By JR Raphael
Amazon's new Cloud Drive music-streaming service has the potential to do big things for the Android platform. It has plenty to offer from a user perspective, too: Cloud Drive gives you 5GB of storage space for free, with the option to get more for a matter of dollars. It comes with the free Amazon Cloud Player, which lets you play your songs on-demand from any Android device. That means no more wasting time copying your entire music collection to every new phone and tablet you pick up; instead, you just upload your tunes once, then stream 'em anytime, anywhere.
Good news all around, right? Well...sort of. Amazon Cloud Drive does open new doors for us as Android users. But before you fully commit to the service and delete your music from your phone's SD card, there are a few important points to consider.
1. Amazon Cloud Drive's cloud-based streaming approach is awesome. Except when it isn't.
The whole concept of cloud-based storage for your music seems great in theory -- and most of the time, it'll probably make you wonder why you ever toted around all those gigs of files. Remember, though, by its very nature, this kind of service needs a reliable data connection to work. That means anytime you're somewhere where data is shaky, you won't be able to play a single note of Toto (or whatever you have in your music collection -- hey, I'm not here to judge).
The perfect example for me is my gym. For whatever reason, amidst all the metal and sweat within those giant white walls, I can never get a lick of data on my device. Streaming songs from Pandora in that place is a lost cause. So if I'm relying on the cloud for my own personal music collection, too, I'll be stuck pumping iron to the sound of silence. (The literal sound of silence, that is -- not the Simon and Garfunkel ditty.)
There's also the notion of data -- namely the fact that streaming loads of songs all day is gonna use up a lot of it. If you aren't on an unlimited plan, make sure to carefully think that through before switching over to any service that relies on the big, fluffy cloud in the sky.
2. Amazon Cloud Drive is free -- but only to a point.
Amazon's Cloud Drive service comes with 5GB of free storage. Nowadays, though, many of us have digital music collections that far exceed that seemingly large amount. Amazon charges a dollar per gig per year for plans over that 5GB mark. So if you have 50GB of music -- well within the realm of normalcy -- you'll be paying 50 bucks a year for your Cloud Drive storage.
Now, $50 a year isn't a bad rate by any stretch of the imagination. But it is an added expense, and one that'll recur indefinitely so long as you stick with the Cloud Drive service (hello, automated Amazon billing). Your fee will likely increase over time, too, since you'll have to continually up your storage level to accommodate new music added into your collection. Just make sure you're okay with that before taking the plunge.
Something else: The rate itself may evolve as well. According to Amazon's Cloud Drive terms, "Service plan fees and features will change from time to time. Your renewal plan will be the one we choose as being closest to your current service plan."
And one final fee-related note: Amazon is offering a deal right now that gives you 20GB of Cloud Drive storage for free if you buy any MP3 album from its site. It's a fine deal, but read the fine print: The 20GB of free storage lasts for only one year. Once that year is up, Amazon will drop you back down to 5GB unless you decide to pony up the cash and pay the going rate.
3. Amazon Cloud Drive gives Amazon the right to inspect your music -- and take action if it finds something shifty.
I know, I know: The whole "big brother" thing is so 2006. But there's a privacy-related clause in Amazon's Cloud Drive terms that deserves your attention.
5.2. Our Right to Access Your Files. You give us the right to access, retain, use and disclose your account information and Your Files: to provide you with technical support and address technical issues; to investigate compliance with the terms of this Agreement, enforce the terms of this Agreement and protect the Service and its users from fraud or security threats; or as we determine is necessary to provide the Service or comply with applicable law.
The emphasis in the text is mine. Roughly translated, it says if the authorities come knocking, Amazon won't hesitate to turn you in. So if you have gigs of Nickelback albums that you grabbed from Kazaa -- which, let's be honest, is cause enough for shame in and of itself -- know that Amazon won't put up a fight should the RIAA start poking around.
It sounds ridiculous, I realize. But so does the idea of a music industry association telling a woman to pay $2 million for illegally downloading 24 songs -- and that happened. As writer Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols posits over at ZDNet:
Amazon can do pretty much anything they want with your files. ... As my pal, Jan Wildeboer, Red Hat's EMEA open source evangelist, put it, "I suspect that continuous inspection is part of the deal to get the music industry accept these offerings -- IP radicalism at its best." He's almost certainly right.
Realistically, is this a deal-breaker for most of us? Probably not. But it's something we should all at the very least be aware of before dumping our data onto someone else's servers.
In the end, Amazon Cloud Drive provides a valuable service that's bound to shake up the Android landscape. For many of us, it'll make music management easier than ever. But getting on-board with cloud-based music storage represents a significant shift in the way we do things -- particularly if we fully commit and stop storing files locally on our devices.
By all means, check out Amazon Cloud Drive and its companion Cloud Player program. Check out music-streaming alternatives like mSpot and Rdio, too. But before you become a devoted disciple of any cloud-based music service, make sure you understand what you're getting into -- and make sure it's right for you.
Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.