Major technology companies, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, are lining up alongside smaller service providers to help consumers store and stream their music collections online. Whether you want to listen on your PC, your tablet, or your smartphone, you can find a number of online services that cater to your particular needs.
Accessing your music online is particularly ideal on mobile devices since many handsets and tablets have constrained storage space of 16GB or less. And with Wi-Fi becoming ubiquitous, having your music collection available to you online lets you access songs from more locations than just your hard drive at home.
If you're ready to let your music "reach for the cloud," here's a look at five new and not-so-new services that let you sync, stream, and download your music on your PC, your mobile devices, and even your television's set-top box. Some services require you to upload your music, while others will match your files with an online catalog, no uploads required. And one original service lets you ship your entire CD collection to a remote storage facility in the Midwest, where somebody else will digitize your entire collection for you.
Cloud Music Services: Features Comparison
|FEATURE||Amazon Cloud||Google Music Beta||iTunes Match||MP3Tunes||Murfie|
|Free option||5GB free (1000 songs)||Free for a limited time||None||2GB (about 400 songs)||None|
|Cost||$20 to $1000 per year||Free for a limited time||$25 per year||$40 to $140 per year||$24 per year|
|Regular storage limits||Unlimited*||20,000 songs||25,000 songs||200GB (about 40,000 songs)||1000 CDs|
|Mobile apps||Android||Android, iOS||iOS||Android, iOS, WebOS, WP7||None|
|Desktop app||Music upload tool||Music upload tool||iTunes||Upload and sync tool||None|
|Mobile Web interface||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Mobile offline listening||Yes (Android only)||Yes (Android only)||Yes||No||Yes|
|Automatic device sync||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player
Cost (for both Cloud Player and Cloud Drive): 5GB of free storage (about 1000 songs); an extra 20GB to 1000GB costs from $20 to $1000 per year.
Pros: Free storage for up to 1000 songs; integration with the Amazon MP3 store; you can upload other files as well as music to Cloud Drive; one setting automatically downloads MP3 purchases to your devices.
Cons: Uploads required; no native app for iOS; support for other mobile devices (BlackBerry, WebOS, Windows Phone 7) is limited.
Thoughts: Amazon's approach to cloud-based music listening requires two pieces--Cloud Drive to store your files, and Cloud Player to stream them. Similar to Google Music Beta, Amazon's Cloud Drive and Cloud Player require you to upload all your music files to the company's servers.
You can upload files through Cloud Drive using your browser, or download the upload utility through Cloud Player (Mac and PC only). Even though you're moving your music to the cloud, if you want to retain a copy on your PC, you can adjust your Cloud Player settings so that any purchases from the MP3 Store automatically download to your computer.
Automatic downloading of purchases is set uniquely on each PC you use, and is not a global setting for all your devices. Amazon allows you to use Cloud Player on up to eight devices in total.
Officially, the iPad is the only device that Cloud Player supports, but if you click through the warnings that Amazon tosses up, you can still get Cloud Player to work on your iPhone.
In Video: A First Look at the Amazon Cloud Player
Google Music Beta
Cost: Free for now, but may become a paid service in the future.
Works with: Windows XP or higher, Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE), Android 2.2 or higher, iOS 4.0 or higher (Web app). May also work with other mobile devices such as RIM BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 handsets, though no official support is available for them.
Pros: Stores up to 20,000 songs for free; can add free music from Magnifier; can save tracks for offline listening on Android devices.
Cons: Requires upload of music files; no offline option for iOS; unclear how much Google will charge for the service in the future.
Thoughts: You can't beat free cloud storage and streaming for your music, but Google has said that Music Beta will be free for only a limited time, meaning the company will eventually charge for it. So you might go to the trouble of uploading all your music only to discover a few months later that Google is asking too much money for the service.
To move your music to Google's servers, you need to download a bare-bones desktop app called Music Manager that doesn't do much more than sit in the taskbar and upload your music. By default, Music Manager uses as much bandwidth as it can; you can adjust the upload rate if it's consuming too much.
Next: iTunes Match, MP3Tunes, and Murfie