Amazon Music (Android) review: Nice add-on for Prime subscribers, but no Spotify killer

Prime Music has a library of more than one million songs, all commercial-free, from Warner Music Group and Sony Music, two of the top three record labels. From those two labels, you can listen to music from Paramore, Beyonce, Aerosmith, Daft Punk, Prince, One Direction, The Black Keys, Jimi Hendrix, and more for free. However, Prime Music is missing music from Universal Music Group, which represents Kanye West, U2, Lady Gaga, OneRepublic, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and Katy Perry -- all artists that Spotify and Rdio have. That means you'll need to purchase their tracks or albums to listen the their music -- you can't stream them for free. Luckily, you can buy digital music from the store in the Amazon Music app.

What's nice about Amazon Music is that if you've already purchased digital music (MP3s) from Amazon, those tracks and albums will automatically show up in the app. When I was testing the app, I found a digital album that came with a CD purchase I made years ago.

Finding and playing music

As you're browsing music in the Prime music catalog, you can play just a 30-second snippet to sample a song. To hear the full track or play an entire album, you'll need to save the music to your Library by tapping the Add button. After you've done that, you can navigate your Library by song, artist, album, or genre from the sidebar. It's a bit frustrating that, when you're searching for music and find a song you like, you can't immediately start playing it, like you can in other music subscription services.

If you don't want to hunt for music on your tiny smartphone screen, you can find new music, manage your Library, and create playlists from Amazon's website, as well as the desktop apps for Mac and Windows. Any changes you make there will show up in the app, but it can take a few moments to update. You can also use the desktop apps to upload your personal library of music that you didn't purchased from Amazon, and then stream those songs from the app.

Playlists

Like the other popular streaming services, Amazon Music has a catalog of playlists, put together Amazon Music Editors, to help you find music that suits your tastes or mood. There are hundreds of playlists created around genres, moods, and artists, and few examples are "Journey's Top Songs," and "Pop to Make You Feel Better." You can sample an entire playlist, which plays 30-second snippets of each song to give you a feel for the music.

Interestingly, there are no playlists of the most popular tracks in the service or top-of-the-chart hits. There are also no user-generated shared playlists. You can create your own playlists in your Library, but you can't share them to the community of other Amazon Music subscribers.

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Amazon staffers created tons of playlists that are themed by artist, genre, and mood. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Streaming quality and offline listening

In my testing of Amazon Music, the streaming quality with Amazon Music was fine and I didn't have any playback problems while streaming over both a 4G LTE connection and Wi-Fi. You can tweak some streaming settings in the app, choosing between preset modes; fastest streaming, best quality, balanced quality and speed, and automatic -- which adjusts your streaming quality as needed. Keep in mind that music quality depends on a lot of factors, including your data or Wi-Fi signal, streaming settings in the app, and your headphones.

You can download tracks, albums, and playlists to your phone so that you can listen to them without a data or Wi-Fi signal. This works with both Prime Music and music that you've purchased in the store. The easiest way do that is to open any section of your Library, find the song or album you want, then press and hold to bring up a menu. This gives you the option to download, as well as add it to a playlist, explore more music by that artist, and remove it from your Library. What's nice about Amazon Music is that you can pick and choose which tracks or artists you want to download. You can do the same in Rdio, but with Spotify, you can only download a playlist you've created or saved to your account.

Conclusion

Amazon Music is solid streaming service with a few caveats. The app's design is confusing and the music library is missing popular artists from the Universal Music Group, since Amazon doesn't have an agreement to use that label's music. Still, with a catalog that's a million songs strong and tons of features, it's a good choice for most music lovers, especially considering the cost of the service is built into the price of an Amazon Prime subscription.

If the app's design gets a makeover and the music catalog gets more music, we'll take another look at Amazon Music, but for now I can't recommend it for everyone. Those who already use another music subscription service, such as Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music, or Beats Music, will be left wanting more music and craving a better design.

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    Where to Buy

    Amazon Music (Android)

    Part Number: com.amazon.mp3

    Free

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Category Music and audio
    • Compatibility Android