By April 15, 2011

Amazon MP3 Cloud Player and Android OS App Review

Amazon launched Cloud Drive, their personal cloud storage program in March of this year. It offers 5GB of free storage for United States customers, with the option to upgrade to up to a terabyte of storage. I already use an online backup storage service called CrashPlan, so their service wasn’t of interest to me.

What was of interest to me was their Cloud MP3 player, launched the same day.

Overview

The service allows people to upload MP3 songs from their computers to their Amazon cloud storage account. There is a Web browser-based music player and a streaming app for Android OS mobile devices. This means you can listen to your music anywhere at any time as long as you have an Internet connection.

MP3 files are stored to Amazon’s data cloud, an array of computer storage and processing. You may keep your music there, or you may download it to your computer or Android OS device. It’s not an either-or situation; you can download songs to your computer and still keep them on your cloud drive. I really like this flexibility.

Online storage

Music you upload counts towards your 5GB free storage limit. However, MP3 songs purchased from Amazon after March 29, 2011 don’t count towards your storage limit. Unfortunately prior music purchased from Amazon does count towards your limit. If you purchase an album from Amazon’s MP3 store before December 31, 2011 Amazon will give you 20GB of storage for free for a year. Otherwise storage is sold at $1 per GB in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000GB increments.

I wasn’t thinking when I bought my first MP3 album after the Cloud Player launched, but I wonder if “buying” a free album will count towards activating your free storage. I buy quite a few albums through Amazon’s MP3 service, so this wasn’t a big deal to me. I knew I was going to get the 20GB sooner or later.

Uploading files to the Amazon Cloud Drive can be done in two ways. One is the free Amazon MP3 Uploader “helper” application. This method is accessed by opening your Web Cloud Player and clicking the “Upload to Your Cloud” drive button in the upper left hand corner.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/10209-2/mp3+uploader+application.PNG

I really dislike the Amazon MP3 Uploader interface. The biggest drawback is that you select folders by browsing only, which makes it difficult to just upload specific folders. I keep all of my MP3s in a folder on a network backup drive, and I don’t want to upload everything to Amazon. I’d much rather have a drag-and-drop interface so I can more easily choose the albums I want to upload.

The other way to upload music is through the standard Cloud Drive Web interface. This uses a typical Windows Explorer-style browse interface that allows you to navigate directly to a folder. This isn’t drag and drop, either, but it allows for more granularity more easily than the Uploader application. There is a 2GB per file upload limit, but unless you are into jam band music this probably won’t matter to you.

The Web player

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/10202-2/amazon+cloud+mp3+web+player.png

The Web player is pretty no-frills. You can see all of your music according to albums, songs, artists, genres, and various states (most recently uploaded, most recently purchased, etc). You can build your own playlists, which is to be expected.

Player controls are super simple: play/pause, forward and back one track, random and repeat. You can drag the shuttle bar to fast forward or rewind a track. When you play a song, a thumbnail of the album cover appears, along with the song’s metadata like artist, album, length, and so on. Pretty bare-bones stuff.

There are no visualizations, which is kind of a bummer for me. I like watching visualizations during particularly boring conference calls or while working out.

The best thing about the Web player is that it appears to run over port 443, which is the default port for secure HTTPS traffic. This means that if your work blocks places like Pandora (also awesome) then you might be able to get to the Amazon Web player. My work currently blocks a lot of streaming music services including Pandora, and I had to listen to online music on my phone until I started using the Amazon MP3 Cloud Web player.

The Android Player

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/10205-2/amazon+cloud+mp3+android+review.png

The Android OS player has a very similar interface to the Web player. That’s an expected feature in this day and age, but the familiarity is important and adds to the Cloud MP3’s easy user experience. You may tap on the “list” icon (right underneath the MP3 store icon) to access your music and set up playlists. The application is pretty easy to use and loads quickly on my HTC Droid Incredible.

Just like the Web player, you may stream music or download it. Downloading is a “nice to have” feature on the phone, but I don’t have a use for it personally. Still, good on Amazon for providing the flexibility.

One thing that I dislike about the Amazon Android player is that the music skips. A lot. I almost never have a problem while listening to Pandora. I’ve had a few hiccups with the Pandora Android app as I go from one mobile tower to another, but nothing like I’ve experienced with the Amazon player. I’ve had at least three pauses / skips a day since I started using the player last week. Verizon is my mobile carrier and I know that there are some bald spots in my building where the network falls back to 1x. However I don’t have the same problems with Pandora.

It’s possible that Amazon streams at a higher bitrate for quality, or it could be that Pandora’s client is better, or a little bit of both. All I know is that I stopped listening to the Android player and went back to Pandora.

Conclusion

The Amazon Cloud MP3 service is pretty awesome and shows a lot of promise. I’d like to see prior Amazon MP3 purchases grandfathered into the free storage clause and the Uploader user experience needs an overhaul.

I would like to see bitrate settings on the Android client in case that makes a difference with the pausing / drops. I’d also like to see sharing options; either in the form of recommending songs / albums to friends or in “your friends are listening to” type lists. The Amazon service obviously lacks the recommendation engine of Pandora and similar services, but this might be a nice “social networking” alternative. If I had to ask for the world, visualizations would be pretty sweet but totally unnecessary.

I recommend giving the service a try, particularly if you’re an Android OS smart phone user and purchase Amazon MP3s.

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