Amazon's Cloud Drive promises to let you store you music remotely and then stream it back to yourself wherever you are, but it is really that simple? We take a closer look at the new service to see whether it’s something that you should be getting excited about.
Put simply, Cloud Drive lets you store MP3s purchased from Amazon.com’s music shop, as well as your own digital music collection, and then store them in the company’s cloud like a virtual locker accessed via a browser or smartphone.
Jumping the gun on Google, Apple, and Spotify in the US this could be the future of digital music storage and start to pave the way for Amazon to dominate your music collection, just like it has your book library.
The immediate benefit of storing music in the cloud is, of course, the ability to access tracks from an internet enabled smartphone – just Android devices at the moment - as well as multiple computers, while the immediate downside is that you’ll need Internet access to play your music – no good on the plane for example – and that you’ll then be tied into a monthly subscription if you’re a power user.
Cloud Drive offers consumers up to 5GB of free storage with paid options from 20GB, 50GB, 100GB, 200GB, 500GB, and 1,000GB priced at $1 USD per gigabyte. At $1 USD per gigabyte, a 200GB plan would cost $200 USD per year.
To kick off the service, Cloud Drive users who purchase an album from Amazon’s MP3 store get an automatic upgrade to 20GB of storage for one whole year, and all new Amazon MP3 purchases saved to Cloud Drive do not count against your storage quota. Amazon is doing everything it can to encourage purchases from Amazon.com rather than a competitor like iTunes, and tie you into that yearly subscription.
Once you’ve chosen a plan on Amazon’s site, you will be asked to download and install the MP3 Uploader Tool, designed to transfer music files from a computer to the cloud. Both Mac- and PC-compatible, the tool runs on Adobe Air, which requires an additional download in case it is not already installed.
Once fully installed, the system runs a scan of music files on the computer, giving an alert if the plan chosen has enough storage space available. An average user probably has between 20GB – 50GB. A quick straw poll around the office found that while most of the team in the UK had moved to Spotify subscriptions, the average was around 5000 songs taking up around 25GB.
Of course, the software lets the user select manually which songs, artists, or playlists to upload into the cloud so users can upload as much or as little music as wanted.
Once you’ve uploaded a music collection or selected music into the web-based program, you can navigate through the collection within the Cloud Player.
Upload speed will depend on your broadband speed. Those on a faster connection (remember it has to be fast up, not just fast down) will be able to transfer their collection quickly. If you’ve got a lot of music expect this to take some time though.
Users cannot upload audiobooks, ringtones, files larger than 100MB, or FLAC, OGG, WAV, AVI, MOV or any other files not recorded in ACC or MP3 format. Users can still store these files and videos within the cloud, they just will not play within the Amazon Cloud Player.
Using the Cloud Player
The Cloud Player has a play/pause button, forward, back, shuffle, loop, and volume controls featured along the bottom of the player, which makes playing music within the system simple.
Users can sort music by artist, song, album, or genre by selecting options in the left column, much like an iTunes or MP3tunes would offer. The navigation is intuitive and easy-to-use, especially if you’ve used any sort of MP3 player option in the past.
Although the Cloud Player is not compatible with iPod or iPad, the player does indeed import certain iTunes setting such as playlists created within iTunes, Smart Playlists, and Genius Playlists.
Checking-in and checking-out
It’s not all plain sailing however. Something that may not be clear to every user is movement between the cloud and a computer. For example, if a user moves a particular song into the cloud, it will no longer exist on a computer and vice versa.
To move a track from the cloud back to a computer, a user must select a Cloud Drive file or folder and click the download button located above the file list. It’s like you’re checking out a book from your local library. It’s a strange and sometimes complicated experience that will no doubt force you to just leave everything in the cloud- presumably something that Amazon wants, ditching local playback completely.
This checking-in / checking-out feature covers new purchases on Amazon.com too. You can set it so any purchases are automatically downloaded straight to the Cloud Player rather than onto your computer for example, but likewise this can be turned off.
On the go
You can choose exactly which computer you’d like to send music to, for example your home computer rather than your work computer and this comes in handy especially if you choose to upload only playlists or particular music into the cloud – the idea really is to get you to store everything in the cloud to benefit.
One of the main reasons for using Amazon Cloud Drive is to access music from a smartphone as well as a computer. After downloading the Amazon MP3 app to an Android phone (in our case, a Droid phone), set-up is fairly simple with choices to enter the Amazon MP3 Store or to launch the Amazon Cloud Player.
Once inside the Cloud Player, the app asks if you’d like to access music on the phone itself “on-device” or if you’d like to sign into the “Cloud Drive Music.”
Upon selecting “Cloud Drive Music” and entering my Amazon login credentials, there was the music uploaded to the cloud earlier in the day.
Creating playlists within the app requires naming the list and adding songs by clicking the “+” icon next to each file within the cloud. Removing tracks or adding new songs to a playlist is a synch as is downloading songs onto the phone itself (perfect for train rides) by clicking the download icon.
There is a search button within the application, which makes searching for long lost songs from the 90s easy as well.
More than just music
It’s clear that this is a Spotify or iTunes competitor rather than taking on Dropbox or Google Docs. You’re expected to store music here not your Excel spreadsheets. While the later might be Amazon’s plan, currently the system just isn’t set up for a file-sharing service in our minds.
Amazon Cloud Drive is a prime example of an early stage platform designed for multi-device sync, although not yet perfect. Why? Because the Cloud Drive is not both a cloud-based music system as well as a backup system. For example, the Cloud Drive does not include sharing options and backup features like folder monitoring and background uploading, which makes it less of a storage solution and more of a cross-device music solution.
As it becomes more and more important to access Internet files, music, video, and pictures across computers and mobile phones, there is a growing trend towards multi-device compatibility – Amazon’s rumoured tablet for example – however until then think music not documents.
With a real lack of competitors in the US, Amazon has ventured out on its own with this one trying to steal the march on Google, Apple, and Spotify before they all launch in the US.
The service is likely to appeal to those who’ve already got a large collection of perhaps eclectic tracks that music services are still trying to fill in. For that it’s great and will serve a huge void left by the likes of Spotify or Pandora for example as they continue to fill in the gaps in their library’s.
Additionally for anyone with a small music collection this gives you your music on the go without having to worry about multiple copies stored everywhere, and means when that Amazon tablet does come, you won’t have to opt for the one with the biggest storage capacity.
However those hoping that the Cloud Drive means a drive for all your files, don’t get too excited. Amazon isn’t there yet.
As of now, there is no officially launch date scheduled for the UK, although it’s clearly a matter of time until the product is released. We presume the holdup is music licensing legalities within the UK, rather than Amazon’s inability to roll out the service globally.