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My favorite iPhone radio apps: Pandora, last.fm, and AOL

I am one of those music Junkies with over 25,000 songs in my music library at home. When I sit down on my computer, I know exactly what I want to hear.  But the iPhone  changed that. It offered me radio options that I’d never considered before. Here are my favorites.

Pandora Radio

There is a reason why Time Magazine ranked Pandora among the Top 10 iPhone applications.  It’s awesome. If you are familiar with Pandora Radio then you already know what I am talking about. Its service has matching algorithms that allow users to listen to a completely customized radio service for free. I have found countless new music, artists and songs that are now a permanent mainstay in my iPod thanks to Pandora Radio.

In fact, I find the iPhone application is actually easier and more pleasant to use than their full online version. Pandora’s interface for the iPhone is simple and easy. It includes all the features their full website has to offer on a 3.5 inch screen. The advantages are that the advertisements are so small, so it’s hard to read them. You can even close the ad windows right within the application. But the elegant and simple interface is not why Pandora on the iPhone is truly great, it’s because the iPhone allows Pandora to be mobile.  Compared to my huge iTunes at home, my tiny eight gig iPhone seems downright claustrophobic. Sometimes I want something new and Pandora lets me do that wherever I am (barring the chance of spotty AT&T service). When I am walking to class, at the gym, or riding the bus home I can enjoy something new and maybe find my next favorite artist or song.

I enjoy using Pandora on road trips the most and with the iPhone I can do this in a safe way while driving. I simply plug my iPhone into my car, then go into my iPhone’s settings and turn the auto lock off so the phone stays on the whole time (I have the iPhone powered by my cigarette lighter so the battery dose not drain). Once I have done this I am good to go and if I need to skip a song it is as easy as tapping the skip button on the phone no different then when I used to change the radio station on my traditional AM/FM. Last week on a five hour drive I listened to Pandora’s Tom Waits channel the whole time and I didn’t  miss traditional radio or NPR at all. The auto industry has finally caught on to how great Internet radio is on the road. Ford announced this week a new version of Microsoft’s SYNC will include a Pandora application, see Autoblog.com. But lets face it, I’m not going to buy a new Ford just to get Pandora on the road when my trusty iPhone is by my side for free.

Pandora on the go is definitely a different experience and unique, once it is freed from the desktop or even the laptop.  But my favorite thing about Pandora is the nostalgic feeling I get from listening to a radio on the go. The year was 1996 I was 8 years old and had just got my first Sony Walkman for Christmas. I felt so cool listing to the radio walking home from elementary school or to the bus stop. It was simple, no digital dials or Internet browser, just a volume control and a tuner. Pandora is better than the Walkman of my childhood. It’s customizable, clear and exciting to use.

Last.fm

Last.fm is a close competitor to Pandora and has existed for much longer. In many other countries the service is offered only through a paid subscription service, but luckily for anyone in the U.S. Germany, or the U.K. it is free. The interface and experience are almost identical to Pandora, especially when it comes to the 3.5 inch screen of the iPhone. Users can change stations by artist or genre, get information about the tracks they are listening to, give thumbs up or down to the current track, and tag songs they like for later. It also has . . .

Unlimited Skips! The user experience is similar to Pandora, except for Unlimited Skips. Unlike Pandora, which limits you to just five skips for every hour you play a station station, Last.fm gives its users and unlimited amount of skips. Many Pandora Fanatics find the skip limit the most frustrating part of their service Last.fm dose not have this restriction.

No Commercials I don’t know how they do it but I have been using the Last.fm for almost three months now and I have never seen one commercial on their application. Granted the ones on Pandora are small and not a problem but they just don’t appear in Last.fm

On Tour This is a small feature, but I love it. How it works is that when a song is playing and the artist happens to be on tour a link will appear in the top right corner pressing this link will pull up a calendar identical to the one found on the iPhone and display the tour dates, times and locations and provide links to buy tickets or more information. This is a really cool and slick feature and I wish Pandora had it!

Overall these two applications are extremely similar and provide almost the same experience. Once you have pressed the thumbs up and down icons enough and trained them to play only music you like, the differences are negligible but with Last.fm there are no limitations on listening (Pandora has a 40 hour a month limitation) or skips with no advertising as far as I can tell. If you’re the kind of person that needs more skips and hates all advertising use last.fm and see if you like it. This application deserves a chance by all Pandora fans.

AOL Radio

AOL Radio has existed in one form or another since the late nineties and is the dinosaur of Internet radio.  Compared to any modern Internet radio service it is technologically inferior but this is the closest you can get to old fashioned AM/FM radio on your iPhone. There is no fancy music matching technology or customizable features available but it has dozens of genres and hundreds of subgenres. Before I used AOL radio, I had no idea there was an alternative country music genre. You cannot skip songs but it displays the name, artist and album that are being played and you can bookmark songs you like. The interface could not be more simplistic.  By simply tapping on the genre and subgenre you want, it begins playing immediately – almost no buffering takes place and it is the snappiest radio app I have ever used on the iPhone. The real joy can be found in some of the fringe and lesser known music sub-genres it offer like Final Fantasy Radio which only plays music from the video game soundtracks. It also has other interesting stations such as classic Hip-Hop, emo, martini lounge, wedding songs, drinking songs, and gay anthems.

It seems the folks at AOL have tried to make a station for everybody. Some stations have an occasional commercial but it is very rare to hear them and only certain stations on AOL have them. The application functions as a simple easy to use portable Internet radio and all you have to do is pick a station and adjust the dial. This is the closest you can get to the Walkman experience but it will still display the songs it plays and offer you a link to buy them. AOL radio is worth a look for any iPhone owner that simply wants to do something unheard of in mobile communications devices, listen to broadcast radio… Walkman style.


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2 Responses to My favorite iPhone radio apps: Pandora, last.fm, and AOL

  1. Music Download January 13, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

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  2. steve jam January 14, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    I have been listening to several music apps for the I-Phone for the past year. Of the apps described here I do think Last FM is much better. I would note that there are a couple hundred of music apps available for the Iphone including Last FM, Pandora, Tuner2, Public Radio, HD Radio, as well as single station apps of Folk Alley Player and Radio Paradise.

    Of all these apps I listen to Radio Paradise the most as the music programming, with no commercials, and wide variety of music constantly playing, i.e., any set you might here jazz, alt country, solo piano, country, alt rock, well you get the idea. I find this the most interesting.

    For those audio freaks out there I find that Tuner2 does have the best quality of streaming into your phone, in terms of sound and without interruptions.

    I have tried other apps to like Radiolicious, Y Phone, Our Stage Radio, Live365 Radio, and found lacking for either content or frequent interruptions in the stream. All of these and more I have deleted from my Iphone.

    I think what is really needed is measurement tool which would give at a glance what the 200 plus radio / music applications do, the quality of the streaming, audio and the variety of the content.

    Steve

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