Dustin wrote a great piece a couple of weeks ago discussing how much he pays for cable and other forms of entertainment. In my case, I paid every single dime he did, and in addition I also had NFL Sunday Ticket and a number of football-related apps (all of which I’ve now cancelled). I’m also an avid gamer, so I have additional fees for things like an Xbox live membership, in addition to every dime I spend on the actual games.
But one conundrum I find myself in is in the world of online storage. Cloud services are kind of the anti-Comcast/Time Warner, because in my experience, they’re all kind of amazing, the customer service is top notch, you pay for what tier of service you want, and they actually work.
Let’s start with Amazon.
I use Amazon Fire TV on my main TV (which retails for $99, but I got for $79 in May of 2014). Let me just plug this product for a minute. Amazon Fire TV is an A+. How many products can you say that about? The remote has a push-to-talk button and you just say the name of ANYTHING into it, and it always gets it right. No matter which member of your family, it always gets it right. My five year old who says R’s like AWR’s says the name of a show into it and it’s always right. It’s the best voice technology I’ve ever dealt with.
You can plug a network cable right into it but it also has built in wifi, which makes it amazingly easy to situate and use. We take ours on vacation with us every year to the beach house and you just plug it in, connect to wifi, and bam — all your shows are there. It’s super easy. When the remote stopped working after like seven months, I called Amazon and even though it was out of warranty they sent me another one for free. Two days on my Amazon Prime. No questions asked.
And yes, I have Amazon Prime ($99/yr) , which gets you free prime shows and movies. It gets you the HBO show portfolio. It gets you unlimited storage for photos and 5GB for videos and files. It gets you Prime Music. And it gets you two days shipping.
I have an Amazon ECHO, which retails for $179 but I got for $99 in April 2015. The Echo is something I added to my cart on a lark and then forgot to take out. It showed up on my doorstep and it’s been a valued computer butler ever since. It’s as close as we can get to having our own synth like on Humans. I give the Echo as solid A-. We use it all the time. It’s basically a similar thing to Apple’s Siri, but it lives in your house. There are certain “wake” words you use (you can pick either “Amazon” or “Alexa”) and then you can ask it questions. It’s been something the kids show everyone who comes in the house, and it can be fun.
We’ve found it surprisingly useful. It gives you quick weather updates, flash briefings (basically a news brief), and answers all sorts of questions. For me it’s been a godsend when I have my hands full with a crying baby and I can say “Alexa, play Mozart” and bam, it’s on. I’m a fan of anything that makes life easier and the Echo has been a huge help in that regard. I think it’s worth exactly what I paid for it, but the current price point feels too steep. If they can get it down to the $95 range, they’ll really have something. And honestly, I’m not even scratching the surface with what this thing (in conjunction with IFTTT) can do.
I also have Amazon Cloud Drive. I pay $59.99/year (4.99/month) for unlimited storage for files and videos and photos. I have this because once upon a time we had maxed out our Dropbox and we decided to start using Amazon as our additional storage locker. Plus, you can use the Fire TV to use your photos as a screensaver (like Apple TV does) and rather than holding up my iPhone to show videos to the family you just put them in your Amazon Cloud Drive and viola! You can watch all your phone videos (and I take a TON) on your TV.
With Amazon Music, my Prime account gets me 250 songs uploaded. I currently have 31. If I wanted to pay $24.99/year I could upload 250,000 songs. I don’t really even know how those 31 got there. I can’t remember the last time I used the browser-based cloud player.
Lady Castleton has an old school Kindle. She used to use it to read PDFs for work but I see it mostly just gathering dust on our charging table. We don’t own any of the latest kindle stuff.
One last thing, sometimes, when I’m shopping on Amazon I order an item that I don’t necessarily need in two days. If you select a cheaper/longer shipping method you get a 1$ credit toward digital content. So the other day when my kids wanted to watch the original Christopher Reeve Superman we found it’s not part of the Amazon library. That’s OK because Amazon has access to basically EVERYTHING, you just have to rent it. No problem, I paid the $3.99 rental fee with free credits from my digital account.
In my general dealings with Amazon, I never worry. They always do right by me and I end up spending thousands of dollars with them a year. I also have an Amazon Mom account (as a primary care-giving dad, don’t get me started on that name) which has been good. I get monthly discounts by using their Subscribe & Save program (specifically for diapers, wipes, water filters, and air filters). The Amazon Cloud Drive interface is super-clunky and that’s been a real drawback, but I see positive changes and upgrades on an almost weekly basis and they seem committed to making it work more smoothly.
