App: Pandora® Radio v1802.1
Developer: Pandora Media, Inc.
Category: Music & Audio
IAP: $0.99 - $4.99
Pandora Radio is a stylish and wildly popular music streaming system that delivers customized content to devices according to your relative musical tastes and preferences. As our devices are capable of providing high quality music in many formats, Pandora attempts to offer an efficient and hassle-free method to listen to songs in your favorite genres, while keeping bulky MP3 collections off your local storage in the process. Touting $2.6 billion worth of licensed content that streams to all users, free and subscribed, Pandora has surpassed their competition in terms of capital investment to bring a massive virtual library straight to the palm of your hand. It is important to point out that Pandora is not a true live radio experience with no real time content available, but is more equivalent to having automated music stream from a cloud server via randomized selections in your preferred genres. As the name ironically implies, occasionally this system can result in unexpected content crossing genres, yielding more surprise than pure enjoyment. As these known anomalies have been acknowledged by Pandora Media through user interaction and reports, the response given is that Pandora opens doors to diversity and exposes users to music they normally wouldn't discover themselves. Exploring this mystical phenomenon and technology, we will open Pandora's music box to see what comes flying out, wicked or wondrous.
Pandora Radio exists as a free download and is a complete package as is; however, there are frequent ads and is limited to six song skips per hour, with a maximum of 24 total skips per day across all created stations. Upgrading to the premium service called Pandora One will run $4.99 per month or $54.89 for an annual subscription, which eliminates all ads, streams music up to 192kbps bit rate (please see below), and also offers additional song skips. Of important note; subscribing to Pandora One still does not offer unlimited skips like their competitors, which is a bit perplexing given this subscription rate. Another aspect worth mentioning is that Pandora is not freely available globally across the world; some countries are not applicable to use the service, free or otherwise. As the Pandora service can be used through the Web browser, as well as your devices, an account is required to access any or all aspects of the service and is also actively linked to Facebook for maximum functionality. As Pandora is an inherent gateway to social networking and provides an incredible scope of unknown content, some awareness and realization is required before starting your musical journey. As harmless as a little music app can appear to be, there are some notable aspects to consider before signing your life away for a year's subscription.
Registration is free, but accounts created must be by users with a minimum of 13 years of age and requires your name, zip code, birth year, gender, and a password. As there is content available that is suitable for children, there is quite a bit that isn't and is freely available, which needs to be aptly considered by parents. Creating an account for your 8 year old child and sending him on his merry way with Pandora loaded on the phone isn't the wisest idea. As the account is created, adding any information to your profile will require the Web browser and can't be edited directly with the app, but you can make your profile private with a setting in options. However, making your profile private will severely limit the experience as Facebook is strongly tied to the system to the point where it appears to be nearly mandatory for full functionality. If you want to hide your listening activity or block other users from commenting on your profile, you'll need to manually change those settings in the Web browser. Failing to do so can allow strangers to easily access your profile; however, even if your profile is private, users can still find your created stations by using your email address. Reasons for the inclusion of social networking will be discussed below as we explore the Pandora system in detail, but these points need to be cautiously considered as one can truly open Pandora's box to let all worldly matters flow into the device. As I am a vocal advocate of personal privacy, especially with social networking aspects, announcing to the world my listening habits, private information and allowing the app to modify Facebook isn't exactly a desired effect just to listen to music. All disclaimers aside, let's open the box to see what's inside.
The general interface is clean and simple at a glance, though not entirely intuitive or obvious in accessing certain features and windows. Depending on the size of the device used, you are presented with either an interface suitable for phones or tablets with just four tabs at your disposal; Stations, Feed, Profile and Settings. To begin your musical journey, you simply enter an artist or track name to create a station that will then play songs from that artist and similar artists in that relative genre. This channel is then automatically saved to your list with "Radio" appended in the channel tile and sorted either chronologically or alphabetically. The station content is based on gathered information through Pandora's Music Genome Project, which tracks and compares harmony, rhythm, genre, associated artists, and other various characteristics to build a randomized playlist of songs with this relative data. Specific songs cannot be searched and played directly in any way; the only available options are to either skip the track to play another, create another station using a different search term or turn off Pandora completely and manually obtain the songs you want to hear. Songs lumped into your created channels can sometimes deviate in genre and style completely. Creating a classical piano channel yielded only acoustic guitar selections at one point; I've read reports of jazz leaking into metal channels and other interesting tales that demonstrate the song selection process isn't perfect. As the level of control of content is minimal, this can either be a desired effect or one that leads to chronic song skipping, depending on your tolerance or listening situation. Running Pandora with seasonal choral music on Christmas Eve worked flawlessly the entire evening as it provided a steady flow of relative content with only a few repeated songs. In these instances of non-personal sessions in the form of ambient music, Pandora shines brightly as the moniker 'set it and forget it' certainly applied in my case. Those seeking very specific song selections with little tolerance for diversity will most likely be disappointed and turned away to another method of entertainment.
