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Amazon Prime Music Review: An Early Look From a Spotify Fan

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Amazon announced a free music service for Prime subscribers.

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Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is taking plenty of flack in its public battle with book publisher Hachette, but to its credit, it's upping the ante for subscribers to its $99/year Prime service.

In April, the company announced a content deal with HBO that brought a lot of high-quality classic content like The Sopranos and The Wire to Amazon Instant Video, free for Prime members. 

And this morning, Amazon unveiled Prime Music, which gives Prime subscribers access to more than one million songs, with ad-free streaming, and the ability to download music for offline use on mobile apps.

Amazon also issued new apps available for a wide variety of platforms including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) OS X and iOS, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, and Roku media players.

The library definitely has some big holes in it. In terms of sheer quantity, it's got nothing on Spotify's 20 million+ tracks. Amazon also doesn't have a deal with Universal Music, which means a lot of popular artists like Kanye West, Katy Perry, U2, and Pearl Jam aren't included.

And, as BuzzFeed reported in May, new music is off-limits.

In the New Releases section of the Windows app, none of the songs are shown as free to stream:



A Brief Taste Test

Since I have access to Prime Music, I gave it a test shot through a web browser, and through the native iPhone and Windows apps.

The browser experience is on the clunky side, primarily because it's too much like shopping on Amazon.

Heres's a screenshot from PrimeMusic.com:


This layout is something of an eyesore, and it's a little too salesy to be promoted as 'Free' for Prime users.

And in the 'Your Account' dropdown menu, there are two similar-sounding options called 'Your Prime Music' and 'Your Music Library', which sound like they could be the same thing.

Your Prime Music brings you to the Prime Music home page (wouldn't that make it everyone's Prime Music?), while Your Music Library is the actual media player/library management section:



I'd like to see 'Your Prime Music' renamed to "Prime Music Home", with "Your Music Library" renamed "Your Music". After all, its just as much a player as a library, so why not lose the word library?

But even with the interface quirks, it gets the job done. Songs stream instantly, the audio quality is fine, and you can drag and drop songs between PlayLists.

The Windows app is pretty decent for playback and library navigation, with tabs for Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, and Genre. You can also perform searches and make additions to your library, and purchase non-Prime eligible music.

It's well-done overall, certainly better than the browser experience, though Amazon's need to include both streaming and download sales capabilities does add to the complexity versus something like Spotify.

Unfortunately, I had zero luck testing the iOS app, which I'll chock up to first-day bugs. I couldn't use the search function, and music I added to my library through the browser and Windows app wasn't showing up.

Conclusion

Amazon's got a lot of work to do in terms of user interface design. Like with the Fire TV streaming set-top box, things feel just a bit off in a lot of places, and for some people, the library will fall short.

I pay $9.99 per month for Spotify Premium, and there's nothing in Prime Music that would make me even consider cancelling.

However, it's a solid addition to the Prime package since it comes at no extra cost. It's also a nice reminder that Amazon will continue increasing the bang for your buck with Prime.

I expect very little impact on competitors like Spotify and Pandora (NYSE:P), but this initiative looks like a nice marketing and retention tool for Amazon customers.

Two thumbs up!

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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