Amazon has announced the U.S. launch of new cloud storage and media playback services that allow users to securely store and access files and music from any web-connected PC or Mac, or Android phone or tablet. Amazon customers start with 5GB of free Cloud Drive storage, with the added sweetener of an additional 20GB of space for music files upon the purchase of an MP3 album from the online store. Stored music can be played from a computer's web browser – whether you're at work, at home or visiting friends or family. More online storage is available via purchase plans.

Ever since Google unveiled a new music search feature in 2009, there has been talk – and much eager anticipation – of a cloud music service being rolled out. The buzz was again ignited when our friends over at CNET recently reported that the service is currently undergoing in-house testing. Apple is also believed to be working on a similar project. All that is by-the-by, however, as Amazon has now beaten both of them to the finish post.

The company says that any Amazon MP3 purchase sent directly to the Cloud Drive is stored for free and not counted in with a customer's storage quota. All uploaded and purchased files are securely stored on Amazon Simple Storage Service, and music files retain their original bit rate. Although the company does say that storing content online means that customers "never need to worry about losing their music collection to a hard drive crash again," anyone affected by the recent GMail data loss incident may beg to differ. Even though Google managed to recover deleted emails, it is always sensible not to rely on a single method of file storage.

The free-to-use Amazon's Cloud Player is offered in two flavors. The Web version can currently be launched from Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari for Mac, and Chrome (what – no Opera?) and includes download and streaming options. The Cloud Player for Android is being bundled with the Amazon MP3 App, and can be used to play music from the Cloud Drive or stored locally on the device. Music format support for both services is limited to MP3 and AAC files, so OGG and FLAC lovers (like myself) will have to nurse their disappointment.

If you find that your free storage quota just isn't enough for your vast music collection, documents, photos, videos and so on, additional Cloud Drive plans start at US$20 for 20GB.

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