Google Music vs. Amazon vs. Apple's iCloud vs. Spotify vs. Rdio vs. ...

Are you ready to join the cloud music age? Take a look at the top competitors

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The pros and cons of each music service

Amazon Cloud Drive

Pros: As I said earlier, Cloud Drive comes the closest to offering an ideal music service, with the caveat that it's only ideal for someone with an Android phone. Amazon stores all your music for streaming and lets you buy new music for download, and offers an excellent app for Android, which lets you play music from the application or install a home screen widget to play and pause music, and skip to the next song.

Cons: DRM-protected songs I purchased from iTunes could not be be uploaded, and Amazon hasn't gotten any apps approved for the iOS App Store. Amazon did optimize its website for the iPad with great results, but it is basically unusable on the iPhone. Testing Cloud Drive on an Android tablet (a brand new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1) I got some delays while searching my collection for specific songs.

Google Music

Pros: Allows upload of your entire collection (minus DRM-protected songs) and can stream to any device with a Web browser. Naturally, Google offers Music apps for Android devices, and the service is free while it's in beta.

Cons: The service is not available to everyone because it is still in beta, and buggy. Album cover art is often applied to the wrong album, and the upload tool stalled frequently in my usage. Google offers access to a small selection of free songs, but you can't purchase new music. There is no iPhone app, and while the website works on the iPad it's not optimized for the device the way Amazon's Cloud Player is. Just like with the Amazon service, I got the same delays while searching my music on an Android tablet.

Spotify

Pros: With 15 million songs, Spotify is one of the best subscription services for discovering new music. If you purchase a lot of music from iTunes, paying a flat fee of $10 per month to gain unlimited access to music could be a good alternative, as long as you understand that once you stop paying, you lose access to the music. On mobile devices, Spotify gives you a shuffle option that works across your whole collection.

Cons: A funny thing happened while I was using Spotify: I discovered its competitor, Rdio, and ended up liking Rdio better. The problems with Spotify are that it requires a workaround to import your iTunes collection, and the app for the iPhone lacks any way to organize music by artist and album. Perhaps even worse, there is no iPad app so to use Spotify, so on the iPad you use a blown-up version of the iPhone app, which looks terrible. In my usage, the iPhone app stalled frequently on both devices.

Rdio

Pros: Costs the same as Spotify and provides a much better mobile experience. The iPhone app sorts your music by album and artist, an obvious feature but one that Spotify doesn't offer. The app is also better than Spotify's for discovering new music from the artist you're listening to and artists similar to the one you're listening to. The ability to import your entire library from iTunes is easy to identify and use, and it has an app specifically designed for the larger screen of the iPad. The Rdio apps didn't stall on me like Spotify's does.

Cons: Rdio has a smaller music library than Spotify and the mobile apps, for all the good features they offer, lack the ability to shuffle through your entire collection. You could develop an amazing mobile experience by combining the best features of Rdio and Spotify into one. Unfortunately, the services each offer an incomplete app, but Rdio's is better.

iTunes Match and iCloud

Pros: For $25 a year, you can store your entire music collection on Apple's servers. Apple has 18 million songs in the iTunes store, and will match any song in your collection without requiring you to upload them. Apple lets you upload songs iTunes doesn't have, so you should be able to store everything you own and stream it to any Apple device or PC. Like Amazon, iTunes Match and the iCloud storage service let you purchase new music that will remain in your collection permanently.

Cons: It's not available yet so we don't know how well it will work in everyday usage, and it's unlikely Apple will release apps for Android devices. Music purchased from iTunes before 2009 may be incompatible with other services because of DRM restrictions. As I mentioned earlier, I was unable to upload older songs I bought from iTunes to the Amazon and Google clouds. Upgrading older iTunes songs to the non-DRM format costs 30 cents per song.

Conclusion

If you want to store all your music online, have a great mobile experience and be able to access new music on a whim, one service may not be enough. Android owners will do well in storing their music with either Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Music, while iPhone owners will probably be better off with iTunes Match.

Amazon and iTunes let you buy new music, but you'll pay every time you buy a song or album. For infrequent buyers that's no problem. For people who want virtually unlimited access to new music, the Spotify or Rdio subscription services are probably a better deal. For myself, I will likely use iTunes Match to store my collection and am considering an Rdio subscription to access new music.

This story, "Google Music vs. Amazon vs. Apple's iCloud vs. Spotify vs. Rdio vs. ..." was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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