Songza is an increasingly popular streaming-music app that offers a different take on the type of programmed radio experience that Pandora initially made popular. Rather than generate playlists based on specific songs or artists, this app tries to offer up the right selection of tunes for specific activities you might be engaged in. Whether you're looking for mellow tracks to help you unwind on your commute home or high-octane drumbeats for powerlifting at the gym, Songza should have the playlist for you.
While other streaming-radio apps typically start you off with a search bar, Songza starts with its unique Concierge screen. Here, it presents you with six choices of different activities you might be engaged in. Six may not sound like very many, but worry not because these six actually change depending on the current day and time.
As an example, here on a Friday afternoon, Songza asked me if I wanted music for Driving, Working, Epic Walking, and so on. I chose Epic Walking, which led to another menu of choices designed to help the app home in on exactly the right playlist for my stroll. Songza wanted to know if I was, perhaps, "Walking Away from Explosions" or "Rockin' Leather Pants." Naturally, my answer was neither because I was simply "Swaggin' Down the Block." Once the app ingested my answer, it presented me with its suggested playlists, of which I selected "St. Ides Sippin'," a mix of '90s-era East Coast rap tunes that evoke images of Brooklyn stoops and 40-ounce bottles of beer. Needless to say, this was the perfect playlist for my midday break.
If none of Songza's six activities is right for you, you can easily bypass them. From the drop-down menu at the top, you can find shortcuts to the Popular and Explore screens. The Popular screen showcases featured playlists, those that are currently trending, and the most popular playlists of all time. Meanwhile, the Explore screen offers up a more traditional browsing experience, as it lets you sift through Genres, Decades, Activities, Culture, and Moods. Finally, there's a Record Store Clerk button that offers up niche playlists like "Indie Music That's Not Too Weird" and "When You're Over Being a Music Snob."
According to Songza, all of its playlists are "made by music experts," which I think offers a clear and significant benefit. Since playlists aren't algorithmically programmed, they are more likely to come in varieties that aren't found on other services like Pandora. Take my "St. Ides Sippin'" playlist. It is a subtle yet noticeable departure from the more generic '90s Rap playlists that are available elsewhere. While nuanced variations like this might not be achieved by an algorithm, they certainly are by Songza's experts. And it's because of this unique variety that Songza is able to provide a soundtrack for just about any activity or mood.
As with Pandora, you can vote songs up or down as you listen. This helps the app get better acquainted with your musical taste so that it can provide better playlist recommendations later. You can also skip songs while you listen, but only six times per playlist, per hour.
One of the best things about Songza is that it is completely free of commercials. This is a major selling point, considering the frequency of annoying audio ads on Spotify and Pandora. There are, however, small display ads on the app, but these can be ignored easily enough.
As for sound quality, Songza's was clear and offered no discernible distortion. The app did, however, suffer from some minor lags as I tried to quickly swipe between screens and shuttle between different menus.
A few bonus features worth mentioning are an integrated Share button for sharing song data with friends and a Shopping Cart button, which leads you to the track on Google Play if it's available. What Songza doesn't offer are links to supplementary information about currently playing artists and tracks. These would marry nicely with the existing service.