By Daniel B. Kline
Available on: iPhone, Android
Price: Free (paid version available without ads for $3.99 a month)
Should you get it? Yes
Pandora knows my musical tastes better than I do.
The app/website works off a simple premise: Tell it an artist or two whose songs you like, and Pandora feeds you music it thinks you will enjoy. Give a song a "thumbs up," and Pandora serves you more like it. Give a "thumbs down," and not only does the song stop playing, but Pandora knows to steer its choices away from that type of music.
I signed up for Pandora after downloading the free app in the iTunes store on an iPhone 4S. After a simple registration, I built a "radio station" by inputting a few bands I liked, starting with Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads, The Replacements, and John Hiatt. Pandora used that info to start serving me songs from those artists and others its extensive database thought I would like.
Even the initial mix was pretty good, delivering me cuts from my selected artists along with some songs I had never heard, but liked. Yes, I gave the thumbs down when there was a little too much Weezer and my selection of Hiatt led to a bit too much country for my taste, but the choices were 80% accurate, and Pandora learned my tastes very quickly.
Since I had a free, not paid, account, Pandora served an audio ad every six songs or so and the app had plenty of graphic-based ads that got in the way when I glanced down while driving to see what song was playing. Non-paying customers also have a limit on how many songs they can skip in an hour. (A Pandora subscription offers an ad-free experience for $3.99 a month.)
Pandora has almost no learning curve. It's a very simple app to use, and while I appreciate that it gave me songs by my favorite artists, I also enjoyed that the app exposed me to bands and artists I was unfamiliar with whose work I now plan to explore further. This piece actually elevates Pandora above other music services as it does not merely play a mix of stuff I already like; it broadens my musical horizons in a way that rarely happens to a 39-year-old guy who never listens to music radio (and who wouldn't like much of what gets played anyway).