Despite its name, Rdio has never functioned quite like a radio.
The streaming music service, if you’ve never heard of it, is more like Spotify than Pandora. It gives you millions of songs to choose from, and lets you create unlimited playlists and collections for a flat monthly rate. Although Rdio had a radio feature before, it was basically a random smattering of tracks based on a single artist of your choosing. It didn’t feel like a great way to put the music on autopilot.
This week, Rdio made good on its name and gave its radio feature a proper overhaul. It’s now much more useful for serving up a steady stream of songs, and in some ways it’s even better than what Spotify and Pandora offer.
As with before, Rdio lets you create radio stations based on an artist or song, but on the web version, you can tweak the selection to be more or less familiar to you. A five-point scale lets you slide between “artist only” songs and more “adventurous” picks.
There’s also a new “You FM” radio station based on your past listening history, Facebook likes, and other factors. With this station, the sliding scale starts with more familiar songs, and gradually includes more stuff you haven’t heard of.
If you need even more stations, Rdio has 400 sub-genre stations–with the scale going from “popular” to “adventurous”–and if you have friends using Rdio, you can listen to friend-based radio or check in on their own personalized stations.
In a way, the new radio reminds me of MOG, another streaming service I loved, but abandoned. (Beats Audio acquired MOG last year, and has let the service languish while working on something new.) MOG’s radio also had a slider for moving from artist-only songs to more adventurous picks. It was one of my favorite features, and the toughest thing to give up.
So I’m happy to see something like it in Rdio. Rdio’s execution isn’t as smooth–whenever you adjust the familiarity scale, the song you’re listening to stops playing, whereas MOG simply changed the upcoming tracks–but it’s better than what Rdio had before. Hopefully Rdio will bring the same familiarity scale to its iPhone and Android apps.
There’s just one catch: Unlike Spotify, Rdio doesn’t let you listen for free. Rdio offers a limited trial, but beyond that you must pay $10 per month for access on PCs, phones and tablets.
Spotify, by comparison, offers an ad-supported free service on Windows and Mac computers. And while Spotify’s business hinges on converting people to its own $10 per month service, which extends access to phones and tablets, the free version has become wildly popular. I find myself routinely explaining Rdio to friends by saying “It’s like Spotify, but…”
And as I’ve said before, the “but…” is what makes Rdio so good. Its app design is top-notch, and unlike Spotify, it allows to you create an iTunes-style “Collection” of albums and songs. (Spotify lets you mark songs as favorites, but doing so only adds them to a long, unorganized list.) I also like how you can play Rdio on one device, such as your computer, and use another device as a remote control.
I doubt many people will switch to Rdio if aren’t already paying for Spotify, but now there’s one more reason to consider Rdio if you’ve made the jump to a paid streaming music service. Rdio’s biggest weakness is still its music selection, which I find isn’t as vast as Spotify and other competitors, but the new radio feature helps make sure you never run out of things to listen to.