Amazon Must Haves: Prime, Fire TV
Amazon Nice-To-Haves: Echo, Cloud Drive, Amazon Mom Membership
Amazon Optionals: Kindles, Amazon Music, Amazon Seller Account
Overall experience with Amazon: A+
Apple has made a name for itself by making things easy to use. That’s a huge draw for consumers. I don’t have Apple Macbook because, having worked in IT when I was a whippersnapper and being a PC gamer, I’m primarily a PC guy. All my friends basically have Apple laptops (or iMac desktops) and they love them until something goes wrong. It’s rare when it does, but when it does it can be a nightmare. I’ve always wanted one, but every time I go laptop shopping I get sticker shock from the Macbooks. They’re just so goddamn expensive. They’re beautiful and user-friendly and light as a feather, but the price? Wow.
We do, however, have two iPads. A regular size and a mini. We have four iPhones in the family now that my two oldest are old enough to have them. We also have Apple TV, which went on some crazy sale about two months ago for about half price so I got one. It retails for $69. I think I got mine for $29 or $39. I forget. So far, it’s been nice. We don’t use it as much as DirecTV or Fire TV, but we love the screen saver, which automatically uses our photos from iCloud.
The remote for the Apple TV is designed for someone much younger and slicker than I am, and for kids that have less jelly on their hands than mine always seem to. It’s good looking but it vanishes into the side of the sofa more than any of the other remotes. I basically got this product just for AirPlay, which only seems to work about 75 percent of the time and randomly just stops working for no discernible reason. Can’t figure out why. It’s not a big deal though because the Apple TV remote is lost about 50 percent of the time, so that saves us the annoyance of AirPlay bailing on us 25 percent of the time. That remote is small. Also, design-wise, if you ask me to choose, I’m taking the Amazon Fire TV remote over the Apple TV remote every single time. Much more intuitive, better in your hand and less easy to lose inside, say, a tiny envelope, or the toilet of a doll house.
We pay $3.99/month for a 200GB iCloud storage plan, which is primarily for handling the iPhone and iPad backups, in case one is lost or stolen or dropped in an actual toilet. As far as the iPhones go, I think it’s the best all around tool I’ve ever owned in my life and this is coming from a person who has a huge Tim Taylor sized actual tool collection. The iPhones have been great for us and really made us feel more comfortable with Apple products.
We also use Apple for iTunes and podcasts. iTunes used to be my go-to music service, but then my brother in law got a job with Spotify and now that’s what we all use. I guess, at some point, I stopped caring about actually owning music. I’m virtually never without an internet connection and my CD collection, while I love it and worked hard to build it over the years, feels like a hassle I no longer want. With a big family, space is at a premium, and my CD’s are stashed in my barn these days, with the boxes of video games I used to play on Windows XP. Why would anyone ever thumb through this kind of thing unless your music tastes are super eclectic?
The only reason I even keep CDs around at all is in the admittedly improbable event that I survive an apocalypse and become a local warlord. I’ll be able to use different music to motivate the troops and conduct weddings and funerals. Sadly, this is why probably I hold on to about 30 percent of my things. In the event that I survive an apocalypse. “When the end comes you fuckers’ll be happy I kept them cases of corned beef hash and Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits!” Aaaaaanyway, my iTunes music library probably has about 500-600 songs I’ve purchased over the years and by that I mean years and years ago, before I had kids and blowing thirty bucks on music didn’t garner a stink-eye from my better half.
Side note: My Spotify premium account runs me $9.99 per month. We have actually two Spotify premium accounts because we use Facebook to log in and I haven’t really thought about what a waste that is until this second. But because Lady Castleton uses Facebook to log in, I’d have to use her Facebook to do the same, and that would muck up a ton of things on my phone, etc. I just can’t deal with the ads. I’ll have to think about whether or not paying $120 per year to not hear ads is worth it.
My Apple experience has been almost perfect. While I don’t use it as much as my Amazon account, when I do it almost always has a simple interface with minimal hassle. When I upgraded to an iPhone 6 half a year ago I received one with a bad gyroscope and the hipsters at my local Apple store kind of did the irritating thing where they’re upbeat when you just want your shit handled. Less talky, more fixy. Work at my pace, not yours. Anyway, with the exception of that and a teeny tiny Apple TV remote, Apple has been decent. But I don’t use them to store files for the most part, outside of backing up my day-to-day stuff.
Apple Must Haves: iPhone; my friends all say MacBook, I can’t afford it; iTunes, iCloud, iMacs
Amazon Nice-To-Haves: iPad, iPad Mini
Amazon Optionals: Apple TV
Overall experience with Apple: A
This is another fantastic family of products that I use every single day. Before I ever post anything on Pajiba I write it in a Google Doc. I can’t say enough about these free browser-based products. They’ve saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars I used to waste on Microsoft Office. I need to have access to things like spreadsheets and in the past you’d get a new PC and then have to but a whole new Microsoft Office Suite. It used to drive me crazy, and it felt unfair. But what else could you do unless you were a Linux person?
