Pandora Premium vs Spotify Unlimited: How They Stack Up

Pandora Premium is the service's long-awaited bid to compete with Spotify, but which service is better? Pandora Premium, the service's on-demand streaming music tier, launched back in March 2018 at $9.99 per month after a 60-day free trial.

Illustration: Tom's Guide

Illustration: Tom's Guide

Aug. 1 Update: Pandora's voice assistant has a leg up on Spotify's, details below.

While both Pandora and Spotify offer $14.99 family plans, Spotify's testing a new pricing tier for smaller households. Premium Duo, a two-account option, currently in testing in Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ireland and Poland costs 12.49 Euro per month, making it slightly pricier than the 9.99 Euro (and $9.99 USD) Premium account and the 14.99 Euro (and $14.99 USD) family subscription for 6 accounts. Premium Duo includes a playlist called Duo Mix that is automatically generated based on the both users' activity.

What makes Premium stand out from Pandora's other offerings is that users will finally be able to select the songs they want, rather than depend on the service's radio stations. Pandora will be catch-up out of the gate when it comes to device support and video content, but it looks like a strong contender overall, though customers looking for the best deal will find it on Spotify.

How are Spotify and Pandora trying to stand out?

Spotify's long supported voice commands — just hold down on the Search icon to launch it — but Pandora just recently moved to make its voice assistant available to all users. Even better, Pandora's implementation requires zero touch, just saying "Hey Pandora," to wake it up.

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Pandora PremiumSpotify Unlimited
Monthly Price $9.99$9.99
Annual Price$109.89 $99
Family Pricing$14.99 per month or $164.89 per year, 6 accounts$14.99 per month, 6 accounts
Free Trial Length60 days30 days
Student pricing$4.99 per month$4.99 per month (includes Hulu and Showtime)
Military pricing$7.99 per monthNot available
Song LibraryThe same as Spotify, minus the karaoke tracks, covers and tributesMore than 40 million songs
AvailabilityAndroid, iOS devices, desktop computers, Kindle devices, Google Home, Amazon Fire TV, Xfinity X1, Sonos devices, Chromecast, Xbox One, Select Samsung TVs, macOS app, Windows 10 app coming soonAndroid, iOS devices, desktop computers (via web, Mac/PC apps), Amazon Echo speakers, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox, smart TVs, Sonos devices, Chromecast, and other car stereos
Other ContentPodcasts from the likes of Gimlet, The Ringer, The New York Times, NPR, Maximum Fun and LibsynMusic videos, other videos (including TED Talks and content from Genius), podcasts

How much do they cost?

Just like Spotify Unlimited, Pandora Premium will cost $9.99 per month with a 60-day free trial. Existing Pandora Plus subscribers received a longer 6-month trial. Spotify offers a 30-day free trial to new users.

The only big pricing difference comes for those music lovers looking to invest in a year's worth of premium service up front. Spotify offers a $20 discount with its $99 per year pricing, while a year of Pandora Premium costs more than $10 more, at $109.89.

Pandora's family plan pricing runs you $14.99 per month for 6 accounts, matching Spotify's plan which offers the same rate. Pandora is also offering annual family plan pricing of $164.89 per year, which is how much 11 months of Pandora Premium costs. Spotify offers no such annual rate.

In May 2019, Pandora revealed two additional pricing tiers: students pay $4.99 per month (after a 60-day free trial), which matches Spotify, though that service throws in Hulu and Showtime for free. Pandora's Military Plan — available to those with qualified military status, "active duty, reservists, retirees, veterans and military family" — costs $7.99 per month, and also starts with a 60-day free trial.

MORE: 10 Things You Didn't Know Spotify Could Do

Is Pandora Premium available everywhere, just like Spotify?

At first, Pandora Premium was on a select few platforms, but now it's on iOS, Android, Sonos and Kindle devices, as well as Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, Google Home and more. It's also landed on desktops via web browsers.

That's in stark contrast to Spotify, which is gaining ground on Microsoft's platforms. Not only did a Spotify app just launch on the Xbox, but Microsoft's offering an easy playlist transfer tool for users of its Groove Music service, which will stop streaming at the end of 2017.

Shocking, it's taken Pandora until May 2019 to launch a desktop app, as the company just launched its first macOS app (a PC app is on the way). Spotify has been on Macs and PCs for many years.

What makes Pandora Premium better?

Pandora says Premium's going to make Search smarter by organizing your results based on what it knows about you, and hiding the stuff nobody wants. So while the company has access to the same "more than 40 million" song library as Spotify and Apple Music, it removes covers from other artists, karaoke versions and other renditions you don't care about at the bottom of your results.

Pandora Premium will rise from Rdio's ashes in a trial for new and existing users starting March 15. Image: Pandora.

Pandora Premium will rise from Rdio's ashes in a trial for new and existing users starting March 15. Image: Pandora.

Pandora Premium's "Add Similar Songs" feature appears to be a slightly better version of Spotify's automatically generating song radio stations. On Pandora, once you've added some songs to a playlist, you'll get the option to "Add Similar Songs." On Spotify, you can create a playlist based on one song by clicking the Radio tab, clicking the + icon in the top right corner and finding a song of your choice. The difference is that Pandora lets you add as many starter songs to set a base, while Spotify allows for only one song.

MORE: 9 Best Songs to Stream Right Now

Pandora Premium will offer a dynamic user interface, changing the color scheme of the Now Playing screen based on the art of the song you're listening to. This will be familiar for those who used Apple Music prior to iOS 9, which used a similar trick.

You'll also get a cleaner look with Pandora Premium, which appears to have kept the minimalist look that made Rdio (which Pandora bought) popular among those who appreciate well-designed apps.

How are they the same?

Much like Spotify and other services, Pandora Premium will offer personalized suggestions based on what you've listened to previously.

Pandora Premium will also let you download albums, songs, stations or playlists for offline. This way you won't need to burn through your monthly data allotment or go without tunes when you lose a signal.

MORE: 14 Cheap Headphones Ranked From Best To Worst

What's Pandora Premium missing?

If you want more than music, you might be out of luck. While Pandora's got top podcasts from major studios (Gimlet, Maximum Fun and The Ringer to name a few), it doesn't offer much more. Videos aren't there either, so you're gonna still be YouTubing your favorite music videos.

The Verge reports that there's no ability to edit the Up Next queue currently, which seems like a mistake on Pandora's part that should be remedied soon.

What else?

If you want to take a trip down memory lane of your favorite songs, Pandora offers a My Thumbs Up playlist that compiles every song you've tapped the Thumbs Up icon for. It'll also continue to add to this playlist for all songs you Thumbs Up going forward.

Outlook: Interesting

Pandora Premium looks like it will offer a more personal and catered streaming music service than Spotify. And now that Pandora Premium is available in more places, it looks to be a solid, viable alternative. But as Spotify doubles down on podcasting, buying Gimlet and Anchor, it seems to be a top destination for podcast lovers.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.