As your track plays, a gradient blue window displays a decent cover image of the album, which is a more refreshing sight than the blinding white interface Pandora provides, which I find unacceptable for a music app with no option for night mode. The control section simply consists of pause, skip, Like and Unlike buttons and a toggle to reveal a window with relative and interesting information. Here you will usually find artist biography, lyrics if available, features of the track and similar artists with icons that are linked to create new channels of selections. No options exist to repeat or rewind a specific track, so you'll have to wait for it to play again since there are no recording functions, as well. There is a purchase button that will send you to either Amazon MP3 or iTunes, depending on your device, to buy the track or album, but those purchased tracks are not available to play through Pandora directly. It seems that option was included to appease the RIAA since those MP3 files are useless within Pandora, but they are boasting $5.1 billion worth of generated music sales; something that would excite any music executive to dizzying heights. There also exists Pandora Premiere, which is yet another marketing gimmick in the music streaming field that can be enjoyed with both free accounts and by those using Pandora One. By searching for Pandora Premieres or visiting that section in the Web browser, you can find select albums that stream in their entirety prior to becoming retail products, with an option to pre-order for purchase, as well. Again, as Pandora does not handle MP3 files, nor any other audio format other than streaming, it seems odd to encourage users to purchase music and to not use Pandora, but their third party audio players for entertainment. I'm not seeing the purpose in paying $4.99 per month for Pandora One to listen to purchased MP3 albums elsewhere.
A Share button exists to publish either the station or track to Facebook or Twitter. Along side is the Publish icon, which will post listening and Like information to your Facebook page's Recent Activity section. When your Facebook friends click a song title, they're taken to that track's Pandora page with which they can create a new channel around that song's metadata, though not the song directly. This is where the Feed page in Pandora comes in to where you can also see what your friends are listening to in Pandora and offers relative social interaction therein. Here you can receive notifications regarding what your friends are listening to and also follow them to track their history and preferences in music. Embarrassingly enough, the tablet interface offers a somewhat hidden comment section from users that is accessible by clicking on the artist and track name under the album art. However, to save my life, I am unable to find this comment section on the smaller interface of the phone whatsoever. In this section, you may post comments about the song playing, visit other user profiles, acquire stalkers, get into arguments or whatever your heart desires. Though, the comment section appears to moderated in an automated fashion, clever textual workarounds elude the process completely. If the occasional profane lyrics section or the often shocking artist biography isn't interesting enough, you can always sort through suicide notes and delusional love affairs from teenagers afar. Hence, the minimum age of 13 for membership prevails, but I have to wonder how many parents ignore this and use Pandora as a virtual babysitter as I saw several comments from users supposedly under eight years of age..
The Profile window appears as a scaled-down Facebook replica with Bookmarks, Likes, Followers and Following stats with recent activity listed for your account; all in the default blinding white theme. Your profile picture appears to rely on your Facebook avatar; thus, switching your profile to private status will make it disappear completely. There are some key privacy options I use as a reasonable medium, which I'll discuss below. As I Liked just one track for test purposes, I see of no obvious way to remove it from my list afterwards. Since you cannot recall specific tracks on-demand, I guess that artist will enjoy a thumbs up from me until the end of time since there is no way to Unlike it. Upon doing some research, the Like/Unlike system employed throughout Pandora is used for statistical analytics that is important for the system to understand trends and supply new content according to popularity. However, our privacy and personal preferences seem to take a backseat priority in favor of what's good for the masses. It's almost like a herd of record label executives learned Java and threw Pandora together for their own selfish needs and to generate royalties, all the while laughing to the bank. Once you realize that the true function of Pandora is to generate massive revenue for all parties involved, things become more painfully apparent. With the general sensitivities of the users trampled upon, we now move on to the Settings screen, which can almost certainly make or break your experience.
