Lauren Goode

Demystifying Amazon’s Cloud Player

Moving your digital music files from your old computer to your phone to your laptop to your new computer used to be a lengthy and annoying process, especially for consumers with thousands of tracks from different music sources. Now, with tech companies offering “cloud,” or Web server-based, storage solutions for music, you can theoretically access files from any device with an Internet connection.

But for most consumers, the concept of cloud storage and music “matching” services are still confusing, even as these services aim to streamline your music-listening experience.

For this week’s review, I tested Amazon’s Cloud Player, a Web and mobile app that automatically recognizes the music files you’ve already purchased, adds those same tracks to your Amazon cloud account, and then lets you stream those files on up to 10 devices, even if you got the music from iTunes, from a CD, or some other source.

Amazon is able to do this in part because it recently obtained the music rights from the four major record labels in the U.S. The service is now more comparable to iTunes Match, Apple’s cloud-based service, which similarly scans and matches non-iTunes music files on up to 10 devices.

The Cloud Player will also store and play the music you’ve purchased via Amazon, and consumers might be surprised to know that some newer, popular songs that cost $1.29 in iTunes are only 99 cents on Amazon.

I found Amazon’s Cloud Player easy to use, despite the fact that I admittedly didn’t “get” scan-and-match services before. I liked the user interface of the Amazon Cloud Player mobile app, and after more than a week of testing, I was regularly using it as an alternative app to iTunes on my iPhone. I even felt compelled, for the first time, to purchase music files from Amazon.com. But users are restricted from buying songs through the Cloud Player app on Apple devices, which means I might continue using it for listening to and streaming — but not buying — music.

A third player worth noting here is Google Play, which lets you keep up to 20,000 songs in a Google cloud “locker” for no charge. But Google Play requires you to upload all of the songs to this digital locker yourself, since Google doesn’t yet have the rights to scan and create a match of your library for you, so I didn’t thoroughly test this service.

Amazon’s Cloud Player app is free to download, and users can buy or upload up to 250 songs from their computers to the Cloud Player at no charge. After that, the service costs $25 a year, the same price Apple charges for iTunes Match. The paid version of Cloud Player offers storage for up to 250,000 non-Amazon-purchased songs, whereas Apple’s iTunes Match has a limit of 25,000 songs.

These two services are able to automatically scan and match your songs for you, but only if the songs can actually be matched within their libraries. The Amazon MP3 store sells more than 20 million songs, compared with the iTunes catalog of 28 million songs, though some of that music may not be available to match, due to license agreements.

With that basic understanding of how it works, I downloaded and used the Amazon Cloud Player on three devices: On my iPhone, on an Android-based Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, and on the Web. I also downloaded the Cloud Player app onto Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, and from there was able to wirelessly stream music to a Sonos speaker.

Using it on the Web involved scanning my computer for music files and importing them into the Cloud Player. Of my 622 current iTunes files, Amazon was able to match and import 415 of them.

I also installed a download manager that would push my newly purchased songs on Amazon.com to my Cloud Player — as well as iTunes — immediately. In my experience, this process was pretty speedy, taking about 15 minutes total.

While the Web-based Cloud Player could use a design refresh, I liked the look and feel of the mobile app. There are two tabs at the top of the app — Cloud and Device — and by toggling between the two tabs, I got a clear idea of where the music files were coming from. The Cloud songs were the ones uploaded to my Amazon Cloud Player account, and the Device songs were the ones that Amazon recognized from the iTunes on my iPhone, which are stored on my device. (On the iTunes app, the file origins are identified by a cloud symbol next to some files, which might have a line through it or an “X” through it, if the file can’t be matched or is inaccessible.)

Within the mobile app I opted to auto-download Amazon MP3 purchases, so the app would constantly update with new files I purchased — just like it did in the Cloud Player Web site. It would also refresh my Cloud library every 10 minutes. These features require a cellular or Wi-Fi Internet connection in order to work.

Even with the auto-upload feature activated, I would still have to go into my list of songs and press a little orange arrow to download and play the purchased song through the Cloud Player. When I was in a place without a strong Internet connection, like the lower level of my gym, this could take awhile, or not work at all. One of the songs I purchased on Amazon.com seemed to get “stuck” in the mobile app, and wouldn’t download even when I had a strong Internet connection. Amazon didn’t have an explanation for this. I also experienced some delays in song starts when trying to play matched iTunes songs from the Cloud side of the Amazon app.

But once you’ve downloaded the purchased songs into your Cloud Player app, you can listen to them later, even if you don’t have a network connection. To test this, I occasionally put my iPhone on Airplane mode, and I was still able to listen to songs.

I could easily buy Amazon MP3s from the Web and through the Cloud Player app on Android devices, including the Kindle Fire. Not surprisingly, though, I wasn’t able to purchase music from the Cloud Player app on my iPhone, my primary device. So when I was on the go and really wanted to download a song, I’d default to iTunes, even if some songs were cheaper on Amazon.

Despite that restriction, I found Amazon’s Cloud Player to be a worthwhile, easy-to-use cloud service and music-playing app, one I’ll likely continue to use even if I purchase and acquire music elsewhere.


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