More than 118 billion songs were streamed from digital music services last year, and 1.26 billion were downloaded, according to Nielsen. That's a lot of music, which has spurred a ton of services vying for your attention. Spotify is a definite leader in the category, but it faces stiff competition from Google, Apple, Pandora and tons of others. Amazon has been in the fight, with its Amazon Music service, but it's taking things up a notch with the introduction of Prime Music. The new service, like Spotify, allows members to stream or download unlimited tracks.
Prime Music is an additional service for Amazon Prime members, who already pay $99 per year for access to Amazon's Instant Video feature; 500,000 e-books through the Kindle Lending Library; and free two-day shipping on products. Spotify, on the other hand, is free if you don't mind listening to ads (and can deal with streaming, rather than downloading, tracks). If you want to opt out of ads and be allowed to download music to up to three devices, it will cost you nearly $119 per year.
Both services are device-agnostic — with apps for iOS, Android, Mac and PC — and can be streamed directly from the websites. Both services recommend playlists and have some social elements. But that doesn't make these two equal. We go round for round to determine which one should become your go-to for tunes.
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If you can't find what you want to listen to, who cares if there's a limit on what you can download or stream? Spotify boasts more than 20 million song choices, with more than 20,000 added each day. At launch, Amazon is offering more than 1 million tracks at no extra cost. That's a pretty big gap, especially when you consider the Universal Music Group lineup doesn't appear at all. That list includes Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Elton John, Kanye West and many others.
You can still get songs from the above artists from Amazon, but it will cost you between $0.69 and $1.29 per track. If Spotify were missing a song you wanted, you wouldn't have this option. However, when we looked at the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, nine out of the 10 tracks were available on Amazon only for purchase. The same nine could be played or downloaded for free through Spotify. We also looked at the top 10 single-week downloaded singles of all time. Only three were available on Prime Music, and all 10 were available on Spotify.
Other songs we couldn't find for free through Prime Music included any Michael Jackson track (except "We Are the World" and "Free Willy") and "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen. In comparison, the Jackson catalog on Spotify appears pretty complete, and we were jamming to Carly Rae Jepsen within seconds of our search.
Amazon does allow you to mix your personal, already-purchased tracks with the Prime songs you add to your library. This is novel, and not something Spotify offers. It's a nice way to keep your library unified. But whether or not you own a song, chances are, you can still listen to it on Spotify.
Winner: Spotify. Prime Music has a lot of growing to do to compete with the selection offered by Spotify. For now, Amazon's service is a safe bet for those not looking for superpopular songs or the newest releases. But Spotify would be the preferred service for everyone.
Both Spotify and Amazon offer a matte, black interface. When viewing your library, you'll see a simple list of songs showing artist, song length and album name. In the bottom-left corner is a thumbnail of the album currently queued to play with the song information.
In addition to the basic details, Amazon tells you if it's a Prime song or something you own, as well as if that track has been downloaded. Alternatively, Spotify tells you when the song was added to your library. At a glance, other than the larger album cover on Spotify, the two services look very similar.
When it comes to song or playlist discovery, under the Store section, we prefer Amazon's approach. The images are smaller, but you get a better sense of the depth and breadth of your options. In terms of navigation, though, we prefer Spotify. The menus that line the left rail are easy to follow. Amazon features two top bars and a three-line menu button that confused us a couple of times.
Winner: Spotify. Spotify is prettier and easier to navigate, but Amazon does show you more options at once.
Android and iOS offer Spotify and Amazon apps, and these apps mirror their desktop counterparts well with primarily dark backgrounds and white text. The smaller screens of mobile devices dictate simplified navigation for both as well.
We prefer the look and organization of Spotify on iOS. The multiple panels of menus make it easy to always know where you are and what you're doing. We also found it more graphically appealing with larger pictures. Amazon's Music app offered both top-bar and pop-out-menu navigation that caused us to get lost a couple of times.
On Android, we were surprised to find the Amazon Music app didn't flip to landscape mode. Pleasantly, the Spotify app shows off more cover art in landscape mode. But regardless of which direction it's facing, the Spotify app maintains the simple, multipane organization. For Amazon, the portrait mode still keeps two forms of navigation.
Winner: Spotify. We preferred Spotify's simplified options for getting around the app. We also prefer the cleaner look.
Despite our best efforts, we're not always plugged into the Matrix, er, Internet. So the ability to download your favorite tracks is a must-have for any decent music service. As long as you shell out $9.99 per month, you can enjoy this bonus on up to three devices through Spotify. The same is true of Amazon Prime Music, as long as you're on a phone or tablet. Laptops need not apply for downloads, at least for now.
Winner: Spotify. Spotify simply offers more options and goes more places.
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These two entertainment giants both hide a few tricks up their sleeves, like Spotify Radio and Amazon Instant Video. As ecosystems go, both services offer so much more than music.
Beyond music and playlists, Spotify is a social network and a radio station, and even has its own app store. You can easily follow your Facebook friends to see what they like to listen to, as another means of music discovery, or just musical stalking. Sure, through Amazon, you can tell your Facebook friends what you're listening to, but it's not quite the same.
In the App Finder section of Spotify, you can add bonus material like Billboard's top charts. Twitter Music lovers can integrate the two services through the app. And Moodagent will instantly create a playlist to match your mood. Most apps are focused on music discovery or service consolidation. Amazon doesn't offer an integrated app store.
Possibly our favorite Spotify feature is the Radio. By tapping that option, the service creates a randomized playlist that will include some of your favorites as well as some you may not have heard before. You can vote each song up or down, or skip songs you don't want to hear. You can also drag new tracks to your library. Amazon doesn't currently offer anything similar.
There's no denying the huge scope of Amazon's ecosystem. In addition to free two-day shipping on just about every product ever made, through the Prime Membership, you get access to more than 40,000 movies and TV shows with Instant Video. You can also borrow from a lending library of 500,000 e-books. Plus, if you're using Prime Music on a Kindle Fire HDX, you'll be able to sing along with the lyrics via X-Ray for Music (pictured above). That's because the service automatically pulls in the words to just about every song and scrolls through them in time with the tunes.
Winner: Draw. If your goal is music, Spotify offers a richer experience. If your goal is just to be entertained, Amazon's got you covered on multiple fronts.
Overall Winner: Spotify
Perhaps music services get better with age, but Spotify is the clear winner for now. It has Amazon Prime Music beat, hands-down, on selection, regardless of whether you're on a desktop or mobile device. Plus, the musical extras are more robust. However, we won't be canceling our Amazon Prime Membership anytime soon because of its many other benefits. And Prime Music may very well cause a lot of folks to sign up--once Amazon adds more tracks.