Pandora (for iPhone) review

Pandora's popular personalized streaming audio service comes to the iPhone with most of its excellent features intact.
Photo of Pandora (for iPhone)

Pandora Radio, one of the most-recognized names in the streaming music service space, brings its large library and Music Genome Project-powered song recommendation engine to the iPhone. The free Pandora Radio (also available as a $3.99 per month, ad-free Pandora One premium service via an in-app purchase) competes with other mobile streaming music players including the likes of Slacker Radio, but manages to fall short of that class-leading app by missing numerous features and drubbing listeners with an excessive advertising.

The (Very) Basics
After logging in, you’re greeted by a screen that showcases any previously created stations, which I liked. Seeing James Brown Radio and The Dirtbombs Radio (stations I had previously created using Pandora for iPad) already populated on the homepage encouraged me to dive in and listen. You can, of course, create a new account from scratch. In addition, there are options to edit your Pandora Radio profile, shuffle tracks, and connect your Facebook account to find other Pandora Radio listeners within your social circle (and see what they’re listening to). 

That said, Pandora Radio has the blandest user interface of all mobile streaming music apps I’ve tested; in fact, it is easy to mistake it for the iPad’s settings menu at a quick glance. Appearance isn’t everything, but it does count for something, and that’s where Slacker and even the recently launched Twitter #music shine.

The Pandora Radio for iPhone Experience
Music, of course, is the heart of Pandora Radio for iPhone. You key in a song, artist, or composer name into the search field to create a station based around the selection. Typing in “Thriller” created a station full of ’70s and ’80s hits that included Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believib’” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” I was pleased with the song selection. You can up-vote and down-vote sounds that you love or hate, which customizes the audio delivered to your headphones. Tapping the album art takes you to an area where you can view a truncated artist bio page (you must click a link which opens in-app to read the full write up), or view a list of the track’s musical influences.

Unfortunately, Pandora Radio for iPhone lacks lyrics and album reviews, something Slacker Radio offers. You can, however, bookmark individual tracks and artists, or use the currently playing song to create a new station.

Sound Quality and Annoying Advertisements
Pandora streamed crisp over my home and office network connections. Unless you’re a true audiophile, Pandora’s sound quality should satisfy, especially when the audio is pumped through a solid headphone set.

Unfortunately, far too many advertisements mar the experience. The visual ads (some of which are nearly full-screen) are of no consequence if you’re eyes aren’t on your iPhone, but can prove problematic if you want to read a bio. The more atrocious offense is the non-skippable audio and video ads (some of which were 30 seconds long) that appear between songs. The ads not only pull you out of your listening flow, but appear very frequently, too. Upgrading to the $3.99 per month premium account removes the ads and the six song skips per hour limitation. In fact, Pandora Radio may be better served ditching the free model altogether if the ads remain so intrusive.

Should You Tune Into Pandora for iPhone?
If you already subscribe to Pandora One on the desktop, downloading this free app is a no-brainer. Others who demand more flexibility should check out Slacker Radio, which has lyrics, on-demand song playback, and far less annoying ad interruptions.

Specifications
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
Pandora's version of its user-customizable Internet music service for the iPhone keeps its simple charms and clean interface while eschewing a few of its more advanced features.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc