When you think of a free music app for phone or computer or a free streaming music service, Spotify is the first to spring to mind, but could Amazon Music be better? Here I take a look.
You might have briefly looked at Amazon Music and assumed that it is just a paid streaming service and that you need to subscribe to listen to music on your phone or computer. However, like Spotify, Amazon offers free music streaming to your devices, it enables you to find, subscribe to and listen to podcasts, and it plays music stored locally on your device.
Spotify was first with these things and is the best known, at least as a free service, but Amazon Music is catching up and is aiming to compete with Spotify and perhaps steal some of its users. The reason for offering free music, podcasts and music player app is that free users are just one step away from becoming paying subscribers.
Subscribers are the ultimate goal of course, so if you use Amazon Music or Spotify music streaming services for free, expect them to show ads and messages promoting the benefits of a subscription.
There are a lot of benefits to subscribing, but even if you do already have a music subscription, an extra free app like Amazon Music or Spotify gives you extra options, extra features, extra music and podcasts.
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How to get Amazon music and podcasts
All you need to access Amazon Music is an Amazon account. The username and password you use to buy stuff on Amazon enables you to log into the music service and access the free content.
Go to music.amazon.com (US) or music.amazon.co.uk (UK) in a web browser on a desktop computer and you are prompted to log in to your Amazon account to access Amazon Music. The Android and iOS phone apps are free in their app stores and when they are first started, they ask you to log in with your Amazon account.
Both the website and phone apps offer the same content and features and apart from the different screen sizes, and adjusting the content to fit the screen, there is little difference between them. You can stream music to your desktop or laptop computer through a web browser at the Amazon Music site or stream it on the go anywhere with the phone app.
Free Amazon Music
Quite a lot of content can be accessed without you having to subscribe or pay for anything and there is plenty to explore for those on a budget. Of course, there is a lot more for paying subscribers, like 90 million music tracks, but here I am just looking at the free content.
The website can be kept open in a full-size regular browser tab on the desktop, but it is useful to open a separate browser window and resize it to make a small music and podcast player. It can be kept in the corner of the screen on your computer. Being browser based, the operating system is irrelevant and Amazon Music can be accessed on Windows PC, Apple Mac or Linux.
The web app looks good, but the phone app is even better. It looks very nice and it has a great design. Web and phone apps show the same content.
The top part of the screen shows a recommended station called My Soundtrack. Here’s a tip: Refresh the browser page or pull down from the top on a phone and a different station appears with a different collection of music.
Below this are collections of music playlists organized into categories like, Listen on Demand, Hot Playlists, Hot Stations, and more. There is also a You Might Like section containing music selected based on what it thinks you like.
A few items from each category are shown on the home screen, but See All/More links take you to a full list of playlists in a category. It varies, but some categories have up to 30 playlists and a playlist can contain 50 or even 100 tracks. There is over five hours of music in some playlists and they contain a lot of music and cover the most popular music genres.
The lyrics to many popular songs are available and can be displayed on the screen as you listen to playlists. The lyrics are synced to the music, so you can sing along. That is nice.
Limitations of free music
So, you get lots of music and there is nothing to pay. What is the downside? The main limitation is that you cannot choose to listen to a specific track from a specific artist. You are limited to the collections of ready-made playlists and tracks are shuffled. I searched for Pink Floyd, clicked on the Dark Side of the Moon album and AC/DC Thunderstruck played. You appear to get a randomized playlist of music from the same genre as the selected item. Spotify does a similar thing.
Another downside is that occasionally, adverts are played between tracks. In fact, the whole experience is a bit like listening to a radio station that plays track after track of your favorite music. As with radio, you can’t choose what plays next and there are ads. Spotify free also plays ads.
Many people want to choose the music they listen to down to the individual artists, albums and tracks, but if you don’t mind randomized playlists, Amazon Music is good. Web and phone apps look fantastic and there is a lot of music to keep you entertained or the party going.
Amazon Music podcasts
Amazon Music has been around for many years, but support for podcasts is still relatively new, having been added only a year or two ago. In fact, they were added not long after Spotify added them.
Scroll down the home screen past the music playlists and suggestions, and some podcasts are highlighted. However, clicking the Podcasts button at the top of the screen takes you straight to the Podcasts section.
The podcast shows are organized by content and there are sections for Kids & Family, News and Politics, True Crime, Health and Fitness, Comedy, Business, Sports, and more. A few popular items in each category are shown and a See More link shows the full collection of highlighted shows.
There are thousands of podcasts and only a few selected ones are highlighted in the app. These are useful for getting started, but mostly you will need to search for podcasts. It is said that there are around 70,000 available in Amazon Music. Some podcasts are exclusive to one service, like Apple or Spotify, but apart from a few exceptions, most podcasts are available everywhere, so you should be able to find your favorites with the search facility.
The podcast player is very nice and there is an episode information screen, a speed setting so you can play it a bit faster if you prefer, and a sleep timer that can turn it off after a set number of minutes or when the episode finishes.
Some podcast players have a large number of features and let you customize every little detail. Amazon Music podcasts just covers the basics of subscribing, downloading and listening. Some people will not like it because it is too basic, but it looks great, it is easy to use and has just the right number of features for me.
Amazon Music app on PC and Mac
I don’t know why, but the Windows PC and Apple Mac versions of the Amazon Music app are completely unable to play any music for free and they do not support podcasts. The desktop apps are clearly out of date and have not kept up with the changes to the Amazon Music service. This situation may change in the future of course, but right now, I would avoid the desktop apps until they are updated with features to match the web and mobile apps.
Amazon Music is clearly trying to match Spotify feature for feature and it is doing a very good job. There are few differences between them and they both provide free music streaming and podcasts. The order in which music tracks are played is randomized or limited to a provided playlists, but if you don’t mind this, you can stream music all day for free.
Both apps provide podcasts and most podcasts are the same no matter where you get them from. However, there are exceptions and Joe Rogan is on Spotify, but not Amazon Music. Whether this matters depends on whether you are a fan or not.
Is Amazon Music better than Spotify? I used to think Spotify was better, but I like Amazon Music a lot more than I thought I would and these days there isn’t much to choose between them. The app is beautifully designed and looks better than Spotify. Both services are free, so I think I will keep both apps on my phone.