Review: Apple Music Voice Plan is great but frustrating, depends largely on your relationship with Siri

Apple Music Voice Plan reviewed by Daniel Rutledge on Newshub.
Being forced to use your voice when you want to use touch control is annoying. Photo credit: Getty Images

Recently Apple launched a new, cheaper option for its premium music streaming service called the Apple Music Voice Plan.

In New Zealand it costs $7.50 per month, which is half the price of a standard subscription to either Apple Music or its principal rival Spotify.

Obviously, the US tech giant takes away some of the features of its premium plan to make the Voice plan cheaper - so who is this new plan good for?

I've been using the Apple Music Voice Plan for a week and can say it's not for me. But it might be for you if you don't need all the features of a premium plan, hate ads, want to save money but aren't a student and - crucially - if you have a good relationship with Siri.

How well do you get along with Siri?

If you swear at Siri often because she doesn't understand you and does random stuff instead of what you asked for, well, this isn't the plan for you.

But it is undeniably great to be able to access to 85 million songs, ad-free, for less than $10 per month; especially considering I used to save up $30 - $40 in pocket money for a CD every few weeks when I was a youngster.

If you are a student, you can get Apple Music's main plan - or Spotify's - for $7.50 per month with a student discount. There's no question that either is substantially better than the Voice plan.

The Voice plan is missing a bunch of fancy stuff you get with Apple's more expensive options like in-app song lyrics, seeing what your friends are listening to, spatial audio with Dolby Atmos and lossless audio - all features you can easily do without if needs be.

It's harder to do without being able to download any music at all through the app, meaning you always need a good internet connection to listen to music. It's also tough that with this plan you can't make any of your own playlists.

But the hardest thing of all about is its reliance on Siri.

In what feels like a very un-Apple move, the company appears to have intentionally built in frustration to block basic functionality in the app. Apple is generally adept at taking the thinking out of tech, making using it as seamless and simple as possible - so it's jarring not being able to play music I am looking at on my iPhone by simply touching it.

Although you can use touch control to type in an artist, album, genre, playlist or whatever, once you've found it, you can't simply push to play it. The Voice plan means you have to vocally say "Hey Siri" to get the music you've just searched for playing, even though you're staring at it on your screen.

Not only is this unintuitive and inconvenient, it can also be embarrassing when you use this in public. Think about music you like listening to on your headphones or earbuds - now think about loudly asking Siri to play that music while by yourself in a busy but quiet café.

It's also a problem having to speak up if you're near someone sleeping.

Apple Music Voice Plan UI display on iPhone.
Photo credit: Apple / Newshub.

There are some functions that aren't locked to Siri that you can traditionally operate on your device. You can push "play it again" on the app along with cranking into other recommendations like Siri suggestions I got "Play the Today's Easy Hits playlist" or "Play The Metallica Blacklist by Metallica".

You can use touch controls to skip to the next song, last song, pause and play even from your iPhone's locked screen, too, which is great.

But searching for music in the app then having to use your voice to actually play it can be super frustrating.

One of the first things I did with the service was use my thumb to type "Space 92" into the search bar. The French techno artist I was after was the top result, so I pushed his name and went to his artist page. The top track listed was 'Insomnia', but when I touched it, a pop-up ad for the full Apple Music premium service popped up.

Perhaps worse: A preview of the track then played through the phone's speaker, while a different song I was already playing via the app was simultaneously playing though my Homepod Mini. The nasty sound clash ended as I vocally said aloud "Hey Siri, play 'Insomnia' from Space 92" and it switched to that on the Homepod Mini.

For me, the times Siri works best in Apple Music - better than touch control even - is for quite specific time things. "Hey Siri, skip forward 16 seconds" and "Hey Siri, go to one minute in", for example, did exactly as they should.

There's also times when your hands are busy or you're not near your device, so commanding Siri to pause, play, stop and change the volume up or down is very handy.

But Apple really wants you to use Siri with this plan for everything, particularly actually getting music playing to start with.

So exactly how good is Siri with the Apple Music Voice Plan?

I tried out a bunch of different commands with the plan and here's how each went:

