Last.fm's music-centered social network is one of our favorite ways to discover, share, and stream music online. Currently in version 1.01, the Last.fm application for the iPhone and iPod Touch allows many of the best features of Last.fm to break away from your computer and go on the road with you. The Last.fm app isn't perfect, however, and people looking for a straightforward Internet radio application would do better with offerings from Pandora and AOL.
When launching the Last.fm iPhone app for the first time, you'll be prompted to enter your existing Last.fm account username and password, or you'll be offered the option to create a new account. If you're new to Last.fm, we recommend you get started with the service using your home computer, since many features depend on an ongoing analysis of your computer's music collection (also known as scrobbling).
Once you're logged in, the Last.fm app offers eight ways to stream music over EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi. You can listen to songs Last.fm has already scrobbled from your computer's music collection, treat yourself to recommended songs, do a cold search for new music, or hear what your friends have been listening to. The music playback screen is similar to Apple's own iPod screen, displaying large cover art, volume, pause, and skip controls, as well as an iTunes purchase link and Last.fm's own song rating buttons, which help to steer the quality of song recommendations. On the very bottom edge of the screen you'll find tabs for the currently playing track, artist biography, similar artists, events (such as related concerts), and a More tab that includes the track's tag information and Top Listeners.
With all its features, tabs, and buttons, the Last.fm app is one of the most in-depth and dynamic streaming music applications available for the iPhone. Unfortunately, despite its ambitious list of features, the program is bogged down with performance issues that make it frustrating to use at times. During testing in both Wi-Fi and 3G modes, we often experienced 5 to 10 second buffer delays each time we initiated a music stream or skipped between songs. The buffer issues subsided under ideal circumstances where Wi-Fi or 3G reception was strong; however, similar streaming audio applications from Pandora and AOL offered better streaming performance under more realistic conditions.
With any luck, future updates to the Last.fm app will improve streaming music reliability and refine the somewhat confusing assortment of menu options and playback screen features. In its current state, the Last.fm app presents a bite-size version of the Last.fm Web site experience in a way that may satisfy existing users, but is unlikely to win new converts.
Editors' note: Last.fm is owned by CNET's parent company, CBS Interactive.