In the eight years since Pandora Internet Radio was launched—back then, only available on, you know, the actual Internet—the digital music landscape has been irrevocably altered. And much like the music industry at large, a lot of companies and products are rushing to catch up or, in the case of Pandora, maintain a foothold that was quickly established way back in the halcyon days of 2005. Their newest mobile iteration takes a few big steps forward in both design and functionality. But is it enough?
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There was a time when Internet radio reigned supreme. What’s strange to consider is that, really, it’s a relatively new invention that has managed to change shape at a rate that is hard to imagine. The true digitization and now ubiquitous portability of music is only 15 years old. Let that sink in for a minute. We’ll wait. Even more mind-blowing is how young the constantly evolving mobile app landscape really is. If the rest of technology managed to evolve at the same rate as smartphones, tablets and mobile apps, we might actually have that sweet hovering skateboard from Back To The Future already. But we digress.
With the newest update—both for aesthetics and functionality—Pandora has made some much needed changes, bringing their mobile app in line with what users want and expect in 2013.
One of the most important and appealing aesthetic changes acknowledges the ever-growing screen size of both smartphones and tablets, and the app lays everything out accordingly. Intelligently paneled, with most everything where you would intuitively expect it to be, it’s easy to figure out and simple to use. Search by song, artist, composer or genre, and you’re off to both familiar and unexplored musical landscapes.
With the free version, though, the smartphone experience is quickly and irritatingly ground to a halt with the inclusion of screen-hogging and not-easily-dismissed pop-up ads. On the tablet, they are still there, but you can simply ignore them since they take up a designated panel. On your smartphone, anytime you want to check out lyrics, artwork or any other information related to the current song—which, if we’re being honest, discovery is one of the primary functions of an app like this—you’re greeted with a truly aggravating bit of commercial interruption. We really don’t mind the ads placed between tracks while listening to our station of choice—that, we totally understand—but this is something else entirely and actually interferes significantly with the user experience.
As far as the app’s functionality, Pandora does exactly what it says it will do, and it does it really well. We were genuinely surprised at the selection and offerings it includes for even the most varied and discerning of listeners. We took it for a spin, asking for quite a few bands from very different genres and were greeted with a great mix of both directly relevant tracks and tracks that were a little more esoterically related. Everything worked well, and with the exception of the admittedly minimal ad interruptions, we were able to enjoy what Pandora put together for us.
One of our favorite features is the ability to listen to Pandora while working on other things, like browsing social media apps or playing games. It never felt like multitasking bogged anything down. Also, syncing across platforms seems like a foregone conclusion, but it’s hard to explain how much it’s really appreciated until you’re switching devices. Pandora nails it.
A few simple fixes to the ad situation on the smartphone variant of Pandora’s app could conceivably make this a go-to app for both listening and discovery. The tablet experience is a joy to use, so don’t think we don’t appreciate what Pandora has done here. Far from it. We really like this app and think you will, too.
Reviewed: Dec 12, 2013 | Jared BowersAlso featured on: Best Music Apps of 2013, Also featured on: Twitter Debuts on NYSE, First Star Wars–Themed Game App Launches + Other App News You Need to Know, Also featured on: iTunes Radio vs. Pandora vs. Google Music All Access, Also featured on: 5 Best Music App Alternatives to Spotify