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Tech Report - Getting music from the cloud

Amazon yesterday launched Amazon Cloud Drive, an external cloud-based “music locker”, that Amazon account holders can also use to store pictures, videos and documents. It can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection.

The service is similar in concept to Microsoft’s Windows Live cloud storage, but with Amazon the focus is on music. At the same time as it announced Cloud Drive, Amazon also unveiled two companion services, Cloud Player for Web and Cloud Player for Android. The services can be used to stream the songs stored in Cloud Drive to a computer or an Android-powered smartphone or tablet.

While Cloud Drive works with all the main Web browsers on a PC or a Mac, it can’t be accessed from an iPad and there is no Cloud Player for the iPhone or iPod touch.

You can upload songs to Cloud Drive in two different ways: you can directly save the songs you purchase from Amazon’s existing music store, or you can upload music that is currently stored on your PC or Mac. However, there are a couple of problems with the second option. First, you won’t be able to upload songs with DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions, and second, the tracks must be in MP3 or AAC file format.

However, you don’t have to worry too much about these restrictions because Amazon’s MP3 Uploader program will scan your PC or Mac and tell you which songs you can and can’t transfer. From my iTunes collection on one PC, it found 80 songs out of 150 that were eligible. Those 80 songs took around 14 minutes to upload, a very acceptable transfer rate.

To start out, Amazon is giving you 5GB of free storage in Cloud Drive, enough to accommodate 1,000 songs. Under an initial promotion, that storage will be bumped to 20GB if you purchase any Amazon MP3 album. Plus, all future purchases from the Amazon Store won’t count against your basic quota.

Although the idea of connecting to your music collection from any computer is appealing, the real value is in turning your Android smartphone into an iPod-style music player. Everything that’s stored on the Cloud Drive is immediately accessible through Cloud Player on your Android phone, including playlists, individual songs, and even album artwork.

However, one thing to watch out for is cost. Although Cloud Drive and Cloud Player may be free, your smartphone data plan isn’t. Streaming music to your smartphone from the cloud will count against that data plan. Whether it results in extra charges depends on how much you plan on using your Andoid device as a portable music player.

There are rumors that Google and Apple are also working on cloud lockers to make your music and videos more accessible. But for now, Amazon has jumped to the head of the pack with these well-thought-out and well-executed services.

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