Amazon's doing its part to usher in cloud computing with Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. Users get 5 GB of free storage for a general purpose online storage locker and a Web-based music player for desktop computers and Android phones.
I've spent the morning poking around the service, looking for high points and nitpicks. Here are some early impressions:
Storing files to Amazon Cloud Drive is straightforward enough. You click the big yellow upload button, and use your computer's browser to select files. Although Amazon gives you four categories by default -- documents, music, pictures and video -- you can also create your own folders and sub-directories. Any type of file is acceptable.
Just a few nitpicks: I wish Amazon Cloud Drive had a drag and drop utility for uploads, and the ability to pause uploads in progress would be nice. If you stop a large file from uploading at any time, you'll have to start all over again.
Once uploaded, you can move files to other folders, download them to your hard drive or open compatible files in the Web browser. Music files automatically open in Amazon Cloud Player, while pictures and other file types open in a new browser tab. In the future, I'd like to see photo and video viewers built directly into Cloud Drive.
Amazon Cloud Player is a full-blown music player for desktop Web browsers. It recognizes album art, has shuffle and repeat options and lets you build playlists. There's nothing particularly remarkable about it, but there doesn't have to be.
When you try to upload songs to the Cloud Player, Amazon tells you to install its upload utility, which reads your entire local music library and uploads it automatically. You don't have to do this -- MP3s uploaded to the "music" folder through Amazon Cloud Drive will still appear in the player - -but the utility preserves folders and remembers which songs you've already uploaded. I just wish the utility had a randomizer for picking a certain amount of music, just in case you've got more songs than storage space. But if you do have a big library, be patient; Amazon estimated a 42-hour upload time for my 16 GB of music.
Amazon Cloud Player for Android
Amazon's MP3 app now includes the Cloud Player, so existing users can just grab the update from the Android Market. Like the desktop player, the Android version is a standard music playback app. You can set the streaming bitrate in app settings, and playlists created on the desktop will automatically appear on the phone. My only gripe is that cloud music and local files are walled off from one another. There's no way to create playlists that include both sources.
Amazon is using the Cloud Player as a lure to its music service. If you buy just one album from Amazon MP3, your storage allotment jumps from 5 GB to 20 GB, and any songs you purchase after that don't count against your limit. Sounds fair to me.
But getting more storage can become an expensive proposition. Each GB costs $1 per year, sold in chunks of 20 GB, 50 GB, 100 GB, 200 GB, 500 GB and 1,000 GB. For your money, cloud storage isn't quite ready to replace a trusty external hard drive.