There's certainly no dearth of music apps in the various mobile app stores?even in the less expansive Windows Phone catalog?but as a major innovator in the field, Pandora remains a top choice among the many competitors. Sure, you don't get the digital locker or subscription options that let you listen to all the music you want, as you do with Xbox Music, Google Music, or Rdio. But unlike those, Pandora is free, with limited commercial interruptions. You can also subscribe to Pandora One account for $36 a year or $3.99 a month. This adds commercial-free listening and more skips per day.
In short, the Windows Phone app does everything Pandora does exceedingly well, and I'm not alone in this assessment?users have awarded it an uncommonly high 4.6 rating out of 5 in Windows Phone store. One of the coolest things about the app, which may account for this high rating: no ads will interrupt your listening though the end of 2013.
Signup and Setup
Getting a Pandora account follows the typical pattern for online services: You simply provide an email address, password, ZIP code, birth year, and optionally gender. A check box lets you opt into email notifications about music you're interested in, and another has you agree to the service terms. Once you've created an account, you'll be able to use it on any of Pandora's multitude of apps and integrations: You can find the music service on every phone and tablet operating system, as well as on the web and on home entertainment set-tops such as Roku and Apple TV.
After you've got yourself an account, the app asks you to type in your favorite artist or select from a list of 28 genres, from Alternative to Classical to Electronic to Metal World?you name it. Even after that selection, you have subcategories: After I chose New Age, Pandora presented me with subgenres like Relaxation, Ambient, Yoga, and Spa.
After you've created a station or two, you can start with the listening pleasure. To fine-tune a station, you can tap and hold its entry on your Pandora home screen and choose "Add variety." When you do this, you'll get another search box for adding an artist whose work and style you want to spice up your station.
As with every incarnation of Pandora, you get the track title, performer, and album name, then album art takes up the lion's share of the screen, below which are the standard thumbs up, thumbs down, and Skip buttons. You get six skips per hour per station, and up to 12 total skips per day. You can tap and hold a finger on the album art to get biographical info on the artist.
A three-dot menu button at the bottom of the player interface pops up choices for pinning the current station to the home screen, starting a new station, sharing the station via email to any contact on the phone or current track via Facebook. Other choices are to buy the song on Xbox Music, bookmark it (your bookmarked tracks will show up on Pandora.com), or indicating that your "tired of this track," to stop hearing it for a while.
One thing I miss that you get in competitors like Rdio is a scrubber like that in Rdio, which lets you skip ahead within a song. You also don't get a back button, in case you'd like to re-listen to a song. You can, however, swipe back through your previous songs' info and album covers, in case you forgot what that song you heard a while ago and loved was. And of course, with this type of service, you don't get to specify the exact song you want to hear, as you do with one of the paid services.
But what are the most important things when it comes to an internet music service? Selection and sound quality, that's what! First, sound quality: On my Nokia Lumia 928 test phone connected over Wi-Fi the sound quality was simply awesome.
Pandora's musical selection is broad and deep. From Justin Bieber, to Sharon Van Etten, to Orbital, to Thelonious Monk, to Thomas Tallis, there are very few musical tastes that won't be able to find their cup of musical tea through the graces of Pandora. Of course, if your tastes are extremely narrow, say, you only prefer 18th century British choral music, you may run into more repetition that you'd care for.
The Pandora app for Windows Phone interface is not relegated to just when you're viewing the app itself: It also shows up on the lock screen when it's running in the background. You can pause or skip the currently playing song without having to log in to your phone?convenient! I wouldn't mind a notification of song change, the way you get on the Windows 8 Radyo app, but I can see how people wouldn't want the interruption to what they're doing on their smallest screen.
Pandora: A Musical Gift Box
If you dig music of any stripe, you'd be doing yourself a disservice not to download Pandora for Windows Phone. At least for the rest of this year, having this incredible mass of free?and ad-free?music at your fingertips is one of the best deals around. So at least for now, Pandora wins a PCMag Editors' Choice for Windows Phone streaming music apps.