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June 19, 2014

Review: Value in Amazon Prime goes beyond shipping

AMHERST, Ohio — Spending $99 a year for an Amazon Prime membership to get free shipping hardly seems like a deal. After all, I can usually get free shipping by spending at least $35 on a single order.

But Prime’s benefits became apparent gradually over the nine months I’ve used it.

During a trip last month, for instance, I got started on the first season of “The Good Wife” and read Michael Lewis’ “The Blind Side.” Last weekend, I added Journey’s “Greatest Hits” album to my music library and began watching the spy drama “The Americans.” I finished a book on photography on my way to work Monday.

All that came for free with Prime.

Some features work only with a Kindle e-reader or tablet — or with the new Fire phone that Amazon.com Inc. announced yesterday. Buyers of that phone will get 12 months of Prime for free.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty to enjoy, even without an Amazon device:

UNLIMITED VIDEO:

Since 2006, Amazon has been offering video for download, much like Apple’s iTunes. Although TV episodes cost just $2 or $3 each, I hate paying for something that’s been shown on television for free.

Amazon changed the dynamics in 2011 when it started offering movies and TV shows to Prime members for free. Unlike Netflix, Amazon offers only part of its collection that way. Video is available on a variety of devices, but not Google’s Chromecast or smartphones and tablets running Google’s Android system, with the exception of Kindles.

As with Netflix, free video has typically been limited to streaming, meaning you need a persistent Internet connection. But last fall, Amazon began enabling downloads on Kindle tablets. That came in handy during my train trip through Ohio and other states last month, when I kept encountering stretches without cellular service and couldn’t watch Netflix.

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