In the Privacy tab of Settings, I have my profile set to public to allow my avatar to show up and to enable the social networking madness. However, I disallow comments on my profile, as well as switch off Publish to Facebook. I don't need ten thousand people knowing I'm blasting that 2 Live Crew debut album from 1989 with an unknowing click of a button. Incidents like that can not only be very embarrassing, but can cost you a job as some employers actively inspect social networking before and after hiring. Full notifications can be toggled in Settings, including those generated by Pandora itself, thankfully. A quality toggle for use over data lines exists, as well as battery conservation mode for screen lock and an automatic launch toggle for playing music upon firing up the app. Some nice features here are the sleep timer for 15, 30 and 60 minutes, alarm clock options to wake up to Pandora streams and a nifty Daydream feature to display on the screen when your device sleeps, or attempts to do so. Under account options you will be able to edit your personal information given, as well as toggle explicit content, which is completely useless as a parental control feature. Given the right settings, you can arrive at a happy medium to ensure some privacy and eliminate nagging and unwanted notifications, which is always very much welcomed. Complete missing is any option or attempt whatsoever for a night mode as an alternative to the intensive white interface that could melt paint off the wall at night. Even more baffling is the mixture of white screens mixed with a darker window for the track display. Being outside in bright light, I can see the need for an optional white interface, but then the track window can be difficult to read due to the darker tones, and vice versa in dark night time environments. It seems someone took a liking to Google's philosophy by not giving us a choice, but presenting the app in both dark and white tonal themes is simply ridiculous.
Regarding audio quality of the streams, we run into a bit of snag here with varying standards depending on the device used and where you are using it, which is most disappointing of all. Pandora through the Web browser plays at 64kbps AAC+ for free listeners and 192kbps for Pandora One subscribers. All in-home (e.g. WiFi) devices play 128kbps audio, and mobile devices receive a variety of different rates depending on the capability of the device and the network they are on, but never more than 64kbps AAC+. As a reference, the closest compressed MP3 bit rate to that of redbook CD audio (44.1kHz at 16 bit) is 320kbps. With a little math, this means the audio streaming to your devices at home on WiFi are at least half the quality of a CD, and one fifth the quality of a CD as a free user or on your phone's data line as a Pandora One subscriber. All audiophiles may now scroll down and hit the thank you button for the review while I attempt to justify the cost of Pandora One, and to list suggested applications for such low quality. As I have run Pandora for hundreds of hours on a high speed WiFi connection in several locations, I have not encountered stream disruption or skipping, which can be attributed to the low bit rate of the stream. Casually playing Pandora through your devices or even using Bluetooth speakers to fill a space full of ambient music certainly does wonders, there's no question. However, plugging in $500 studio headphones and expecting a religious experience will definitely not happen as the high fidelity simply is not there. The 192kbps rate can yield some decent results in appropriate music styles, but you will require a computer or laptop to benefit from those higher quality streams. Pandora Media's marketing on this issue isn't crystal clear, either; research on the Web yields answers, but the limitations certainly aren't made obvious at time of purchase, which I find to be misleading. Granted, $54.89 per year won't buy you many albums if you choose to purchase selections on your own, but with these lower quality streams, you may end up doing just that to listen to them properly.
As this review may seem a bit harsh in addressing most of the factual shortcomings and issues of Pandora, it still remains to be a convenient way to stream endless music with little hassle or interaction at times. Streaming it through your phone at work can be marvelously relaxing and help productivity exponentially. Having background music through the home or office has been scientifically proven to aid in our moods and general health. Restless infants with sleeping or other disorders have also clearly benefited from soft, quiet music playing in the background. With all the vast oceans of music available, there is also ample material to discover that you may have missed otherwise. Pandora is a bit circumstantial in regards to recommendation as everyone has different needs and applications to suit them best. For those who are audiophiles demanding the most pristine audio experience they can find, I would say stick to your FLAC format and find a decent network or cloud player with a fast connection. Casual users and those who simply want something to fill the dead air will probably find Pandora to be a reasonably practical solution for aural entertainment and enjoy it immensely. Depending on your needs and application, the facts are out in the open and it's up to you to decide on which side of the fence you dwell.
- Vast catalog of songs available for streaming.
- Discovery of new music through creation of stations.
- Integration of social networking can be fun with friends.
- Offers detailed artist biography and often lyrics per track.
- Allows for a 'set it and forget it' method for ambient music.
- Pandora services are not available in all global regions.
- No way to search and select individual songs on-demand.
- Varying low quality streams for data lines and WiFi devices.
- No functions for repeated play, rewind or recording of tracks.
- Some cross-genre tracks slip into unrelated channels occasionally.
- Monthly or yearly subscription rates are costly versus stream quality.
- Mixed interface of white and dark with no customization or night mode.
Device/OS used: Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note 3, Nexus 7 2012 / KitKat v4.4.2, KitKat v4.4.4, Lollipop v5.1.1
Purchase at Google Play
Purchase at Amazon
Mobilism: Pandora Radio v1802.1 [Color Mod] Patched