Amazon's recently released Amazon Cloud Drive application is a new piece of free, downloadable software aimed at providing an easy way to upload files to your own personal storage space on Amazon's Web site. We tested the Mac OS X edition of the software on a MacBook Air from Apple, although the application is also available for Microsoft's Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
If you don't store all that many photos or other files online, Amazon Cloud Drive is entirely free for you. While you might not have known this before, everyone with an Amazon account gets 5GB of free space on Amazon's cloud servers, anyway (along with unlimited free space for MP3 music purchased directly from Amazon). If you're a heavier user of online storage, you'll still find storage pricing (and maximum limits) attractive in comparison to that of other cloud-based storage services.
The new apps for Mac OS and Windows simplify access to storage on Amazon. With its max storage limit of 1TB, Amazon Cloud Drive almost matches Dropbox and compares very favorably with Apple's iCloud and Microsoft's SkyDrive. iCloud, for example, allows for unlimited storage of Office files and iTunes purchases, but other than that, it imposes a 55GB limit.
Moreover, even with use of the new apps, Amazon Cloud Drive isn't exactly as feature-rich as what you can get from some rival services. Unlike services such as Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync, for example, Amazon Cloud Drive doesn't work automatically. The PC application doesn't monitor any particular folder or drive on your computer, backing everything up to the cloud. There are no easy sharing options, either. If you want someone else to access a file on your Amazon Cloud Drive, you need to provide that person with your Amazon account password.
In addition, there's an eight-device limit for access to the Amazon Cloud Drive. Here, "device" refers to both Web browsers and mobile devices. If a Chrome browser and Internet Explorer are both installed on one computer, this counts as two devices, for instance. If you tend to switch out browsers or devices quite often, this could be problematic. Potentially, you could get locked out of your Cloud Drive if you exceed the device limit.
Still, at $100 per year, 100GB of space from Amazon Cloud Drive is half as much as the equivalent plans from Dropbox. Furthermore, the $50 per year 50GB plan from Amazon is roughly one-fifth the cost of the same plan from Box, which costs $20 per month.
Assuming that you already have an Amazon account, the first step in getting started is to is download the new free software client . Once you've installed the software, you'll be asked to sign in to your Amazon Cloud Drive account. Then you'll get a very brief tour on how to use the service.
You have a couple of choices for how to upload and access your files, as you'll see during the tour. You can either control+click (or right click) on individual files and choose to upload them to the cloud drive, or you can drag and drop them up to the icon in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
While files are uploading, you'll see a small synchronization icon that looks like two blue arrows in a circle. If there's an error, there's a small yellow triangle with an exclamation point which prompts you to click on the icon so you see a list of errors.
Clicking on the icon will show you how many files are in the upload queue, as well as giving you an estimate of how long it will take to finish the upload. When the upload is complete, you'll see a green checkmark that lets you know it's all done, without any problems.
Additional features include the ability to pause or cancel the upload, to see what portion of your allowed storage space you're using, and to easily purchase more space if you need it. Preferences are minimal, though. All you get are options to launch the Cloud Drive at startup and to change the download folder.
When you want to access your files, clicking on the Cloud Drive icon and then selecting Open Cloud Drive Website will open your preferred web browser. From there you can see all of your files. By default, you will have Documents, Music, Pictures, Uploads, and Videos folders. The Music folder contains all of the MP3 music you've purchased directly from Amazon, which does not count against your storage allotment.
Any files you upload will be sent directly to the Uploads folder, and you can use the browser-based client to move or copy them to one of the default folders or to create your own.
If you do have any trouble installing the app (such as a never-ending loop of installing, trying to launch, then getting prompted to install again), then you might need to update your OS. I experienced that issue with no warning or error messages on my MacBook Air until I finally got the bright idea to try Software Update.
Sure enough, I was a little behind at OS X 10.7.3. Yet as soon as I updated to 10.7.4 and tried the installation again, I was prompted to download and install a Java Runtime. The Amazon Cloud Drive worked flawlessly after that.
I couldn't be happier with the service. It's easy to use, and uploads are fast. If there is a problem I'll be notified right away with a visual reminder on the menu bar.
That doesn't mean, however, that it will replace other cloud storage services such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Think of the Amazon Cloud Drive service more as a handy and potentially huge extra storage locker.
Free storage is hard to beat. If you want to backup less than 5GB of files that rarely change, the Amazon Cloud Drive service is a no-brainer for you. Even if you're a heavier user of cloud storage, this service could be well worth adding to your arsenal.
The Mac OS X app is easy to use and does exactly what you expect. It would be nice if the app offered more functionality, such as the ability to monitor a particular folder for new additions, or to update existing files in the cloud when you edit them on your computer. As things stand, though, the Amazon Cloud Drive service is very handy -- and the new software application just makes it more convenient.
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