The online music locker space is heating up big time, now that Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and launched its own service as an “external hard drive” of sorts, which requires no licensing from the record labels, at least as far as Amazon is concerned. Apple and Google are still sitting on the sidelines, but plenty of other ways already exist to store your music in the cloud, such as DropBox, a great, all-purpose “external hard drive” in its own right.
DropTunes — the work of one John Mills, who is not officially affiliated with Dropbox — transforms Dropbox into a cloud-based music service. It’s not perfect — especially if you plan on accessing your music from portable devices — but if what you’re after is a simple way to upload your music to the cloud so that you can stream it to multiple computers, DropTunes works great. Bonus: Because it sits on top of Dropbox, which allows private folder sharing, you can use DropTunes to play music from your friend’s Dropbox accounts, too, should they decide to share some music with you.
As mentioned, DropTunes relies entirely on Dropbox for uploading and managing files — a big help for this cloud-based music app, given that the DropBox service makes it ridiculously easy to upload stuff in general, music included. Once you have the free Dropbox helper app installed (Mac, Windows or Linux), all you have to do is copy a music folder into your local Dropbox folder, and it automatically syncs to the cloud, from which DropTunes can play it back.This takes a while, but that’s not a dealbreaker, because you can leave it running all night, or in the background as you take care of other tasks.
DropTunes works best with MP3s, although you’re not out of luck if you also have songs in the M4A, OGG or WAV formats, so feel free to upload those as well.
Playing DropTunes on Desktop or Laptop
In our testing, DropTunes worked great for playing back music on both Mac and Windows computers, using Chrome, FireFox and Safari browsers. Although it occasionally took a few seconds for the initial song to load, songs played smoothly back-to-back after that. (We used Chrome, FireFox and Safari.)
However, there’s one big catch: DropTunes only plays back songs by the folder, so forget about playlists, “shuffle all,” and other niceties. At least Dropbox makes it easy to rearrange your music on the server side, so if you want, you can create “playlists” by moving or copying music between folders.
Two more wrinkles: You can’t just click the Play button, but rather need to click the “Play” text next to the first song in a folder to make it play; and in order to play supported non-MP3 formats (M4A, OGG and WAV), you’ll need to click over to the HTML5 version of the web app using the easy-to-find link near the top of the page and use Chrome or Safari.
Smartphones, Other Hardware
DropTunes technically works as a music player with the iPhone and any other smartphone or tablet that can handle HTML5 music streaming — just direct your phone to droptun.es/html once you’ve logged in, and all of the music in your Dropbox will be sitting there, waiting to play. If you bookmark that URL on your home screen (see screenshot), DropTunes will feel sort of like a native app and you won’t have to click the “try in HTML5 mode” every time to switch from the Flash version.
However, in our testing, the music sometimes played fine (even over 3G), and other times, it simply refused to play. Perhaps DropTunes needs to be a native smartphone app in order to work more reliably and allow niceties like shuffle and playlist creation — or perhaps this is another example of Apple stifling HTML5 apps. Regardless, we would not recommend relying on this as your cloud music locker if you need reliable playback on an iPhone or other iOS devices.
So far, DropTunes is not specifically supported by any other hardware (Apple TV, Roku, Boxee, Sonos, etc.), although anything with a browser that supports HTML5 is worth a shot.
Storage vs. Price
DropTunes uses Dropbox for storage, in case we haven’t made that clear enough yet, so basically, it can play as much music as you can store in your Dropbox account. Dropbox only comes with 2.25GB of free storage — enough over 50 albums (although this depends on how your music is encoded). Dropbox’s free offering is a bit paltry compared to Amazon’s and mSpot’s 5GB of free storage (especially because Amazon gives you 20GB if you purchase just one album by the end of 2011).
Extra Dropbox storage costs twice as much per gigabyte as it does on Amazon’s thrifty Cloud Player, which leverages Amazon’s massive data center to drive down costs. However, you can get up to 8GB of additional free Dropbox storage for referring friends — an especially good idea if you intend on using the sharing feature mentioned below. Otherwise, you can purchase more storage ($100/year for 50GB or $200 for 100GB per year — again twice what Amazon costs).
Solid Music Sharing Features
Because DropBox was designed with collaboration in mind, you can share your music folders with your friends who also use DropBox, even if they don’t use DropTunes. This your respective music clouds to mingle, so to speak.
To share a music folder with a friend, simply click the Share a Folder button, choose the Share Existing Folder option, and follow the simple instructions.
Who It’s For
First of all, if you have an Android, you should use Amazon’s Cloud Player instead, because there’s an app for that. In addition, if you want to store a big music collection in the cloud, Dropbox is too expensive relative to the competition.
But if you already use DropBox for other files or for backing up your data; really want to share music with your friends; don’t mind spamming your friends to increase your storage capacity or paying a premium for space; won’t be shattered if Dropbox kills off this third-party service; and/or plan on listening mainly on a computer, we can confidently recommend DropTunes as a solid cloud-based music locker.