening to a video in the background even when you turn your screen off. This is great for listening to music, but it has potentially even more uses. I watch many YouTube videos that are more about the discussion than anything happening on the screen. Now, I can listen to those videos while doing other things, and not waste battery life by leaving on the phone screen.

You can simultaneously stream YouTube Premium on two devices with an Individual plan; the Family plan bumps that limit to four per account. YouTube Premium also lets you download videos for offline viewing on mobile. Offline downloading supports up to ten devices regardless of plan. This is a cool feature, something we like to see in premium video subscriptions, but with clever workarounds there are already ways to download YouTube videos without paying.

While these individual perks are nice, they feel like the kind of extra features a premium service includes to pump up its overall appeal. They’re not strong enough to be major selling points in their own right, which is the case here.

YouTube Premium

(Credit: YouTube)


Accessibility and Parental Controls

YouTube Premium features the same accessibility options you’ll find on regular YouTube, such as customizable subtitles (where applicable) and adjustable playback speed. Premium videos typically have multiple language options for closed captioning.

For parental controls, YouTube already offers a separate app for children, YouTube Kids, where kids can only watch select content (even if that algorithmically served content can get pretty freaky). With YouTube Premium, parents can rest easy knowing that their kids won’t be exposed to commercials. Offline downloads are a useful feature for making sure children can watch their favorite shows when a wireless signal isn’t available.


YouTube Premium and VPN

Depending on what rabbit holes you stumble down, YouTube is arguably one of the most dangerous places on the internet. The least you can do is keep yourself safe and secure with a VPN. Normally, VPNs don’t work with most video streaming services because the geographic location-spoofing interferes with regional licensing deals, but I had a suspicion YouTube Premium, since it is just YouTube, would be a special case.

I tested YouTube Premium with a Windows PC connected to ProtonVPN servers. And lo and behold, I had no issues streaming premium shows no matter what region I virtually traveled to all over the globe. This may change in the future, though. Video streaming services have been known to block VPN traffic after the fact.


Stick With Basic YouTube

If you watch a lot of YouTube, YouTube Premium makes your viewing experience better thanks to offline downloads and the lack of ads. You might even find a YouTube Premium show you enjoy, or use the subscription as a gateway to the excellent YouTube Music. However, most YouTube users are better off sticking with the free service as you don’t miss out on anything of real value.

If you’re looking for a traditional premium streaming subscription, check out our Editors’ Choice picks including Netflix (for original shows), Hulu (for live and on-demand content), and Peacock (for free TV shows and movies).

For more on streaming, see our five reasons to ditch your video subscription and keep cable. Learn how to pick streaming services that fit your budget, and enjoy all sorts of reality show trash. Finally, check out our recommended streaming video guides if you don’t know what to watch.

Cons

  • Relatively expensive for what it offers

  • Little benefit compared with free YouTube

  • Unexciting original shows

The Bottom Line

YouTube Premium offers handy perks, such as offline downloads and ad-free playback, but you can enjoy the bulk of what the YouTube platform offers without a paid subscription.

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