With Google apparently readying a new way to listen to YouTube in the form of YouTube Music Key, you'll finally have the option to use the video service in an audio-only mode for background playback, along with other features like offline access. The service sounds exciting, but it hasn't been officially announced and has no launch date. You want a solution to listen to music via YouTube right now.
Luckily, there are apps available right now that can provide at least some of the functionality Music Key is said to deliver.
The following apps can all play the audio from YouTube videos in the background, which is really what you want to do, right? They range from full-fledged YouTube app replacements to simplified solutions that do a lot less.
Pros: This is a video player that offers up a wealth of options, and it's not limited to YouTube. It also searches Daily Motion, Vimeo, and NicoVideo. Pvstar+ is loaded with features, the most important of which is this: any time you're playing a video, you can always press home to listen to the audio in the background. A built-in Music mode provides a similar function, but will restrict video from playing at all.
If you're willing to spend the $2.46, Pvstar+ PRO will remove the ads found in the free version.
Cons: One thing I found rather annoying about using Pvstar+ is the way it places not one, but two persistent notifications in your notification panel: One to control the media you're listening to and one for a Pvstar+ Network Service that does nothing obvious to help you. With a little research, it seems that this notification appears on smartphones and tablets running Android 4.3 and higher, as per Android's requirement that background running processes show a persistent notification.
PVSTAR+ Pro ($2.46)
FREEdi YouTube Player
Pros: Freedi is another YouTube video player that you can run in the background for audio. Since this is more than just a YouTube radio, there are a fistful of features to take advantage of, like HD video playback using network data, and search autocomplete.
Cons: Despite it's relatively easy to use UI, there are some odd design choices that make controlling video playback a bit unintuitive. A few icon placements are redundant and can make the streaming videos in the background seem confusing until you get the hang of the sometimes-wonky navigation.
When listening to a video in the background, you'll get a persistent notification in your notification panel, but no media controls, requiring you to jump back into the app if you want to skip to the next song on a playlist.
FREEdi YouTube Player (Free)
Pros: UListen focuses on the YouTube audio experience and nothing else. With no video support and only the most basic of functions, this is my go-to app for listening to YouTube.
In addition to streaming audio from YouTube videos, UListen allows you to create playlists and favorite videos. It also has a nifty sleep timer if you want to doze off to your favorite tunes at night.
While the bulk of UListen's functionality is streaming music, it also has a decent number of settings to tweak as you wish. You can change the theme and audio quality options, as well as backup your playlists and app settings. This is the extent of what the app can do. If you're looking for a simple and streamlined experience, look no further.
Cons: UListen's search is really weak at times, so you'll have to search in broad strokes. Sometimes searching for the same thing twice will yield different results. If you run into this issue, clearing the app data or uninstalling and reinstalling might fix the problem.
It also lacks an autocomplete function when searching for videos, which can make it hard to find titles or artists that are difficult to spell.
Pros: This app has a lot of potential. So much so that once it irons out some kinks, it could easily replace the current YouTube app. Technically speaking, Viral is a complete YouTube replacement, but with features and customization options you'd never find in the real thing.
The free version is called Viral Popup, and as the name suggests, you can allow YouTube videos and your own, local videos, to be opened in small popup windows that hover your screen so you can multitask.
Background playback isn't the primary feature for Viral, given that it can do so much more. But if you're playing a video with Viral, you'll still hear the audio when your press home. Easy peasy.
Cons: Although it's a well designed app, Viral still looks like a mess half the time due to its many features. After using the app for a while, this might become less of an issue for you, but it often looks cluttered.
Another qualm I have with Viral is that it doesn't always behave like you think it should. When selecting videos to play, half the time a video would open in a popup window and the other half would open within the player. The built-in equalizer also made the app crash on two of the phones I tested Viral on.
Viral really is a great app. It just needs half the features and twice the stability to be the app it has the potential to be. Plus, charging $4.22 for the Pro version, just to remove ads, is steep.
Viral Pro ($4.22)