iTunes Radio for iOS review: Built-in radio that beats Pandora

One thing I love about iTunes Radio is its minimally intrusive ads. Every so often between songs, it will give you an audio ad accompanied by an image in the album art box. Meanwhile, Pandora seems to bombard you with not only audio ads, but also pop-ups and full-screen interstitials that all inevitably get annoying. Of course, you can upgrade to an ad-free experience on either service (via iTunes Match and Pandora One), but for those who don't want to shell out the cash, iTunes Radio will undoubtedly offer a less intrusive experience.

What iTunes Radio doesn't have are non-music options. There are no stations for talk radio, news, or sports, which could be disappointing to users who are coming from Slacker Radio (which does have such stations) or who simply want a break from the tunes. Similarly, Apple's offering doesn't let you listen to live Internet radio the way an app like iHeartRadio does.

Customizing your stations
From the Home screen, creating a new station is as easy as tapping the New Station button and running a search. As I mentioned above, you can create a station based on one or more artists, songs, or genres, and you can tinker with different settings to improve the stations as you go. For instance, while you listen, you can tap the Play More Like This or Never Play This Song buttons, which are analogous to Pandora's thumbs-up and thumbs-down options. You can also use a slider to adjust a station's balance between top hits and lesser-known tracks, which is great if your intent is to discover new music.

To customize a station, you can input additional artists and songs that you like and dislike. Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

One thing that Apple obviously has over its competitors is access to your iTunes account and all of your purchase data. Because of this connection, the more music you play and purchase, the better iTunes Radio gets at creating featured stations that are tailored to your taste. On top of this, iTunes Radio makes it easy to quickly jump from radio play to the iTunes Store to purchase the track that is currently playing. Apple, of course, hopes that this bridge between music discovery and purchase will make for a very profitable (for the company) loop for users to engage in.

Final thoughts
When it comes to programmed radio streams, iTunes Radio is the best I've seen on iOS. Even at such an early stage of its development it's a standout product, with its enormous library, minimally intrusive ads, and overall clean aesthetic. Also, it offers a seamless experience for purchasing music through iTunes (not surprisingly).

But what really sets iTunes Radio apart in the programmed-radio field is its Featured Stations. Both hand-curated and algorithmically programmed, these stations are a great way to stay on top of both popular hits and more obscure releases waiting to be discovered. And with Apple currently ramping up its roster of music programmers, we can only expect it to get better. Meanwhile, Pandora doesn't offer such curated items. Other apps like Slacker and iHeartRadio do, but Apple's stations still seem just a bit more interesting and relevant, as they're tied to new album releases, live events, and even trending artists on Twitter. So, if you're looking for a way to stream programmed radio stations on your iOS device, look no further than Apple's own iTunes Radio.

That said, programmed radio may not be everything to you. Other apps like Slacker Radio and iHeartRadio bring things like live Internet radio streams, sports, and news radio to the table, which could make them better options if you happen to be looking for those specific features.

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    Where to Buy

    iTunes Radio (iOS)

    Part Number: IRADIO Released: Sep 18, 2013

    Free

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Release date Sep 18, 2013
    • Category Music and audio
    • Compatibility iOS