Since there’s not a live show 24/7, and your ears probably wouldn’t appreciate it if there was, sometimes you just need to enjoy music on the go. This series will review some of the internet radio apps out there, starting with one of the more popular ones: Pandora.
Pandora Internet Radio
The service itself is unique in that it is driven by the Music Genome Project. The MGP “classifies” songs along a very, very deep range of criteria, which Pandora uses to map out a series of similarities between tracks. Users “seed” a station with a single track or artists, and Pandora plays tracks similar to that seed. While the station plays, users can thumb-up or thumb-down tracks, further customizing a station based on those like/dislike controls. At least, that’s the plan…
It’s probably beyond the scope of a review of their mobile app, but what review of Pandora would be complete without mentioning the promise of the service and the reality don’t match up all the time. You’ll never have to look hard online to find a “how did Pandora decide to play that?” story. Not to dissuade you, of course, the system usually functions quite nicely. “Thumb-down” controls help keep Pandora’s flights of musical fancy under some control. Two thumb-downs will remove an artist completely from a station.
I am leery of some of the song matching criteria. Some of them include lyric similarities, and I don’t consider that a particularly strong thread. I don’t seek out new music because it contains “narrative lyrics.”
Pandora is not “on demand”. If you pick a song to seed a station, it’s guaranteed you won’t hear that song first thing. If you’re the impatient sort, you can either write your congressman about the messed up situation with internet radio royalties, or just get Spotify. I’ll be reviewing that later.
Users have the ability to skip 12 songs (thumb-downs included) per day. While the service previously allowed more, the change isn’t particularly onerous unless you’re exceptionally picky.
The Pandora Mobile App
The mobile app provides basic functionality similar to the web based based player. Like the online service, it simply starts playing the last station, something I found frustrating on the mobile platform, but less so on the web. You can buy tracks, thumb tracks up/down, create/delete stations, but, and this is key, you can’t edit stations from the mobile app.
I’m not sure why this functionality is left out, it’s fairly core to the Pandora experience. Once you’ve created a station, either via song or artist, you can “add variety” to it by adding additional song and artist seeds via the web interface. That functionality is absent here. If you accidentally thumb down a song on the mobile app, you’ll need to wait until you reach a computer to fix the mistake.
The app allows you to pick the quality of the stream, something anyone with a metered data plan will appreciate. Even at low quality, it seems insistent that it only plays when hooked up to a 4G signal. If your 4G drops, so does Pandora. That was my experience with the Android version on Sprint.
Pandora comes in two flavors. The free version provides both commercial interruption of the stream, and a limited listing window of 40 hours per month. Paying 99 cents will allow you to keep listening for the rest of the month.
The paid version (Pandora One) isn’t quite so expensive , currently $36/yr. This removes commercials and the listening window, but not the skip limits. Might want to lock in that price though, as Pandora’s “sweetheart” licensing deals with the music labels run out in a year or two.
Despite the limits placed on the mobile app, it’s a good way to stay in touch with your favorite music on the go. Pandora’s recommendation engine, while hardly perfect, may clue you into artists or tracks you’d never have known about otherwise. In-between the odd bout of “where did that come from,” I discovered quite a few artists I liked while listening to Pandora. The $36/yr. price tag on Pandora One is too good to pass up (record companies agree, so get it while you can), and a must-have if you’re listing during your work week.