Amazon has a new music package, with a really catchy name: Music Unlimited.
The web giant’s on-demand music service now holds a catalogue of 40 million songs (Spotify has over 30 million, while Apple Music has over 40 million) which can be accessed by Prime subscribers – ad-free – for an additional £7.99/month or £79/year, or £9.99/month for non-Prime members (both Spotify and Apple Music are £9.99/month).
But there’s another subscription option that nudges users toward one of Amazon’s other products – the Echo speaker, with its personal AI, Alexa.
For £3.99/month, Echo owners can assign a full Amazon Music Unlimited subscription to one speaker. For a chunk less than a full subscription, you sacrifice access via your laptop, phone or any other device, to gain access 40 million songs via the smartest speaker ever made.
I’ve been using both an Echo (£149.99, with substantial in-built speaker) and Echo Dot (£49.99, with insubstantial in-built speaker) in my house for over a month. Once you’ve uttered the command “Alexa, play James Blake/classical/the new Ariana Grande album (it’s a banger)”, you’ll never want to touch a screen ever again. It’s an experience worthy of splashing £49.99 on for an Echo Dot (which you can then connect to a larger speaker should you need to), it’s really that special.
Alexa is clever. Really clever. She can read you news briefings from your preferred news sources, tune into radio stations for you, give you football scores, order you an Uber, change the colour of your smart lights, adjust your smart thermostat – you know, smart home ‘stuff’ and things you usually ask Google. A trickle of apps have emerged to make the most of Echo’s voice-only interface, like Meow! – which drives your pet cat mental by making it think there’s another cat in your house – or the game Hunt the Yeti.
As I’m not bothered by smart home gadgets (if I need mood lighting I light a candle, okay?), the predominant use of my Echo is for music. Yes, I could connect my phone to a speaker and play all my playlists like I have since 2009 – but the ease at which the Echo can pump out your favourite tunes has relegated the old ritual of connecting to speakers via Bluetooth to the level of “needless faff”. If you don’t own a decent speaker – Bluetooth or otherwise – then the larger Echo is good value at £149.99, but I’d suggest you buy the Dot and a really good portable Bluetooth speaker for £99. Then you’ve got a multipurpose speaker, all the benefits of the Alexa AI, and an insanely good music subscription offer.
If you do own an Echo, the £3.99 Echo Plan offer is a staggeringly good deal; more than half the price of a Spotify/Apple Music subscription. Sure, running the Echo Plan on just one Echo Dot is limiting: you can’t take your music with you on your phone, nor move it around your house that easily – which might be a deal breaker. But if you only listen to music in your living room/live in a small flat, for the price of a pint a month you can get all the music you can cram in your ears via the smartest speaker system ever made for £49.99.
Alternatively, the Echo can connect to your Spotify account, letting you access playlists and artists that you’ve been listening to on your other Spotify-enabled devices. If you prefer the Spotify interface and don’t own a Prime account, stick with your Spotify service.
Frustratingly, the Echo can’t play music directly from Apple Music (a problem which is apparently down to Apple, not Amazon. You have to use the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker, which is just naff). If you prefer your music Apple flavoured, stay far, far away from the Echo. It doesn’t have any delights for you.
If you already have an Amazon Prime account, I’d suggest ditching your Spotify/Apple Music subscription for Amazon’s Music Unlimited offer – regardless of whether you have an Echo. You’ll save money, and you’ll be seriously hard pushed to find an artist not on Amazon’s lists.
Or you could shun the digital age and carry on buying music on vinyl.