Amazon Prime: what you need to know

That said, the library of free content Prime viewers can see is tiny compared to dedicated streaming services like Hulu+ and Netflix. Plus, you still have to pay to see big titles like The Walking Dead or classic films such as The Untouchables.

The real problem with viewing Instant Streaming video is that it doesn't work with every device out there. There's an Amazon Instant Video app for most Apple iDevices, media apps for the Xbox and PS3 as well as the Roku, but surprisingly - or not - there's no support for most Android devices other than Kindle Fires.

Free books! (If you have a Kindle)

The free library of borrowing books that Kindle or Kindle Fire owners can access with Prime is similar to Instant Streaming in that it has big titles like the Harry Potter series, but it's mostly filled with older or indie titles. So you might be hard pressed to find something you actually want to read.

What's even more limiting is the Lending Library is only accessible through a Kindle device; which means borrowing books won't work if you just have the Kindle app on any old device you want.

Amazon Books

Muggles who own a Kindle can read the entire Harry Potter series for free

Amazon Student and Mom

Amazon also runs a slightly discounted Amazon Prime account specifically for students, called Amazon Student. For $39 per year, undergraduates can renew their half-off Amazon Prime membership for up to four years of full-membership perks.

Moms, meanwhile, get a slightly less full-featured service that comes with three months of free two-day Amazon Prime shipping. New and expecting moms can also subscribe to a 20% off diaper delivery service.

Is there anything like Amazon Prime?

When it comes to getting stuff to your door through an online ordering service, Amazon isn't the only way to live a completely digital life, though it's probably the broadest.

San Francisco Bay Area residents can sign up for two Amazon Prime-like services.

Instacart provides local express delivery on groceries from markets like Trader Joe's, Costco, Walgreens and Whole Foods. It's soft of like the grocery store version of Seamless that lets you order $35 worth of cheese and bread online and have it sent directly to your house for $3.99 per shipment.

Google Shopping Express, on the other hand, is an experimental free six-month membership for unlimited same-day delivery of your groceries plus toys, coffee, and office supplies - everything you need to get you through your work day.

Outside of the San Francisco, there are always your local supermarket deliveries. But Amazon Prime is still the only service that ships nationally with same-day delivery in more cities.


Bezos doesn't have a lock on the market

Is Amazon Prime right for me?

Amazon Prime's most attractive bonus is still the loads you could save on express shipping, which in turn makes impulsive buying online an easy trap to fall into. If you're strictly looking for something to deliver digital entertainment to your living room though, you would probably be better served with a streaming service like Hulu+ or Netflix.

Kindle owners, meanwhile, get the full breadth of advantages that Amazon Prime provides, complete with mobile access to the Instant Video streaming and free monthly books.

Putting it all together, the combination of shipping, unlimited streaming and free Kindle books makes Amazon Prime a tantalizing buffet of physical and digital stuff all packed into a single subscription. But ultimately, it's all up to you to decide if it's really worth your yearly $79.