  • "Hey Siri play me the album Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd," started playing the album from start to finish - no ads, no problem. Great!     
  • "Hey Siri, play me some harcore techno," gave me DJ Techno's 'Tetris (Hardcore Remix)'. Not so good.
  • "Hey Siri, play 'Ready to Die' the song from Notorious BIG," gave me 'Da B Side' from Da Brat, feat. Notorious BIG. Not good.
  • "Hey Siri, play me the greatest music ever made," gave me "The Top 25 Songs", starting with Elton John and Dua Lipa's 'Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)'. I said "Hey Siri, this isn't the music I wanted - I wanted the greatest songs of all time." She replied: "OK, got it", and continued the PNAU remix. Hmm.
  • "Hey Siri, play some dinner music," gave me "weeknight dinner", starting with a Justin Bieber song. There's not many dinner situations in which I'd want to have Justin Bieber playing, if any.
  • "Hey Siri, play some jogging music," gave me "pop workout", starting with Ed Sheeran.
  • "Hey Siri, play some getting ready to go out music," gave me "pure party" , starting with Dua Lipa.
  • "Hey Siri, play me hanging with friends music," gave me "hanging with friends", starting with 'I Love You Baby' from Surf Mesa.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some sleep music," gave me "meditation", starting with a Pink Floyd track. It was a chilled out instrumental from the Endless River album, but not good for sleeping to. Then 'Disposition' from Tool came on - huh? "Hey Siri, what is this playlist?" I asked. She told me it was the 'meditation station'. Who meditates or sleeps to Pink Floyd and Tool? Fail. I love both bands but don't want to sleep or meditate to them.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some fighting music," gave me "songs to fight to", starting with 'Tear Da Club Up' from Three 6 Mafia, then SebastiAn's 'Dogg'. Pretty sweet.
  • When I said: "Hey Siri, play me some sex music," she replied: "OK, here's 'feel like having sex'," which started with Baby Rose's 'Marmot'. A colleague told me I had to include this one...
  • "Hey Siri, play some of the best Baroque classical music you've got," gave me "Baroque era", starting with Concerto Grosso No. 12 in B Minor HMV 330: 11. Allegro, by the Academy of Ancient Music & Andrew Manze.
  • "Hey Siri, play some chill night music," she struggled with. First she said there was nothing in my library and suggested I try a radio station instead. I tried the same command again and got a "chill house" playlist.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some Norwegian Black Metal," gave me - not that. At all. Instead, I got a playlist of music from artist The Black Dahlia Murder. I tried this a few times and got the same result. Eventually I tried: "Hey Siri, play me some music from bands like Mayhem and Burzum," and she gave me some German spoken word stuff, in Spotify. My accent, maybe?
  • "Hey Siri, play me the top pop hits of 2021," gave me "Top Pop Hits", starting with Elton John and Dua Lipa's 'Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)'.
  • "Hey Siri, throw on some hip music to impress my guests," gave me "The Top 25 Songs", starting with Elton John and Dua Lipa's 'Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)'. Yup, I heard that song quite a lot during my review period with the Apple Music Voice Plan.
  • Asking for Japanese pop goddess Namie Amuro was troublesome, but I got there after a couple of tries and with an attempted Australian accent on "Hey Siri, play me some Namie Amuro". Would probably be easier if I was using the Japanese version of Siri, I guess.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some K-pop," gave me a station called K-pop, starting with BEAST's 'Ribbon', then 'We Will Make a Mistake' from BLITZERS.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some new wave," gave me "new wave station", starting with Kajagoogoo's 'Too Shy'.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some top disco hits," gave me what I wanted - songs from Kool & The Gang, Stacy Lattisaw, Earth Wind & Fire, etc.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some 1970s psychedelic rock," gave me a "1970s psych rock" station starting with Golden Earring's 'Candy's Going Bad' one time, and 'Us and Them' from Pink Floyd another time. Nice.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some 2000s emo rock," gave me the "2000s emo" station, starting with Coheed and Cambria's 'A Favor House Atlantic', then Panic! At the Disco's 'I Write Sins Not Tragedies'.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some '80s power ballads," gave me "power ballads essentials", starting with 'Dream On' from Aerosmith, then 'Love Bites' from Def Leppard.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some '90s Britpop," gave me "1990s BritPop", starting with The Divine Comedy's 'Something for the Weekend', then Hurricane #1's 'Step Into My World'.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some '80s thrash metal," gave me Metallica's cover of 'Breadfan', then 'Trial By Fire' from Testament, then 'Metal on Metal' from Anvil and then 'Watch the Children Pray' from Metal Church. Very good.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some 2021 EDM club bangers," gave me "electronic for partying", starting with SBTRKT & Little Dragon's 'Wildfire', then ZHU x AlunaGeorge's 'Automatic'.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some alt country," gave me a station called "alt country", starting with Shovels & Rope's 'Bridge On Fire', then 'Drinkin'' from Holly Williams.
  • "Hey Siri, play me some New Zealand indie bands," gave me... nothing. She couldn't find it in my library, so suggested a station or different app.

I hope that rather long diary of my interactions with Siri paints a decent picture of what to expect when using the Voice plan as Apple intends.

If you want to listen to "baseball" music, Apple Music has you covered.
If you want to listen to "baseball" or "spa" music, Apple Music has you covered, apprently. Photo credit: Apple

I should add that Apple has recently beefed up its selections of music for moods and situations, which is why I included silly requests like "hanging with friends music".

Generally those sorts of features are not useful, unless miraculously you and your friends have exactly the same taste as the person who curated that list.

Maybe that's part of the target market of this plan: People who want to hear music but don't really care what specific music it is.

For that it is really good and comparitively cheap.

As I said earlier, this plan isn't for me, but I do like that it's now on offer. The greater variety of options we have for music streaming - or film, TV show and game streaming for that matter - the better.

Newshub was given access to Apple Music Voice Plan free for a week for this review.