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Streaming Music Showdown: Pandora

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.

pandora-playlists

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.

pandoranowplaying

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.

The Pros

  • 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

The Cons

  • 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.

pandora-qr

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.

Other articles in this series: Last.fm, UMusic, Slacker Radio, Grooveshark

Follow Kevin on Twitter, or send an e-mail to kevin(at)phandroid.com




  • http://techmisfits.com bryan p

    I love pandora, its one of my fav apps. I have found tons of new artists through it.

    I think its better them other services to find new music talent.

  • garet

    I miss Imeem that was the best Damn myspace shutting it down

  • kwest12

    All I have to say about this, is GrooveShark FTWWWWW!

  • http://www.yourmomcomics.com sammysunset

    WOW. Nice call with Dave Bazan. I was really surprised to see that. My current station started with Dave Bazan / Pedro the Lion, and then branched out as I also added Rilo Kiley, Aaron Sprinkle and Modest Mouse to the mix.

    I’ve since learned of many more bands that match my tastes through Pandora, using those bands as a starting point :)

    Nice review!

  • http://onebigword.com Jason

    +1 more for GrooveShark. You have to be a VIP member ($3 a month) to use the Andriod app, but you can make your own playlists, and it has caching.

  • mudrock1000

    You know we have an app section for this article that would be wonderful for this.

    That being said of course newer artists aren’t going to be in there. Who is more popular? AC/DC Or ke$ha? (Which one is better? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not Ke$ha :P)

    I feel like that should be self explanatory. Luckily, as a teenager, I’m not on the pop boat. I fell into ska (If you don’t know what it is look up reel big fish or Streetlight manifesto. It is great stuff especially in today’s world) jazz classic rock and other things older than me.

  • Logotic

    Fine review, one quibble, with good phones there’s a
    huge difference between high and normal quality sound. At least on the Hero. At least to my ears.

  • treefq

    @mudrock: That’s because today’s current crop of ‘musicians’ are really just glorified entertainers. Some come with a techno kit to make funny sounds. But for the most part, pop is riddled with no talent. Of course I just generalized I know that.

  • http://digitalflophouse.com/ Evan Kaufman

    I love the Pandora service, have it going almost all the time that I’m at my computer. I’ve noticed, however, that the Android app is still extremely buggy. Great when it works, but frustrating when it doesn’t.

  • Memitim

    Quick correction: subscribing to Pandora One does not remove the skip limit.

    http://blog.pandora.com/faq/contents/1525.html

  • Andy

    Thanks for the tip about the quality settings. I always thought Pandora sounded like crap on my Moment. HQ sounds much better and works fine over Sprint’s network.

  • ColombianCoffee

    Last.Fm to me, is a MUCH better option. Unlimited plays and unlimited skips. It also does intelligent playlists and has better support for more obscure artists. Plus, the online version even offers free downloads for some song. The app will also let you know when and where your favorite artists are touring.

  • http://chicojd.wordpress.com JDNorCal

    I really prefer Slacker Radio… Much more to my personal liking. Better stand-up comedy selections.

  • Gilbert Shrum

    Check out StreamFurious… it couples with Shoutcast.com, which has a wide selection of radio stations in all sorts of genres and bitrates.

    I like this service because the music I stream on my home music player (Roku m1001), is the same music I stream on my PC (via WinAmp), which is the same music that I stream on my phone (Moto Droid via StreamFurious)… not many services can offer that cross compatibility over multiple devices like this.

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  • Joyce

    I love Pandora,I also like Pandora bracelet.

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  • http://last.fm abe?

    Yo listen up last.fm has all the bells and whistles you’ll find your undiscovered artist and all that, but… you can love a track, tag it, add it to multiple playlists, and if you like a song, and didn’t save it, or forgot it you can find it in the “recently played” tab… Pandora step it up cuz where dah f*** are all my songs I bookmarked at, huh? Give us an update Pandora, pretty please with sugar on top… peace.