Mobile Cloud Music Showdown – Locker Services, 1st Place: Amazon Cloud Player
Ed. – This article is part of our roundup featuring all of the mobile cloud music services currently available in the US. Click here for more.
Amazon.com, the little online bookseller that has morphed into the Walmart of the Web, launched their MP3 store almost 4 years ago at 2M songs and hasn’t looked back since. Their success even saw Apple following their lead, adding high-quality DRM-free tracks to the iTunes store well after Amazon debuted them. They’ve beaten Apple to the market with their Amazon Cloud Player, and at #1 on our list, it’s obviously made an impression. But will it be able to fend off the impending iCloud?
5GB of storage free; 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 & 1000GB plans for $1/GB. Current promotion gives all paid accounts (20GB+) unlimited storage of DRM-free MP3 and AAC files. Integrated Amazon MP3 store has 16 million songs for sale to date–and purchased songs don’t count against storage limits. Files are stored in the same format/bitrate that they were uploaded in.
Software Stability/Ease of Use
The Amazon Cloud Player software was easily the cleanest and most responsive piece of software we encountered during our testing. Not once during our test did the software crash or lock up on us (though 4G network issues stopped playback at one point), and the app’s design and animations were smooth. The “Now Playing” interface features artwork prominently, taking up half of the available screen real estate in portrait and about 1/3 in landscape orientation. Contextual menus (accessed via long button presses) gave us options to download tracks to our phone, add to the now playing queue, add to a playlist or find songs by that artist in the Amazon store. The store is accessible by a link along the top of the player at all times. The app was missing a convenient “shuffle all songs” button, though the function was achievable by choosing a song from the “songs” tab and pressing the shuffle button on the “Now Playing” screen. One annoying bug caused the player to occasionally skip ahead to the next track before the currently playing track was finished.
But what makes Amazon Cloud Player unique is the availability of purchased music. Their music store is massive (16M tracks), and many full length albums are available for $5 or less. We did find it annoying that some releases could only be purchased at a computer rather than on the mobile app, however. But the seamless integration of Amazon’s MP3 store into our Cloud Player account separates it from the pack; no other music locker offers anything like it.
Playback speed was excellent. The mobile app was extremely responsive and songs buffered and played quickly over Wi-Fi and 4G LTE connections (3-4 second average). The album art loaded a bit slower, but didn’t halt playback of the song, and was in high-resolution to boot.
Software Stability/Ease of Use
Getting your music to Amazon’s cloud requires an odd combo of their Web site and locally installed software. In the Web version of the cloud player, clicking the “Upload Your Music” button prompts the desktop client to pop up and quickly goes to work. It scans for music in iTunes (Windows Media Center on PCs), but gives the option to halt the scan and browse for music manually for users with low patience thresholds. After scanning the library, it compares it to your Cloud Drive for duplicates. Once loaded, drop down menus show Playlists, Artists, Albums and Songs. They can be checked or unchecked at any level, and uploaded by pressing “start upload.” The estimated time to upload our entire library was >99 hours, a wait time negated by the limitations of our free 5GB account.
The Web player shares much of its visual aesthetic with the mobile app, and over a strong Wi-Fi connection is equally as responsive. As fervent collectors of album art in our digital music collection, we appreciated the implementation of album cover thumbnails when browsing in the “Artist” or “Album” view. Controls were intuitively located, with the more frequently used buttons marked in bright yellow. The player control bar along the bottom of the browser window has all the basic controls, as well as a scrubber bar with a buffer indicator. Music is organized along the left side column by Song, Album, Artist and Genre. Playlists can be viewed, added and edited, and two “smart” playlists list recent uploads and purchases.
The 500 or so songs we uploaded took about 4 hours, making it the fastest upload of the services we tested. It certainly helped that the software never crashed or even lag during the process.
The Cloud Player offers by far the most flexibility of the music lockers, with seemingly no restrictions on what you can do with your music. Uploaded music is stored exactly as it was uploaded, with no transcoding. It can be downloaded to any device or accessed anywhere with a Web browser. But Amazon’s huge advantage here is the ability to seamlessly purchase music over the air and add it to their Cloud Drive, something none of the other locker services can offer.
Their current unlimited music promotion is curious, considering the temporary nature of its availability. Though we love the feature, we’re not quite sure we understand the motivation of Amazon offering “unlimited music” storage; with the current promotion, anyone who signs up for a 20GB+ plan will be allowed unlimited storage of .mp3 and compressed .m4a (AAC only, no lossless) files. Considering files purchased from Amazon’s MP3 store don’t take up any of the allotted space, and Amazon is honoring the unlimited storage “for the duration of your existing plan term,” there doesn’t seem to be any reason to purchase a plan higher than 20GB at the moment.
Regardless of their motivations, the unlimited storage, combined with the quality of the software and the unparalleled music store has helped Amazon’s Cloud Player distance itself from the pack and stand alone as the best music locker service currently in the market.
Link: Amazon Cloud Player
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.