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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.
When you don't want to decide exactly what song to listen to, Pandora's got you coverage. The popular online music service lets you create custom radio stations based on genres of music, artists, music albums, and even specific songs.
Just like the original Web-based version, Pandora Radio for Android lets you tap into an incredible library of music to create stations based on artists or songs, browse through genre-based stations, or fire up a shuffled playlist based on your listening history. If you're already a Pandora listener, you can enter your existing log-in credentials, or you can create a new account right from the app.
The Pandora Android app sports a clean design, tons of social features, and your user profile, which keeps tabs on your listening history. In a recent update in December 2013, the app added an alarm clock so you can wake up to your favorite Pandora stations instead of the same old screeching tones of your phone's alarm clock.
To get started with Pandora, create a few stations based on your favorite kinds of music. You can create stations centered around your favorite artists, or even just one song you like. Pandora then searches for music that matches the same melodies, themes, and instruments to create a full station. You can fine tune your stations by adding variety. For example, if you create a Rolling Stones station, you can add Led Zeppelin or "Light My Fire" by The Doors to add more nuance.
As you listen, Pandora lets you rate tracks up or down, or skip tracks at will. Your ratings here will help Pandora home in on exactly the types of music you like, so it's important to be an active listener. This ability to "understand" your musical taste is really the service's biggest strength. On the other hand, if you're a lazier listener, then you can just as easily let Pandora do all of the programming on its own. Just don't expect it to get much better at doing its job. If you hear something you like, you can bookmark the track or artist for future reference. You can even purchase some tracks right from the app.
You can share what you're listening to via e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, or simply post your track to your Pandora profile, which tracks your listening activity. Pandora profiles keep track of songs you Bookmark and Like. What's more, they add another social element to the listening experience, as they enable other users to see what you're listening to (if you make your profile public), and you to see what they're listening to. You can even "follow" other users and get updates when they do things like create new stations. Altogether, it's a fantastic way of discovering new music.
Wake up with Pandora
In a recent update, the app added a handy new feature called Alarm Clock, which wakes you up with a station of your choosing. To activate the alarm clock, tap on a station to start playing in, then tap three-line icon in the top left of the screen to reveal a menu. From there you can turn on the alarm clock, set your time, snooze duration, and music volume level. You can switch to a different station from the alarm clock page, and even choose the shuffle option to have Pandora pick one of your stations at random to start playing when the alarm goes off.
The alarm clock screen looks downright pretty. The current song's album art takes up the entire screen, and there's a circle in the middle that has controls to turn the alarm off or snooze. If you snooze, that starts a countdown on the screen that shows how much time is left before the alarm sounds again.
If you're not a Pandora One subscriber, then be prepared for a lot of display and video ads. Some are smaller leaderboard-style ads near the bottom of the screen, while others are huge pop-ups that almost completely cover the album art. Fortunately, you can close the larger ads with a quick tap. If you usually just fire up a station and put your phone in your pocket, though, then the visual ads probably aren't too big a deal. However, the video and audio ads can become annoying quickly, especially when they occasionally play in between each song in a station (they often show up when you skip a song too).
If you can swing the $4 per month fee for Pandora One, we highly recommend it to get rid of the ads, especially on the mobile apps.
Pandora is a great service to listen to music without needing to hand-pick songs for a playlist. The way it gets to "know" your musical taste is impressive, and it even helps introduce you to artists you never knew you'd like.
Overall, the Pandora Android app offers a phenomenal listening experience. Its user interface is slick, despite the pesky advertisements. What's more, it features robust sharing features, control to edit your stations, and a nifty new way to wake up to your favorite tunes. If you like listening to music on your Android phone or tablet, Pandora is well worth the free download.