Mobile music apps hit and miss mark

by Mike Heral, Staff Writer

I know what you’re thinking. Not another article about Internet radio apps—and I hear you. There’s a mountain of reviews mingled with much hand-wringing on free music apps contributing to the demise of the rock star. But despite boorish buzz, innovation radiates through this industry causing us watchers to continually write.
Let’s look at one particular segment of Internet radio — those apps delivering either traditional or satellite radio stations to mobile phones. While radio stations are blasé compared to an app such as Pandora, which allows you to pretend you’re a station programmer, it’s a nice feature for transplants and non-resident students as well as those curious what their contemporaries elsewhere are listening to.
Here are the highlights:

BEST OVERALL
iHeartRadio

What it does well:

Classic radio
Ranking this as the best is as easy as ranking Ikea as the best place to buy hard-to-assemble furniture. But iHeartRadio is the best because it concentrates on doing one thing well: delivering a variety of radio stations to your phone with minimal fuss. Not once did this app crash during the time I listened to it.

What it doesn’t do well:

Carry a diverse set of genres.
Since the app carries actual stations, those genre gaps are the fault of narrow station programming. Let’s face it, more people want to listen to pop than death metal. iHeartRadio adds music libraries for those not afraid to stand apart from the herd. However, you have to listen to what iHeartRadio thinks fits. If you accept that it doesn’t understand your favorite genre as well as you then maybe your blood won’t boil.

 

BEST VARIETY
SiriusXM Internet Radio

What it does well:

All-genre coverage, without commercials
It’s about the only choice when you want to listen to current bluegrass, opera, and similarly seldom-heard artists.

What it doesn’t do well:

Fit your budget
Unlike other apps, SiriusXM isn’t free. The sole U.S. satellite radio provider offers a 30-day free trial, but it’s $14.99 per month after that. Sure, there are unnecessary items you can cut out of your life to afford SiriusXM, but this app is just as unnecessary. You can find what you want elsewhere.

 

WORST
Radio.com

What it does well:

This repository of CBS Radio-owned stations loads correctly onto your phone. Then again, the icon it loads is an eyesore.

What it doesn’t do well:

Play consistently.
If frustration is your kink, then this is your app. The longest this app played for me without losing connectivity approached 23 minutes. The average uninterrupted play time lasted 7 minutes. It’s maddening to continually reboot an app when others work perfectly fine.

 

SPECIAL MENTION
Slacker

What it does well:

Use “best-of” lists.
Slacker isn’t a traditional radio station provider, but it’s the best at creating the collections that radio breaks out every time a rating-sweep period begins. Even better, Slacker uses commentary from stars such as Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine instead of schlocky disc jockeys.

What it doesn’t do well:

Avoid repeat commercials.
Built with the same methodology as Pandora, Slacker’s commercial sponsorship is too limited. If you aren’t a subscriber, you’ll get tired of the same plugs playing every hour.

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