From the beginning, the lure of the Amazon Prime membership has been the free two-day shipping. Whenever you have kids or you’re working on a time-limited project, this subscription pays for itself rather quickly. Why brave the cold weather or spend the money on gas when Amazon will happily bring 48 double rolls of Quilted Northern right to your doorstep? For shipping, Prime makes sense.
Then, Prime rolled out its Netflix rival – Prime Instant Video. Wow, is it bad. Of course, people have been paying more attention to it lately with the success of Transparent. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s definitely on my rainy day list. It just hasn’t been that rainy yet. The shortcoming arrives in the overall lack of depth in the movie and TV categories. Sure there is The Avengers and The Hunger Games, but not enough to really factor into the decision to sign up for Prime.
To this point, we have a $99 fee for faster shipping and a crumby streaming video service. With this information, it is easy to make the argument both for and against Prime. The choice is anything but clear – until you factor in the next bonus: Prime Music.
Prime Music, or Amazon Music as the app is named, is the overshadowed and often overlooked feature of the service. If you read my review of Slacker Radio (https://consumereviewrepeat.wordpress.com/consume-music/slacker-radio/), you know how much I cherish the ability to save content on my phone without the need to stream. My data is valuable to me and I’ll be damned if I let Verizon take more of my dollars. Albums, individual tracks and playlists all get saved right to your device with little effort. Beware. They disappear the day your Prime expires.
I say “little effort” but I should modify it to moderate effort. The app makes it easy to search for the music you want and streaming is a breeze. Listening to stored content is a bit of a struggle at times, though. The issues present when you find music that you want to download. The process is a bit convoluted and seems to take a few too many touch screen touches. I am willing to put some effort into it because … well … I love music. If you were savvy enough to get the music downloaded, that’s great. Now, you have to be cunning enough to play it back.
Play back is broken up in a number of different places on the main app screen. You have “Recent Activity,” “Recently Added Songs” and “Recently Downloaded Songs” to choose from here. This screen is the most inclusive section of the app and the only place that allows you to access the music that you want most. The problem comes when you try to play an album in order (because that’s the only way a real music lover would listen), and halfway through, you realize that the tracks are playing in the order downloaded instead of the track listing order.
This is especially evident when you listen to song in the “Recently Added Songs” view and another song from another album or artist can begin playing. Again, this happens because the app will not download tracks in a linear way. Instead, they download as the app sees fit. It’s not the end of the world, but it can take extra time, extra clicking around, and if driving, too much time with eyes off the road. Several streamlining attempts were made by Amazon that only amounted to half-steps.
Even though the functionality leaves something to be desired, the content has been surprisingly good. Before I say more, allow a preface: I love indie music. This usually means that artist and album discovery is an active endeavor on my part. When I hear a good song, I need to do some research to find more about the artist, the genre and the album. The work takes time, but this is actually a good thing when it comes to Prime Music because the service is not known for new releases.
An example of this comes with the band A War on Drugs. I love the band, but before I started with Prime Music, they were relegated to a few tracks that I have heard over the years. But when Slacker started playing a few songs from their recent outing “Lost in a Dream,” I wanted to find out more. I headed over to the Amazon app to find that the complete album, along with the previous album “Slave Ambient” were available. I already had the service so they were mine for free. “Lost in a Dream” is unbelievably listenable, but I don’t care much for its predecessor. One can be saved while the other is deleted. Just because the album has been out for a while doesn’t mean it isn’t new to me.
This facet of the service does seem to be changing with time, though. Just in the past month, a series of new albums were released to Prime within weeks of their debut. The new Modest Mouse? Sure! Tweedy? New to me! The new Sufjan Stevens? Okay. While I’m at it, I’ll revisit “Come on feel the Illinoise” to remind myself of how good Chicago and The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts. So good. So, so good. Let’s listen.
Obviously, this is all hit or miss. It is all about begging and not choosing. Still, there is plenty of good stuff to sample. Would I pay $99 a year for it? No, but I think it is better than the additional fee to get to $9.99 monthly Slacker Radio premium plan. Somehow Amazon knows how to package seemingly nonrelated services together in a compelling way that breeds interest in the product, and since I landed a discounted deal for my next year, I will be enjoying Prime Music through 2016.
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives Amazon Prime Music 7.5 rolls of TP out of 10.