Then Google came along with a suite of office products that were largely not as robust as the Microsoft offerings but would certainly do the trick, and people like me were blessedly out from the Microsoft Word shadow in a cloud of smoke. In fairness, Microsoft has since realized the audacity of their pricing structure and has rolled out not only a more reasonable series of plans…
…but a free option as well.
Too little too late for this caballero, though. I’m solidly in the Google camp. Which means that I use Google Drive religiously, for the low low price of free (for the first 15 gigs). I actually upgraded to the 100 GB pricing plan in June, which runs me $1.99/month. If you need it, you can get a terabyte for $9.99/month.
We own three tablets with Android based operating systems. One is this colossus we serve drinks on because it’s just awful and weighs 30 pounds and is like SD everything. The other two are amazing. One is an LG we got free from AT&T for getting a new iPhone and the other is a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. They’re both great, but I notice that when we’re on road trips the kids gobble up the iPads first and whoever gets the Android based ones feel like they got screwed. But I think they’re great, so I’ll take whatever floats down the gutter to me when the kids are done complaining.
Google doesn’t have a presence in our TV watching world, but we all use the chrome browser as our go-to browser. Google does (I think) have some version of a music service through the Google Play Store, but I’ve never used it. I don’t know anyone with a Chromebook or a Chromebox but the price points are pretty enticing.
Google Must Haves: Chrome browser, Google Drive (w/docs/forms/sheets/etc)
Google Nice-To-Haves: Android based tablets, Android based smartphones
Google Optionals: Chromebooks, Chromeboxes
Overall experience with Google: A+
I’ve had Dropbox since the first week it came out. Back then I was using a backup solution called Mozy and when I lost a bunch of files it was misery trying to restore them. In fairness, that was a limitation of the 11 baud connectivity those days more than a problem with Mozy, but I’ve been with Dropbox for years now. Years.
It was probably like eighteen months or so ago, after I had filled up their max capacity of 100 gigs, when I started searching around for other solutions. I called and asked them, can I get more space? Is there a bigger storage solution? Not unless I upgraded to a business account, which at the time was a jump from the $9.99 I was paying to (if memory serves) $49.99. Ugh. Maybe a month after that I get an email from Dropbox that was basically “You don’t have to do anything, but for the same price you’re paying you get 1TB storage instead of 100 gigs.” That’s what I’m talking about!
I’ve never had a single problem in any way with Dropbox. I have lots of folders I’ve shared with friends. I’ve received exactly the right amount of additional free space for referring people. I use it on multiple platforms with multiple connections and everything runs like a well-oiled machine. It couldn’t be better, and then they went and made it better with their Carousel app, which is a much nicer interface to view the photos in your dropbox. I have my iPhone automatically do a camera upload whenever I’m in my home wifi, and without any hassle whatsoever, my pictures and videos and files are safe and sound.
Overall experience with Dropbox Pro: A+
So, they’re basically all amazing, and all do exactly what I want them to with little to no hassle. I feel, though, that the future is a place where we’re all going to have to pick sides. We’re going to break into factions of tech loving Googles and ease of use Apples. I don’t know how I’d get through the day, technologically, without any of these. Cost certainly plays a role. Customer service with all of these companies has been exemplary.
Microsoft should have a place somewhere in this article, but outside of the $59.99 annual Xbox Live Gold Membership (which I just got for $42 in the Amazon Prime Day Sale) I don’t seem to use them outside of my operating system on the four PCs we own. Feels like they’ve been marginalized by the competition to some degree. Or that they’re your grandad’s computer company. Either way, I don’t use their OneDrive service, even though their prices look very reasonable.
In general, I think a lot of our collective future decisions about who we’re more loyal to will tie in with who starts offering streaming services and who makes it truly painless for us to actually cut the cord from out of control D-bag cable companies and satellite providers. (On that front, my experience with DirecTV has been painless. No less than an “A” since I first signed on with them in 2002 or so, and they have a thing about hanging on to long term customers, so I’m always getting things free). As well they should with the $130+ they get from me every month, seven of which is stolen by a network I never watch.
We’ll see how it all shakes out, but right now, the keyword for cloud storage is effectiveness. It all works the way it should. How have you chosen your cloud storage solutions, and what, if anything, will nudge you in one direction or the other? I need to know, so, y’know, I can pick the winning team to Hunger Games on.
Lord Castleton is a father of four who writes these articles between feedings and bathings and what seems like one eternal meal that he never stops cooking. He almost never sleeps. You can email him here.