Hands on With Amazon’s Cloud Drive, Cloud Player

Amazon launched both a cloud storage service and updated Android music player on Tuesday, enabling customers to both create a digital locker for files and listen to music through a standard web browser or Google Android (s goog) device. Consumers are provided 5GB of Cloud Drive storage for free to keep music, photos, videos, or documents. The Cloud Player is used to stream music over the web and is now integrated with the Amazon MP3 app for Android phones and tablets. Any music purchase through Amazon’s digital store automatically increases the Cloud Drive to 20 GB of storage for one year at no charge.

Amazon’s MP3 (s amzn) store is a daily stop for me, mainly because it offers a different album each day at a discount, so I took the service for a spin. I had been waiting for Adele’s latest album to go on sale, but a purchase allows me to take advantage of the 20 GB free offer (normally priced at $20), so with one click, the album was mine. Amazon immediately asked if I wanted to store the music purchase on my Cloud Drive. I said yes, and the tracks immediately appeared as available in the web-based Cloud Player. Playing them through the Google Chrome browser on my desktop worked just fine, but I keep my music in iTunes — not a problem for Amazon’s new service because there’s an option to download a local copy of any music from the Cloud Player.

So web streaming and local downloads work fine, but what about all of the music I’ve already bought from Amazon? Tapping the “Upload to Your Cloud Drive” button solved that problem for me by asking if I wanted to install the Amazon MP3 uploader, an Adobe ( S ADBE) Air app. I ran the install, and after kicking off the program, it scoured my computer for MP3 files, finding 2,982 total songs for upload. An additional 70 songs were found but can’t be uploaded. I suspect these are the few items I’ve purchased from Apple’s iTunes that still have DRM on them.

The app smartly explains how long these files will take to upload and how much additional space is needed, if any. In my case, the nearly 3,000 songs require another 1.4 GB of storage. Of course, you can pick and choose what to upload. Note: don’t judge Amazon on the estimated upload time on my screen shot; due to connectivity issues, I’m using a MiFi for my desktop today. Since I normally back-up all Amazon MP3 purchases on a hard drive that could fail at some point, the cloud upload adds a little more peace of mind.

After uploading a few items from my desktop, I decided to get mobile. The latest version of Amazon’s MP3 app for Android is updated to include a music player in addition to the existing music store for purchases. I updated the software on my Google Nexus One, signed in to my Amazon account on the phone and was streaming Adele’s latest album over 3G almost instantly. Basic playback controls are in the player: timeline scrubbing, random playback, playlists, music repeat, etc. The app warns that music is streamed at the original audio quality, or bit rate, and there are settings to enable streaming over Wi-Fi only, a mobile broadband connection, or any connection.

I like how the player has two tabs: one for local music files and one for those in the cloud. And one button press from the cloud side of the app will download files to the handset, which can be handy if you plan to listen to the same tracks over and over. Why? Streaming high bit rate music over mobile broadband can chew through a data plan fairly quickly. My colleague Stacey noted that streaming an hour of music with a 128 Kbps bit rate, which is lower than what Amazon offers, uses about 56 MB of bandwidth per hour. Twenty hours of streaming at that rate would eat up 1 GB of data, and given Amazon’s higher quality music (roughly double), that gigabyte would be gone in 10 hours.

Regardless of the data constraint issues, I’ll surely continue to use the new MP3 streaming service, simply because of the convenience factor. Apple (s aapl) is rumored to be working on a similar service, and I’ve already seen evidence of Google Android devices gaining music storage and synchronization in the cloud, but neither company has delivered yet. Ironically, in December 2009 on GigaOM Pro (subscription required), I pointed out Amazon was the best positioned company to offer a cloud music service. And if Amazon does enter the Android tablet business as I expect, this piece of the ecosystem puzzle falls into place on just the right note.