I first heard about the Pandora web service a couple years ago on a Web forum. Someone had started a poll wondering which was a better streaming radio service, Last.fm or Pandora, and people were chiming in with their opinions. I’ve been a Last.fm user for quite a while, so hearing about Pandora was interesting, especially as this was fairly close to when Last.fm cut off free streaming and went to a total subscription model. Pandora was (and is) a free service, and the whole Music Genome Project, where songs and artists were judged using roughly 200 different criteria, seemed quite ambitious.
The one thing that’s bothered me about using Pandora, however, has been the Web interface. Unlike Last.fm, which published its API so anyone could hook into the service, Pandora is to be used solely in a web browser, or one of its official clients. Unfortunately, as a Linux user, I’m left out in the cold, unless I want to become a paying subscriber, at which point the Pandora One service client would work for me. But the other day I was looking at different Google Chrome extensions and saw one named Pandora. Of course I checked it out, and immediately fell in love. It was recently updated, so I decided it was high time to write about it.
First, the Pandora extension for Google Chrome is not, and may never be, a full replacement for the official website. Mainly this is because the official interface allows Pandora users to create new stations. Creating a station is as simple as typing in the name of a favorite artist or song. Pandora then creates a streaming radio station which includes only music that closely matches the music the user wants to hear. The Pandora extension for Google Chrome, on the other hand, allows users to play existing radio stations, but not to create new ones.
Using the Pandora extension is really simple. The first time you click on the Pandora icon in the toolbar, you’ll need to enter your username and password (hint: your username is the email address you used to sign up for your free Pandora account). After that, when you click the icon, you’ll see a list of all your existing radio stations, plus the quick mix station (which includes music from all your radio stations, or can be configured to include or exclude whatever you want). Double click on the station you want to hear, and the interface slides to show the song’s artist and title, as well as a tiny cover art thumbnail.
There are also a few different control buttons that make using the extension very similar to the Web interface. You can pause the currently playing track, skip ahead to the next one, give a thumbs up or thumbs down to the track, and use the sleep or “I’m tired” feature. The sleep feature allows you to tell Pandora that you’re tired of the currently playing song; this keeps it in your rotation of songs, tells Pandora to “put it on the shelf” for a while.
About the only thing that can’t be done from the extension is create new streaming radio stations. This is a simple process with the Web interface – click the Create a New Station button and enter the artist or song, but is currently beyond the scope of the extension. If this feature would ever make its way to the extension, it would be absolutely perfect for my use. As it is now, I love using it, and the extension is far easier on my processor (and uses less RAM) than the Pandora.com website does. It’s fast and simple to use, and has nearly all the features I want. Add in the ability to create new stations, and it would be perfect for my needs.
Note: It should be mentioned that the Pandora extension reviewed in this article is not an official Pandora product. As such, it’s possible, even probable, that an update to the Pandora website, whether intentional or unintended, will “break” the extension in some way, making it unusable until a fix is found. This is a problem with third-party programs accessing features on a website that doesn’t have a public API for its services. Still, the features and ease of use are great, and at least for now I’m willing to put up with what could be sporadic service should Pandora change how it streams music.