Consumer Electronics & Appliance News, Reviews & Information.

Jan 12

Setting your Cloud experience free (or why some fees may apply)

The Cloud: Meet the third party services

Our exploration of The Cloud has almost hit free-fall. But before I pull the ripcord to save myself (sorry, the rest of you are on your own), there’s one last bit of scenery to look at.

These are the mid-level Altocumulus clouds that simultaneously fit and don’t fit in anywhere — a great resting place for anyone considering cloud hopping, but also dangerous to get too comfortable at because of a lack of unifying structure with other services, and problems with portability if you decide to switch away from it.

Cloud hoppers

Services that fall into this category jump all over the board, from movies to music to document storage. The benefit to these services is that they tend to be present on all devices — this makes it less of a hassle if you change from a Droid to an iPhone, or if you’re using a top rated tablet like the Toshiba Thrive while rocking out on a Mac.

For video, services like Netflix and Hulu are good cloud hoppers, allowing you access to their entire libraries from almost any device. Streaming to home theater equipment is relatively simple, with a large number of devices supporting both of the services.

The downside, of course, is that you don’t own any of the content, so if you let your subscription lapse, you lose access to everything immediately.

For piecemeal content, Amazon’s Marketplace has proven to be a more lasting bet over the last several years. You buy or rent movies (and music) and then can watch and re-download them across most top rated tablets, computers, and smart phones.

On the musical side, you’ve got plenty of cloud hopping options. Pandora, Slacker, Rhapsody, and Spotify are just a few of the services you can access and manage from essentially anything. Most of your top rated tablets, TVs, receivers, and smart phones have the option for at least one of these services. Unlike with video services, some of these services allow you to download music to your computer (for a fee) that remains yours even if you no longer subscribe. In addition, several have free versions of their services available.

Document storage is somewhat ubiquitous, with popular free options like DropBox that give you 2GB of storage, Evernote that lets you keep small notes, receipts, and other notes in a centralized location, and even Google Docs (yes, it’s above, but any device with a browser can technically get at the documents stored on google docs — it’s just much easier within the Android family of devices).

Mix of cloud services

What's your mix?

So what are the downsides of using these services?

There’s not much interaction between them. If you use DropBox, it’s a hassle to get things into Evernote. If you have a favorite playlist on Pandora, Rhapsody or Spotify won’t have any clue about it.

For music and movies, you may have to use multiple services to see or hear what you want. Different companies have different deals with major studios and record labels, so if you’re looking for the best of The Beatles or just searching for an indie artist you love, you may end up in different places. With streaming services or storage, you may also end up without access to it in places where cell coverage or Wi-Fi aren’t available.

Pricing can also become an issue, especially if you use multiple services — Netflix and Hulu on their own may not cost much, but with both, plus a subscription to a music service on top of file storage beyond a few gigabytes, things can start to add up.

So what set of services is best? It’s hard to say, and may take some additional research of not only what each service has to offer, but also your own usage habits.

Videophiles may go heavier on the subscription or piecemeal services depending on how often they rewatch movies. Music lovers may stream music from internet radio services if they use it as a way to constantly search for new music, and then buy albums from any number of online music sources (or just the old fashioned way — on CD or vinyl).

My own personal mix is one part Netflix subscription, the free version of Hulu, a little Pandora and Slacker radio, and a touch of Dropbox. Let us know how you’ve set up your cloud in the comments.

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