Tech Break: Amazon Cloud Player

A couple of weeks ago Amazon launched Cloud Player, a component of their MP3 store that they hope will give them a leg up over Apple’s iTunes behemoth…and, actually, their idea just might work.

The concept of the new service is simple: provide free online storage for any album you buy from Amazon’s music store, with a highly capable player application for Android smartphones and tablets, as well as for web browsers on larger computers. If you want to re-download your music (something you can’t do with iTunes), you can…from anywhere.

Amazon realized that the service would not gain traction if people were limited to storing albums purchased on Amazon after the service went live, so they sweetened the pot by giving away 5GB of music storage for anyone with an Amazon account. That 5GB can be used to upload music not purchased on AmazonMP3. The storage allotment gets upgraded to 20GB for a year if you buy an album from AmazonMP3.

You can buy additional storage for $1 per GB per year in amounts ranging from 20GB to 1TB (1000GB), in case you have an extra-large music library…or if you want to store files of other types, since Amazon Cloud Drive (the service upon which Cloud Player is based) can store any file format you want to throw at it.

All of the above is well and good, but if a service like this has a poor user interface, it’s hamstrung from the start. Fortunately, Amazon’s website and Android music player (there’s no iPhone app…I blame iTunes) do not suffer from this issue. The web player is a little on the busy side, and the left-hand column, which lists playlists of various sorts, can’t be expanded horizontally, but the interface is still highly usable.

The Android app is better; my only complaints are its lack of a dark color scheme option and an Amazon Cloud Player banner that stays at the top of the player window, using up valuable screen real estate on smaller devices. Then again, both of these issues stem from Amazon trying to brand the player, which I guess is okay given the great deal they are handing out with online storage at this point.

One note with the Android app is that it likes to buffer a rather large section of the track being played before starting playback. This means that songs will not skip as readily due to poor network conditions, however it also means that music will take a few seconds to start playing over 3G. The solution to this is to download songs outright. One nice thing about downloads is that, if the song has already been buffered for playback, the “download” of that song happens instantly.

To sum things up, Amazon brings the “music locker” functionality of Lala back to a large, inexpensive online music store, with the advantage of Android compatability balancing the fact that you can’t get ten-cent unlimited-streaming music files from the company. Lala was, to everyone’s dismay, shut down after being sold to Apple last year, but Amazon Cloud Player provides a viable spiritual successor to that excellent service.

Anyone with an Android device should definitely push a few songs to the Amazon cloud and try the player out (again, the first 5GB of storage is free no matter what), as should anyone who bounces between several computers and hates trying to keep their music library synced between all of them. The service takes the problem of music sync for non-iDevices, solves it and does it in an inexpensive, user-friendly way; what’s not to like?

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