Cloud Music: Amazon and Google

Music Jukebox imageI recently wrote about my iTunes Match experience but despite being a long time user of the Apple ecosystem for music I also wanted to give Amazon’s and Google’s offerings a look. Amazon will allow an unlimited number of music files to be stored in their cloud music player, and Google will allow 20,000 to be stored. I have less than 20,000 songs so this makes the cost comparable – free. This compares to $25/year for iTunes Match.

Amazon Cloud Player

Of the two, I’m more likely to use Amazon Cloud Player since I’m a heavy Amazon user, being an Amazon Prime member and Kindle Fire owner. I have purchased about 600 songs from Amazon.

Things did not start off well with Amazon. I had long ago loaded my music to the Amazon Cloud Player, primarily as a backup. I hadn’t kept up with uploading new songs so I wanted to get current. To do this I had it scan my music again. It saw each song as new and wanted to upload it. I could see this for songs that may have been modified by iTunes Match, but it also saw the 600 Amazon purchases as new along with the CD rips I had uploaded long ago and were unchanged (these weren’t in iTunes so couldn’t have been touched by Match).

I decided to delete all my music and start over. Deleting the music was a pain as Amazon only did about 100 at a time (with considerable variation in this number), despite a message saying all had been deleted.

Unfortunately I still had a lot of duplicates after the upload. Since Match had replaced my MP3 files with M4a (iTunes formatted) files within iTunes. Since I scanned my MP3’s along with iTunes both were uploaded. I’m still trying to decide how I want to deal with this. As a backup destination I’d want both. But unless I want to hear every song on an album twice it does screw up playback. But this really isn’t the players fault unless your looking for it to identify songs, rather than files. This isn’t really an Amazon Player issue as long as it’s not expected to recognize actual songs or match meta data, but rather work simply off file names.

Things got better when I concentrated on playback. Amazon doesn’t have the concept of smart or genius playlists and I’m not one to manually create playlists so playback for me is strictly by album, artist or genre. I can do shuffle play but that’s about it.

The iOS app is nice, but suffers from the same limitations as the web player, no smart playlists. It can read in local playlists from iTunes but they are not refreshed when the iTunes playlist changes, they need to be re-imported. The first time I fired it up it needed to sync with the Amazon Cloud Player and performance suffered during this sync After this if was fine.

The iOS player did great over wi-fi, no complaints here. As I test I left the comfort of wi-fi and went for a drive were I’d use 3G, The first song that loaded after I was on 3G has serious stuttering problems at first. But once it got going it was fine. I went for a 60 mile drive, switching among many cell towers during the 60+ mile highway drive. There weren’t any problems or noticeable buffering during the drive.

The Kindle Fire was disappointing, to put it mildly. Despite using the same wi-fi network as the problem free iOS app, the Fire had serious performance problems. While iOS seemed to download basic information from the Cloud Player at initial startup, the Fire seemed to load from the Cloud every time I picked an artist or album causing frustrating delays while browsing. There were frequent messages that the player wasn’t responding and I was offered the option to kill it. I waited instead and eventually got a response. There were also frequent delays between songs while the player loaded the next song. Browsing while playing was unbearable.  I gave up on the Kindle Fire although I can’t help believing there must be some problem as it couldn’t possibly be this bad. I didn’t bother copying files locally since space is limited and I didn’t want to have to manage files on the device level.

Google Music (aka Google Play Music)

I’ve never bought music from Google. I do have a bias against Google. I don’t see them as a consumer focused company, unless there’s an algorithm that can manage those consumers. Android users would benefit the most from Google Music and I’m not an Android user so I expected my evaluation to be quick. There is an unofficial iOS app for Google Music, but I didn’t buy it so can’t comment.

I found Google easy enough to upload too, and they were the only service I tried that allowed me to throttle the upload bandwidth used. Google Music had the same problem as Amazon Cloud Player – it saw both the MP3 and M4a files of the same song as unique and uploaded both. They were grouped in the same album and given the same name since the meta data was the same.

Google provides a few more features than Amazon, Each song can be given a thumbs up or thumbs down as a rating. A playlists of thumbs up songs is automatically created. The also have an “instant mix” feature that will create a playlist based on an initial song you select. Google also as more social features, integrating with Google+. It’s no surprise these features revolve around song purchases.

Overall I liked Google Play Music’s web interface better than Amazon’s. They seem to have put more thought into it. Unfortunately there’s no official iOS support. Music can be played through Safari, but background play stops when the current song finishes. I haven’t tried any of the third party apps. Since the Play account is also my full Google Apps account I don’t want to put the password in any non-Google app or web page.

The Bottom Line

For better or worse I’m neck deep in the Apple ecosystem for playing music so this makes iTunes Match the best choice as my cloud music player, despite its flaws. If I wanted to leave Apple I’d pick Google provided they either came out with an official player or I wanted to create a music only Google account for a 3rd party iOS app.

But as a Music backup destination I’d prefer Amazon. I may upload music yet again. This time using the iTunes files as a source for the player, and uploading my MP3’s and lossless music as regular files, simply for backup purposes. These backups wouldn’t be counted as free music files since they aren’t supported cloud player files. I also need to consider if I really need the MP3’s. In addition to the .M4a iTunes fileI have the original CDs along with FLAC and Apple Lossless encodes should I ever need to re-encode them as MP3. But to be honest, this is more thought than I want to put into my music as this time. I’d rather just backup everything and continue to use iTunes for playing them.

How do you manage and play your music library? Thoughts on Amazon or Google cloud players?

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