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Review: Don’t ditch Pandora yet for iTunes Radio

By Ryan Nakashima
Associated Press

Now that iTunes Radio has shipped to millions of iPhone and iPad owners, does that mean you should delete Pandora? Not so fast, I say.

Apple’s new music service, which comes with new iPhones and the free iOS 7 update, lacks some of the mojo that has helped Pandora become the leader in Internet radio. Mainly, it doesn’t have the intelligence that Pandora has gained from tens of billions of interactions with listeners who have given a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to a song.

Over several days of playing with iTunes Radio, I found the app frequently misjudged my tastes, and I ran out of skips more than once. (You can skip a song only six times per station per hour, the same as Pandora).

It could be my own fault: iTunes Radio takes a big cue from your song collection in picking what to play, and what I do own is mostly a patchwork of gifts and other songs that don’t reflect my preferences. That said, I found iTunes Radio’s song selection more miss than hit.

For instance, when I created a custom station based on Adele, instead of hearing soaring, yet up-tempo tunes sung with a huge vocal range, I got a bunch of what I consider mushy rock ballads over and over.

With Adele Radio in Pandora, I got artists that I closely associate with Adele, including Kate Nash, Feist, Norah Jones and Regina Spektor. But then again, I had already given a “thumbs up” in previous Pandora sessions to three of the first seven songs that played, so the app knew that I liked them. That shows the time I’ve invested in Pandora deserves to not be wasted.

Meanwhile, Pandora lets you see song lyrics and the artist’s biography. It also lists some of each song’s hundreds of musical qualities, such as “acoustic sonority” and “major key tonality.” That helps explain why Pandora considers it similar to other songs in a station.

ITunes Radio picks songs using input from recording labels, third-party metadata services like Gracenote and Apple’s own editorial choices. But it doesn’t show you lyrics, bios or explain why a song was chosen.

There are reasons to appreciate iTunes Radio, however.

ITunes Radio gets first-class treatment in iOS 7’s new Control Center. This set of handy functions can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen no matter where you are in the device. It also appears on the lock screen. Along with typical media controls such as play/pause, volume and skip, iTunes Radio adds a little star where the “back” button usually is.

A swipe down, or one press of the home button, gets you back to what you were doing.

In Control Center, Pandora has a back button that doesn’t do anything, and you can’t thumb up or down without going back into Pandora’s app itself.

Easy purchases, fewer ads

ITunes Radio makes it really easy to buy songs you like from iTunes. If you’re in the app, a box in the upper right corner shows the price of the song. Tap it twice. You might also need to enter your iTunes password.

ITunes Radio has noticeably fewer ads than Pandora, and there are no stand-alone graphical ads. Apple is just getting started selling ads, and ones for products and services beyond music will come soon enough.

By comparison, Pandora is slathered with ads.

Either way, you can pay to get rid of ads completely – by signing up for Apple’s $25-a-year iTunes Match service or Pandora’s $36-a-year Pandora One.

Bottom line: iTunes Radio could get better over time. But I wouldn’t get rid of Pandora. Not yet.

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