We take Amazon's new Cloud Drive music-streaming service for desktop browsers and Android handsets out for a spin.
Amazon says that tracks are streamed at the full bit rate of the original files, and it supports a number of file types. The files I uploaded were a mix of AAC and MP3 files at varying bit rates (though most are at 256 Kbps). I plugged in my good headphones (Shure SE-310s) and performed some side-by-side listening of the Cloud-streamed file and the one stored locally on my computer. I couldn't discern any differences between the two, so Cloud Drive gets a thumbs up from me -- at least with respect to quality.
The other reason to bother with all this is so that you can access your music from an Android smartphone. In order to do that, Amazon has created an entirely new version of its Amazon MP3 Store for Android handsets. Download and install that, and you'll have access to an app that plays local files, allows you to shop for new files, and allows you to stream the music stored in Cloud Drive.
I tested streaming playback on a Motorola Droid X over both 3G and Wi-Fi. In my listening, I have to say the music streamed wirelessly to the Droid X didn't sound quite as good as the real file, but it was definitely better than what you'd get from the free versions of Slacker or Pandora (no offense, guys!). The Android app is pretty decent, though I wouldn't use it to play back any music that I might have stored on the handset.
The Cloud Drive Player won't work through the browser of any of the iOS devices I have laying about, despite a number of tricks I know to get around Amazon's blocks.
Before you jump into Amazon's music cloud, consider these drawbacks:
Drawback Number 1. Using Cloud Drive on either a handset or laptop browser requires an Internet connection, so there are plenty of places where this service won't work and/or be accessible at all.
Drawback Number 2. The software tools are scrappy and don't function well.
Drawback Number 3. Streaming services such as Slacker work instantly and allow users to cache music locally for use in offline modes.
Drawback Number 4. Cloud Drive takes effort and time to set up properly, even if you only want to upload a few dozen tracks.
Will I continue to use Cloud Drive? On occasion, I suppose, when I am using a device that has good Internet connectivity and no music stored locally.
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