Pandora Radio, one of the most recognized names among streaming music services, has undergone two major changes designed to improve the overall user experience. The most obvious change is the new Pandora Premiere feature, which lets you stream entire select albums before they hit stores. The second, and not-so-obvious, alteration is Facebook integration that sees the music service posting “Recent Activity” updates whenever you “Like” or listen to a song. Comprised of Music Genome Project-powered Web service and several mobile apps, the free Pandora Radio (also available as a $36 per year Pandora One premium service) continues as one of the leaders in the streaming audio space, despite missing a few features that its rivals possess.
Design and Interface
You begin the musical journey by keying in the name of an artist or song, which causes Pandora Radio to populate a station. The slightly-revamped music player showcases album art as a small square, with lyrics, and song and artist information located just south of it. Below the song and artist information feature “Buy” and “Share” icons. “Buy” lets you purchase the track from Amazon MP3 or iTunes; “Share” lets you share either the station or track with your Facebook or Twitter friends. Joining the pair is the new “Publish” button, which lets you set up Pandora to post listening and “Like” information to your Facebook page’s “Recent Activity” field. When Facebook friends click on the song title, they’re taken to that tracks Pandora page where they can build a new channel around that piece (they can’t, unfortunately, stream that song on-demand). Facebook is represented on the Pandora side, too. You can also see what your Pandora-loving friends are listening to by clicking “Music Feed.
The Music Genome Project and Customization
Pandora Radio’s artist recommendations were excellent in my testing. Creating a station based on Jimi Hendrix led to similar classic rock artists such as Led Zeppelin and Cream, but it tossed me a curveball in the form of Steve Wonder’s Superstition—an odd selection for a classic rock station. Another small gripe: The service lacks Slacker Radio’s niche genre stations such as one-hit wonders and video games. Certainly, they aren’t necessities; they cater to a niche audience, but the option is a nice one. You can also manually browse genres by clicking the search box, which causes a “Browse Genres” link to appear.
Pandora Radio also lets you customize your stations, but it’s not quite as thorough as Slacker Radio’s method. Clicking “Add Variety” lets you enter additional artists to further seed Pandora Radio’s artist selection algorithm. Slacker Radio, however, has a more flexible selection process that displays a long list of similar bands, letting you designate artists from them as favorites. You can approximate Slacker’s approach by clicking on a station you created on the left-hand side of Pandora Radio’s main screen, and then choosing “Edit Station Details.” You can’t, however, play songs on demand or build playlists.
I previously dinged Pandora for opening lyrics pages in separate tabs—but no more. Lyrics now exist on the same page as the other song information. Mousing over the album art opens a menu that informs you why the station is playing a particular track, and even let you move the track to another station if you have one created—very cool. When I heard a track from Willie Mitchell, an artist I wasn’t familiar with, I clicked “Why,” which gave me the reasons why this track was selected.
Pandora used to place limitations on the amount of free music that you can listen to, due to its deal with the RIAA—40 hours of free music per month. Now, you can listen to “unlimited” music, which is really 320 hours. If you come up against that extraordinary high listening wall, you’ll be contacted by the company for potential abuse. You can’t rewind or repeat songs, but you can skip six tracks per hour—typical of free streaming audio sites. You can also tell the system whether or not you like a given track—valuable feedback that Pandora Radio folds back into its recommendation algorithms for future choices. Users with free accounts will hear frequent audio ads.
Pandroa Premieres is the service’s latest addition and it’s one truly unique in the streaming music space. By searching “Pandroa Premieres” or visiting pandora.com/premieres, you can find select albums that you can stream in their entirety before they hit stores. At the time of this writing, John Fogerty’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone” and Laura Marling’s “Once I Was an Eagle” were the two Pandora Premiere albums available.
Upgrading to the $36 per year Pandora One (it’s cheaper than Slacker Radio’s $47.88 Slacker Radio Plus premium edition) lets you skip an unlimited number of tracks per day (you’re still limited to six per hour, though), skin the interface, download a desktop app, and enjoy ad-free, 192 Kbps listening experience.
Pandora Radio streamed crisp over my home and office network connections. Unless you’re a true audiophile, Pandora Radio’s sound quality should satisfy, especially when the audio is pumped through a phone or desktop speaker. However, donning a pair of Sony MDR revealed that Pandora Radio didn’t sound as full as Slacker Radio. The low-end sounds were a bit tinny on Pandora. Music is interspersed with the occasional audio ad, but I found these more tolerable than Jango Radio’s ads (which covered a large portion of the screen as songs played). I also encountered large 30 second video ads which took me out of music listening mode when they appeared.
Should You Listen to Pandora Radio?
Pandora Radio may not have niche stations or on-demand streaming but it’s a satisfying streaming audio service that’s available on numerous devices. Slacker Radio remains our Editors’ Choice among streaming music services for its on-demand playback and playlists, but Pandora’s customization options, Pandora Premiere feature, and decent sound quality make it worth a listen.
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 7|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc