Pandora may be one of the most easily recognized names in mobile streaming music, and rightfully so. The service and app are packed with plenty of great features making it a great choice for the soundtrack to a long drive or an instant party mix. There are some caveats — Pandora isn’t perfect — but it’s impressive ability to create flowing playlists from the songs and artists you choose is enough to give this streaming app a good hard listen on your Android device.
What is easily Pandora’s best feature is its killer ability to create playlists based around the music you already enjoy, taking it from the level of simply a music streaming service to a music discovery service. And Pandora is smart. Simply select “Create Station” from the Playlist view menu, and extensive data is pulled from the Music Genome project to match songs and artists. Parameters for matching go much deeper than just genre, tempo, and basic meta tags. We are talking more along the lines of criteria such as “subtle use of vocal harmony,” “intricate melodic phrasing,” and “mixed acoustic and electric instruments.”
The power of Pandora’s song-matching ability is evident when songs and artists appearing in playlists already match those from my music library. It is almost scary how well Pandora seems to know my musical tastes based on only one song. There are some shortcomings in this system, however, such as choosing a more obscure artist or song as a base for a playlist tends to create a music list limited in it’s variety. For instance, in over an hour of listening to a playlist based around David Bazan, Pandora only played tracks from Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie, Sufjan Stevens, and David Bazan himself. All great matches, but nothing too expansive.
Basing a playlist around the song “My Girl” by the Temptations created a much less repetitive station featuring some really great Motown tunes. Many of the tracks were popular favorites but every few songs an unknown gem would begin playing, and this is when Pandora is at its best. The ability to discover new music closely related to that which you already enjoy is great, and song and artist information is accessible from right in the app, as well as the ability to purchase the song or album. All playlists created either online or through the app are synced between the two, making it easy to access your favorites anywhere.
Aside from the great music matching capabilities, there are some other really cool features in the Android app. Playlists can be shared (via e-mail) with anyone in your contacts list, and newly discovered music can be bookmarked to revisit later. The issue is that these features don’t capitalize on everything that they could be.
Playlist sharing would work out really well if when hearing a specific song you wanted to show a friend you could directly share that track or artist, but instead you can only send a link to the playlist and hope your friend lands on the same song you found worth sharing. Bookmarks are song and artist specific unlike sharing a playlist, but are only accessible through the Pandora website and not through the application. This is great if you catch a track while you are driving in your car and want to be able to look it up when you get home, but if you do the majority of your Pandora listening through the app, not being able to access your bookmarks on your phone is a big issue.
Sound quality is pretty good on both the high and normal quality settings (with little noticeable difference between the two), and on a wifi connection on the high setting, music rarely skips. Pandora runs great in the background and shows an icon in the notifications bar when music is playing. Pulling down the notification bar gives you quick access to song and artist info without having to open the app or leave your foreground task. Many will take issue with a limited number of six song skips per hour per station and 12 total skips per day, though the daily limit can be removed by upgrading to a Pandora One account for $36 a year. This will also remove the ads from the app. While the limited skips and ads can be a nuisance every once in a while, it is a small price to pay for the free use of Pandora’s solid streaming service.
- Intelligent playlist creation for hours of great music
- Easy to navigate with synced playlists between app and Pandora website
- Share, bookmark, and purchase music directly from the app
- Solid sound quality and reliable streaming
- For more obscure artists, playlists can be limited
- No sharing of individual songs or artists
- Bookmarks not accessible through mobile app
- Limited song skips without upgrading to Pandora One
The Bottom Line: It is hard to deny that Pandora is a great utility for streaming and discovering music, and the app for Android only makes it easier. If you don’t want to be bothered with creating playlists song by song and don’t mind hearing a new artist or two along the way, then Pandora has you covered. If you want more control over what is in your playlist, and the ability to revisit specific artists and songs, you may be left wanting more. Snap the QR code to grab Pandora from the market for free now.
This article is the first in a series on music streaming apps for Android. Each day I will be reviewing a different streaming app to help separate the must-have music players from the rest.
Follow Kevin on Twitter, or send an e-mail to kevin(at)phandroid.com
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