Editors' note, July 8, 2015: See CNET's guide to Internet radio services for a more up-to-date evaluation of this service, along with an analysis of how it compares to competitors.
iHeartRadio is an old favorite of mine that lets you stream radio from over 1,500 live radio stations or create custom stations based on a song or artist. The app pulls from over 18 million songs and 400,000 artists. The best thing about iHeartRadio, though, is that your custom stations are completely ad-free.
iHeartRadio is just one of hundreds of streaming audio apps that include favorites like Pandora, Slacker Radio, and TuneIn Radio, but with a new player redesign, recommended stations, and stations based on your current mood, it continues to be one of the best available.
Find or create your station
Live radio stations from all over the US are available, including everything from pop, country, rock, electronic, and urban, to talk and college stations. You can browse by genre or location and listen to music until you hit a song you don't like, then hit the Scan button to move on to another radio station (no matter the location) that offers similar music. If you like a particular station, you can save it to listen to again later.
Creating custom stations is incredibly easy as well. Just pick a song or artist and iHeartRadio assembles a playlist from a library of more than 18 million songs and 400,000 artists. When you're listening to a song, the app has a feature called the Discovery Tuner that lets you set how much lesser-known music is included in your station. That means you can just hear the hits most everyone knows, or you can hear music that's not so mainstream, and the controls are always available for you to switch. There's also a Skip button (with no limitations -- rare in the streaming-audio category) so you can move on to the next song whenever you want.
Great features for a free app
With iHeartRadio, you won't be able to choose your song directly (the way you can with a subscription to Slacker), but you do get features the other apps don't offer for free. While a song is playing, there's a button onscreen that lets you create a new custom station, view the artist's bio or the song's lyrics, and buy the song from iTunes. You can also set a sleep timer so you can listen to your favorite station and have it turn off after a preselected period of time.
The latest version of iHeartRadio adds even more useful features. Across the top of your search screen, there are now tabs for For You, Favorites, and Perfect For. For You is a new feature that remembers the music you listen to most, then makes recommendations that will fit your tastes. Favorites is the place where you can keep the mixes and stations you liked previously so you can get back to them easily. Perfect For takes a page from popular app Songza's book, letting you pick from categories like Road Trip, Working Out, or Love and Romance to give you music that fits a specific setting or mood.
Another new feature is accessed by opening the slide-out menu via a button in the upper left of the interface. A new selection called Shows and Personalities lets you browse on-demand episodes in categories like sports, news, comedy, and more.
Album art backgrounds
Also new to iHeartRadio is a way to change the interface to display album covers full screen as you listen to music. The interface elements such as the thumbs up, thumbs down, and skip controls are still there, but they float above the album artwork, giving the interface a better look.
To switch the player look, simply go to the slide-out menu, navigate to Account Settings, then touch Player Display. Here you'll find a switch you can turn on or off to display album art in a window or as the full background to your player. While few people probably stare at the interface while listening to music, the new look is a nice touch that improves the iHeartRadio experience.
The only problem with this new feature is that, in order to fit on your iPhone screen, the image will be stretched horizontally. This won't matter when the subject is a picture, but when there are words on screen (like the album name or artist), sometimes you won't be able to read the entire thing. It's not a big deal, but it's worth noting.
iHeartRadio is not new to the App Store, but what started out as a strong streaming-radio app has only gotten better with time. New features like the For You section make it easy to discover new stations you know you'll probably like, and the Perfect For section is great for finding the right music to fit your mood.
The app still won't let you pause or record music, but for streaming radio and custom mixes, iHeartRadio is still one of my favorite apps.
If you want an excellent streaming-radio app and don't mind not being able to pick songs directly, iHeartRadio is one of the best in the App Store.