Pandora on Windows Phone makes it exceedingly easy to listen to your favorite artists and genres of music on your phone. Music playback is clear and the app has enough features to share and manage your stations without getting in the way of playback.
A major bonus of the app is that through the end of 2013, you get the benefits of Pandora's $4 per month/$36 per year paid service, Pandora One, for free. Those perks include no pop-up ads or audio commercials that play between songs, and no monthly streaming limit. However, there is a limit to the number of songs you can skip per hour, per Pandora's musical licensing agreements.
Like every Pandora app, you must have either a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection to listen to music, as there's no offline access. Depending on the coverage in your area, you might not have any issues staying connected to Pandora as you go about your day. However, if you commute in an underground subway, move through a dead zone, or take a drive up the mountains, Pandora will likely cut out.
When you first launch the app, you'll see a screen that shows your recent stations, displayed as a collection of album art. The largest photo shows the most recently played station or the current song playing from that station. If you have more than six stations, you can tap "see all stations" at the bottom to see your full list. You can also tap Shuffle to shuffle all of your stations at once.
From the list of stations, you can tap and hold a station name to delete it, pin it to the start screen, or add music variety to further customize it. For example, you can add the Rolling Stones to a general rock station, and the app might play "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and more tunes that match the band's musical style.
From the main screen, if you swipe either left or right, you'll see a list of musical genres -- rock, alternative, blues, etc. -- that you can choose from to start a new station. If you tap any genre, the app gives you subgenres to get more specific, such as country love songs or old-school rap.
There's a search bar at the top of the app where you can search by song, artist, genre, or composer. When you find a result you like, you tap on it to start a new station.
The most important part of any audio streaming app, above how easy it is to use or the design, is how well it can, well, stream and play audio. Pandora does not disappoint. I tested the app over CNET's strong Wi-Fi connection and a 4G LTE signal from T-Mobile, and both connections played music without lag or interruption. Pandora also easily jumped to a new track when I down-voted a song I didn't like.
As far as audio quality, songs sound crisp and clear, even through a pair of cheap Sony earbuds. This will vary depending on your phone's speakers and the headphones you use, but in my tests the music sounded great.
Once you launch a station, you'll see the playback screen. Song name, artist, and album title are shown at the top, album art (if available) is in the middle, and controls are on the bottom. Those familiar with Pandora will recognize the thumbs up and thumbs down buttons, which tell the app if you like a song or never want to hear it again. There's a pause/play button, and a skip button, which will play the next track in the station.