Juli gave her review of Amazon Prime Music yesterday. Now I’ll have my say.
First of all, as Slate and the Verge point out in their reviews, Amazon Prime Streaming Music is not a Pandora or Spotify killer, and it’s not meant to be. It really isn’t even a new service at all, so much as an extension of an old one. Amazon has offered cloud music storage since 2011, after all. You can already upload music to Amazon’s cloud and stream it, or stream mp3s you buy from Amazon’s mp3 store. Prime Streaming Music just lets you stream a bunch more stuff, too.
It’s a lot like Amazon Prime Streaming Video, when you get right down to it. Not really quite enough to compete with other services by itself—the selection’s not as good as competitors’, and the price for Prime is a bit more than you’d pay for the other guys. But the important thing here isn’t value by itself; it’s value added to the $99 per year free two-day shipping service that was already a pretty great deal. (And the release of it the week before Amazon’s due to launch a mysteeeerious new smartphone gizmo can’t exactly be a coincidence, either.)
In a way, being an add-on service rather than a new service makes Amazon Prime Streaming Music a little awkward to work with. Say that you find an album you want to stream. Do you just start streaming it with one click? No; first you have to click on “Add to Library” so it becomes considered a part of the music collection you’ve already uploaded or bought from Amazon. Then you can click “Play in Library” to start playing it. That’s pretty clunky, especially from the site that patented one-click purchases. You’d think they would at least have an “Add to library and start playing” button.
From the app side, Amazon has apps for pretty much every platform out there, and the beauty of it being an add-on is that you don’t have to install a new one if you were using an Amazon Music Cloud Player already. Next time you update, you get the Prime-enabled version. You can also play from the web or download a standalone app for your computer. You can even play it through a Roku. The apps have some cute little bells and whistles, like you can configure them to share what you’re listening to on Facebook if you feel like it. (It comes set not to share by default, and you have to enable it separately on each player you use to listen. Nice to see Amazon gets it right where privacy is concerned.)
If you’re listening on mobile, you have the option of downloading Prime music into your player (on up to four different devices simultaneously) so you can listen without having to stream it. This is convenient if you’re going to be in a spotty cell connection area, though I only noticed a couple of pauses while I was streaming over 3G. You can’t, of course, download tracks to your computer unless you go ahead and pay for them. Presumably they don’t want to give people a shot at cracking their DRM, heh. (Apparently the app itself is in a hidden directory on Android devices; I looked for it but couldn’t find it.)
The selection isn’t great if you look at it as a streaming service qua streaming service. Whether you’ll find your favorite artists there is hit or miss. I found a lot of Talking Heads, but only one single Golden Earring song and no Jim Steinman. And as other reviews have pointed out, you don’t get the very newest stuff. (But then, you don’t tend to get the newest stuff in Prime’s free movie streaming, either.)
But being able to listen effectively free (and ad-free) to the stuff I did find—Lindsey Stirling’s first album, or the soundtrack to the first season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, or a great collection of excerpts from Joe Hisaishi’s Miyazaki movie scores—was terrific. So search your favorite artists or movie soundtracks, and if they’re there, bonus! If not, well, you didn’t pay anything extra anyway, so it’s not like you can really complain.
It’s not without its problems, though. If it has a million tracks available, what you’d like to do would be to play through them radio style, with some sort of music match service like Pandora or Spotify let you do. And doesn’t Amazon have that super-duper recommendation engine for telling you if you liked one thing you’d like something else? The problem is, that capability isn’t there yet. You can add albums to your library, or you can listen to human-curated playlists, but the sort of automatic random shuffle music-by-genre thing Amazon and Spotify do just isn’t there yet.
And this leads me to the one major problem with Prime Streaming Music that is, for my money, a big one. And it has to do with, well, my money. It’s actually more a problem with Amazon’s cloud music service as a whole rather than just the Prime Streaming part. If you can’t play new music randomly without first selecting it and adding it to your library, it might at least be nice to be able to shuffle the new stuff in with some of the music you already have on your hard drive. And you’d think that a cloud music storage service ought to be able to let you do that.
The problem is, when it comes to uploading music from your own hard drive to the cloud, Amazon cloud music limits you to exactly the same 250 tracks (on top of any music bought from Amazon) that a non-Prime subscriber gets, unless you pay $25 per year more for a 250,000-track allowance. Google Play Music, on the other hand, gives you a 20,000-track allowance for free. I have about 12,000 tracks in my music collection; guess which service I’m using for my uploaded-to-cloud music?
I just don’t have much room for storing music files on my SD-cardless Moto X, but I get “unlimited” 3G, and I need a service that can hold all my stuff. What I don’t need is to have to pay an extra $25 per year for twenty times more storage than I’ll ever need on top of the $99 I’m already paying Amazon for Prime to begin with. Frankly, it’s a little insulting. (I actually looked up Jeff Bezos’s email address and sent a complaint, and got a letter back from an Amazon customer service rep thanking me for my feedback.) So I end up splitting my cloud music use across those two services.
Anyway, it’s early days for Prime Streaming yet. I imagine it will get a better selection of music over time, and it might add a random play service if enough customers say they want it. Who knows, maybe they’ll even give Prime subscribers a cloud storage bump. All that aside: if you’ve already got Amazon Prime, then yes, you should take advantage of all this music that you’re already paying for. If you don’t have it yet, well, I’m doubtful that this will be the camel’s back-breaking straw that tips you over into going out and getting it, but who knows?